Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On Cutting the Deficit in a Depression II

(The original version of this was ambiguous. This is the new! improved! version.)

When you're near-broke, and having money problems, do you pay your rent or pay down your credit card debt?

It's almost that simple.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Keeping in the vote

I wonder if Ebola is being kept in the news partly to distract the public from the election.
With lower voter attention comes lower turnout – and evidently, lower certainty about which voters will show up to vote. Other distractions take away from the important issue of Joni Ernst’s desire to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency…hey, pay attention, I’m talking to you! Ebola Ebola Ebola! There, now you’re back. Thank you."—Sam Wang, Princeton Election Consortium

Saturday, October 25, 2014

How You Know The Terrorists Have Won

When there are terrorists in charge of both sides of a fight.

Friday, October 24, 2014

GMRG8 and Law

As a result of difficulties explaining my previous remarks over at Balloon Juice, I have this thought:
I think what I am writing about in this context is law. We have, in GMRG8, one kind of law: the law of the jungle. In the response I fear, I see another kind of law: the law that suppresses visible conflict, while enforcing oppression. I would like to see a third kind of law: one that punishes the gmrg8rs, while protecting and encouraging freedom of expression and women's rights.
I think Brianna Wu agrees with me. Today she has written:
I also found this statement troubling. “Many at IGN feel additional visibility only encourages those who want to use the Movement as a means to stop rather than start discussions.” IGN prefers silence. They say they don’t want to “signal boost” [gmrg8].

What IGN doesn’t understand is ignoring these people isn’t working. They are going after any woman in the industry that speaks up about representation of women in the games industry. They went after Samantha Allen, they went after Jenn Frank, they went after Zoe Quinn and they went after me.—Brianna Wu, About IGN’s Statement…

Sure sounds like what I just called "the law that suppresses visible conflict, while enforcing oppression."

So, what kind of law and changes in legal practice do we need?

  1. To begin with, taking conduct on the internet seriously, and a matter for law enforcement. There is a huge amount of crime of all sorts that takes place on the internet. Most of it is fraud and theft-of-service (spam!) But there is also stalking, and something new that social media makes far easier: trolling for the violent, which is at the heart of GMRG8.
  2. Enforcing existing anti-stalking laws.
  3. Outlawing doxxing.
  4. Outlawing the practice of trolling for the violent.
  5. Finding a better compromise between the protections anonymity and pseudonimity provide, while at the same time, limiting their abuse.
Given our current crop of lawmakers, it doesn't sound like anything that is likely to be done soon. Still, let us at least pose the problem.

[Weasel phrase removed 2014.10.29]

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Social Security, Bankers, and Parasites

I recently wrote an exasperated reply to a libertarian friend some time back, explaining that Social Security and Medicare do not enrich the wealthy and powerful; that they pay out everything they take in, less the civil service salaries of the people who operate them, which are modest. The libertarian "alternatives" to the social insurance programs—annuities and health insurance—all require investment of money in large for-profit financial services organizations. Since these are for-profit organizations, they invariably cost more than the non-profit social insurance programs; one might as well be paying taxes. They also turn out to be more subject to control fraud than public organizations, which at least are subject to taxpayer scrutiny.

The social insurance programs show that we don't need the wealthy for income and health care in old age, and some of the wealthy hate that. The simple idea that we don't need the 1% is threatening to them, and that is why there is so much opposition to social insurance among the very wealthy. You get the likes of Mitt Romney who made a fortune by sending manufacturing businesses to China, you get the Walton family, who made a fortune by gutting small-town business, underpaying their employees, and, yes, by sending manufacturing business to China. These are not productive. Mitt Romney complains that he believes nearly half the country is parasitic on the rich, but I suspect he believes that anyone who works for a living is a parasite. The Walton family regards employees and pay for suppliers as necessary evils. It's the Waltons and the Romneys of the world who are the parasites. Walmart pays literal starvation wages; without government support, many of its employees would be starving. Even Amazon, which provides a genuinely valuable service, is vulnerable to this charge; would there be an Amazon without hellish working conditions in their warehouses and the factories of their suppliers? Perhaps, but it would be less profitable.

Parasites. We don't need parasites.

(one sentence clarified 2014.11.29)

Monday, October 20, 2014

GMRG8 and Censorship

The equation is simple: Those who have power get to censor, and those who lack power get silenced. If you find yourself in a position to demand and get censorship, you can be sure you are among those who have the power, and you are acting to oppress others.—Feminists Against Censorship

The GMRG8 activists, despite all denials, are acting to silence their targets. They are moderately successful in doing so, though they have not yet silenced Sarkeesian, Quinn, and Wu. But terrorists terrorize.

Every woman I know in the industry is scared. Many have thought about quitting. Three of us have been the victims of death threats, and some of this have been driven from our homes.—Brianna Wu

The GMRG8ers have persuaded Intel and ASUS to pull advertising from major sites which published pieces critical of the GMRG8 agenda, whatever that is. Part of the motivation here is the marketing aversion to association with controversy in any form. But if it were a plague of man-hatred instead, I doubt the marketing departments would have acted similarly.

GMRG8 has been recognized by the mass media now. There is a huge generational divide. Most people under age 35 have at least played computer games, over, not so much. And I fear a backlash; an expansion of the existing game ratings board that suppresses a broad range of sexual and violent content, making impossible engagement with these subjects. One may imagine something like the 1930s Motion Picture Production Code, which for many years prevented the showing, even, in movies distributed in the USA, of a married couple just sleeping together. Homosexuals were unpersonned in US movies of that period—they were never even shown. And all the while the enormous hypocrisy of the period, with all its covert sexual relations, conceived as evil, a source of pride for men, a reason to blame women.

Since that time, US culture has swung to another extreme, going from prudery to prurience in a generation, never stopping at a moderate place. What marks both positions is extremism. At one extreme, sex, sexuality, and women are things to be feared, suppressed, and associated with violence. At the other extreme, women are intensely sexualized, while violence against sexualized women is widely embraced. What there is not in either extreme is a rejection of violence, an acceptance of sexuality as a normal and healthy part of human life, and a recognition of women as people with their own needs and wants. When extreme and hateful voices dominate discourse, all moderate voices are silenced, yet it is the moderate voices which have the most to say to everyday life for, after all, who wants to go through life hating their sexuality, hating their sexual partners, or surrounded by violence?

I fear the the victory of one or another faction of extremists. We might end up in a place where women and girls are terrorized with images of violence directed at them, and all critical voices silenced. We might also end up in a place where sexual hypocrisy is again the norm, and sexuality and women's agency are again erased from popular discourse. Or we might end up in a place with the worst elements of both, where popular prudery suppresses all images of violence against "good" women, while at the same time threatening women with brutality if they step out of line, even a little bit.

I fear the terrorists are winning.

GMRG8: The Screwfly Solution

Contains spoilers for the 1977 Racoona Sheldon story, "The Screwfly Solution." If you want to avoid them, don't click on the link.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

In Which Open Political Terrorism Against Women in the USA Becomes A Thing

I've been saying for years that there are very few things in right-wing politics that cannot be explained, in whole or part, as an expression of threatened masculinity. And now we have GMRG8, which I am abbreviating in an effort to keep the trolls under their bridges for a little while. There's a WtF aspect to the whole thing. Yes, attacks on feminists online have been around for a long time, and attacks on feminist critiques of gaming have also been around for a long time. But this...? Extensive criminal attacks on the online resources of feminist gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian and game designers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu. Credible death threats against all three. Threats of a massacre of women at an award ceremony for Sarkeesian.

And it doesn't end. Usually these things just die out, but not GMRG8. It just keeps on going.

W. T. F. ‽

I suspect that there is some far-right activist group that is supporting and funding this effort. Breitbart is on board. The American Enterprise Institute is on board. Likely enough someone with real money and propaganda resources is participating. Like Kyle Wagner says, The Future Of The Culture Wars Is Here, And It's Gamergate.

And it is terrorist. I've been, for years, aware that open violence on the right was a possibility; when you talk revolution for this long, sooner or later, someone is going to start shooting, or at least threatening to shoot. But directed at women? Not at feminist firebrands, not at, oh, Catherine Mackinnon or Andrea Dworkin. At a critic and two game developers, none of them major figures. Never in my wildest nightmares did I expect this. It is like something out of a feminist dystopia.

There's a lot more to be said here, but I find I do not know what it is. I am stunned at that we are seeing right-wing terrorist threats directed at women in the USA as cruel and deadly as any made in an Islamic state. I wonder about the implications of this: misogyny has long been an undercurrent in reactionary violence, but this is the first time I have seen it explicit and direct. Is there something about the online environment that renders it more visible or more tempting? Or…?

Postscript: after writing this, I feel like I have looked into the mouth of hell. What kind of society makes war on its own mothers and daughters? That's the Taliban, that's ISIL. And a society that makes war on its women is a society with no future at all.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

New Party Watch

What intrigues me more is to speculate on what will happen if we have a closely divided Senate with four independent senators -- Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Angus King of Maine, Orman, and Pressler -- sitting there in the middle with some very real power in their hands, and no formal allegiance to either party. Then we'll have a show.—"Just South of North Dakota," Charles P. Pierce

Told ya.

Of course, it may not happen at all.

On Cutting the Deficit in a Depression

When you're near-broke, and having money problems, do you pay your rent or your creditors first? It's almost that simple.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

An Improving but Slack Labor Market

I interpret the current Bureau of Labor (BLS) statistics as meaning that people are returning to the workforce as work becomes available, and there is more work, but right now there is still not enough work; demand for labor is still slack.

I therefore see every reason to keep interest rates low and undertake whatever reasonable programs will be effective in raising aggregate demand. The labor market appears to be "normalizing," and by 2018 or so will, unless something throws it off track, be back to something like "full" employment, though I expect wages will be lower than pre-depression levels. As we approach full employment I expect major efforts from the right to reduce employment, so as to reduce labor costs. We already seem to be seeing some, in the form of pressure to raise interest rates, though so many people are still out of work, and more are struggling.

(This is a very simple reading of the statistics, and many economists do not agree with it. Paul Krugman, who started me looking at these data, says that no-one actually knows if the labor market is slack. As a bird on the ground, though, it sure looks slack to me, and a simple reading of the statistics seems to support my position.)

Supporting data

  • U-6, the unemployment measure that includes people who are sort-of working but can't find enough work, rose dramatically in 2008 and has been falling since the beginning of 2010. By 2018 or so, a straight-line projection will return it to its 2007 level.
  • The employment/population ratio remains poor.
  • The August 2014 BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) found 2 job seekers for every job, which is a normal number; people are being hired at pre-depression rates.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Terrorists Are Winning

Recently, Jim Wright linked the obscene remarks of Todd Kincannon on appropriate control of ebola in Africa, which involves murdering patients and burning their homes and their neighbors homes. One wonders what he thinks is appropriate in Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas, where Thomas Eric Duncan lies in critical condition, but it would not surprise me if he was willing to destroy the hospital, killing all its patients.

Kincannon is a lawyer and was, briefly, the head of the South Carolina Republican Party. He is, apparently, a racist homophobic sexual harasser. Given the power, it seems likely that he would, just as he says, commit mass murder.

Why is this man granted any authority at all? Why has he not been disbarred?

A while back I researched the founding and leadership of Likud, the radical Israel party that is making life hell on earth for the Gaza Palestinians. The first Likud Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, was the last commander of the Irgun, the brutal, but perhaps not terrorist, radical Zionist organization. The second, Yitzhak Shamir, was a senior Lehi leader—Lehi, which open modeled itself on the Irish Republican Army, and was actively terrorist. So: Likud is a terrorist party, the USA has been arming it, and the press does not seem to notice, or care. And Hamas is also a terrorist party. So in Israel/Palestine now, we have a terrorist-dominated Palestinian government fighting a terrorist-dominated Israeli government. In Gaza, now, it is terrorists fighting terrorists. The terrorists have won.

Are we to go down with our hands around each other's necks, strangling?

Thoughts on Keynes and Socialism

This is inspired, ultimately, by Simon Wren-Lewis's post, "Is Keynesian Economics Left Wing," which came to me via The Economists View. I do not feel confident that what I have written here is correct; it seems to me what one might think, after much more study.

As to the question of Keynesians being socialist, or not, I might call him a technocratic socialist, to distinguish his position from the labor socialism of Marx and his successors. Keynes argued that "a somewhat comprehensive socialization of investment" was sufficient to bring about full employment and maximum (or desired) productivity and offered methods for achieving that using existing financial and governmental structures. The goals he set out, I would say, were socialist, in the sense of governing the economy for the welfare of all, rather than a ruling class, but his methods were entirely different from those proposed by socialist parties, and in contradiction to those of communism. Rather than the minute planning of every aspect of the economy, which was popular among some socialists of his day, he proposed to eschew minute planning and instead govern investment in a way favorable to a broad middle class. He set out ways in which a democracy might accomplish goals of economic fairness without overturning the whole of society.

Because of this, socialist and communist parties opposed his ideas and, so far as I know, still do. The whole labor socialist project is called into question by Keynesian economics. Because of his advocacy of control of investment, he also has strong opposition on the part of the right, from the wealthy who do not wish to give up even partial control of their wealth and also from people who prefer an aristocratic social order.

And all of this is very much a shame, because it is not like labor activism would be unnecessary in an polity governed by Keynesian precepts, nor would leaders and rulers become unnecessary in such a society. If the various factions would see past their ideologies, Keynesianism has much to offer both sides. In such a society, labor need not fear impoverishment from arbitrary financial policies or random economic weather and rulers and leaders need not be authoritarians.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Senate candidate, talking revolution

"State Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, once said she would support legislation that would allow 'local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement' Obamacare."—Talking Points Memo

Right at the moment Ernst is ahead in polling, but only by 1%.

Exactly which Federal officials would be affected since, after all, they largely aren't located in Iowa, and whether she would also arrest people who applied for Obamacare and doctors who accepted it she doesn't say. It is hard to imagine local police arresting IRS officers, but that would seem be implied.

This may all be moot, however. The Supreme Court may get the opportunity to support these states rights advocates and may well do so, by siding with the plaintiff in Halbig and Halbig-like cases, making ACA care inaccessible to people not solidly middle-class in 36 states.

If so, my black-feathered brothers and sisters will feast.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Treason and Elections

It looks very much like the war hysteria is swinging the vote in favor of the Republicans. If you are tempted, remember that Republicans lose wars, and spend lots of money doing it.

It also looks to me very much like the "conservative" strategy is to put the country on a permanent war footing, and use that as an excuse to loot the savings of the public and cut as many social insurance programs as they can. And I wonder…the Nixon campaign sabotaged the Johnson peace talks, so Nixon could win the 1968 election. The, in the 1980s, the Reagan administration made illegal deals with Iran and Nicaragua, the infamous Iran-Contra scandal. So this is a pattern; conservative Republican administrations have twice broken the law, arguably treasonably, to advance their political goals. Could conservative Republicans be providing personnel and materiel to ISIL? Must we contemplate treason, again?