Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Activities of Late

Though I have written very little here over the pasy few weeks, I continue to blog for Stinque. To that end, I'd like to direct anyone who might drop by to two of my most recent pieces: here and here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Just Give Up Already...

We're to the point where it's just sad, really. Hard to believe that a couple of months ago this guy was a frontrunner for the GOP nomination based solely on speculation that he'd announce.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dumbest thing I've read in a long time

Ross Douthat's column in the New York Times today has got to be one of the dumbest editorials I've read in quite some time. Douthat correctly identifies a hyper educated, very sophisticated and highly intelligent Wall Street elite as the source of many of out nation's current ills. But in suggesting that the Republican electorate is in search of a more "down-to-earth" candidate to serve as a counterweight to these people he ignores two very important realities: (1) from 2000 to 2008 this nation was governed by a dim-witted Texan whose educational acheivements were "brought to you by the letter 'C'" and who had difficulty so much as putting together an entire sentence without committing a grammatical atrocity. It was a government headed by this sort of "down to earth" politician that witnessed and enabled Wall Street's recklessness. (2) Anyone who has paid even a moment's attention to the cries of the Tea Party and the blathering of the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls realizes that these people don't blame the Wall Street elite or the banks for our current economic state. It is an article of faith among theabaggers that Washington regulations were to blame for the crisis, and the solution to our ills is to give evenmore freedom and leeway to the Wall Street wiz kids that Douthat lambastes.

As best I can tell, Douthat's column is simply an attempt to make sense of the shallow vulgarity of the GOP's current anti-intellectual tendencies without acknowledging the simple fact that the GOP electorate demonstrates these inclinations because they are fostered by a conservative elite that sees anti-intellectualism as a bullwark against the emergence of economic class consciousness. The GOP faithful don't despise the intellectual elite because they believe them to have brought about the 2008 financial crisis. They despise them because the massive and well funded conservative propaganda machine sees it in its interests to decry supposed "class warfare" while fostering resentment of the nation's intelligentsia.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dropping all pretense

Last week, in an attempt to reclaim some newspaper headlines, Rick Perry finally presented the coutry with an economic plan, the centerpiece of which is a 20% flat tax proposal. This isn't that unusual for a Republican candidate, one will recall that it was also the centerpiece of Steve Forbes economic proposals when he ran for president. What's different about Perry's proposal, however, is a curious twist he's added. In an apparent attempt to assuage fears that a flat tax would constitute a tax increase on poorer Americans, Perry has decided that his flax tax should be optional. If you like it, you pay 20% of your income to the Federal Government and you're done (well... except for your state taxes), but if you remain unconvinced, you can stick with the current system.

This little twist apears to have received little scrutiny among the commentariat. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Perry has largely faded from the scene, his numbers dropping precipitously after a series of dissappointing debate performances. Perhaps it is because it apears too gimmicky to merit serous consideration. Still it is suprising how little attention has been paid to the "optionality" feature, because it implies a significant departure from the standard arguments that have, till now, been employed to promote the flat tax. Students of the various and sundry GOP tax proposals that have been floated over the last few decades are no doubt aware that one of the justifications that Republicans frequently provide for their flat tax proposals is the claim that under current law, the super rich are able to exploit loopholes allowing them to shelter much of their income from taxation. The flat tax, proponets have often argued, would actually increase taxes on those wealthy Americans who rely on an army of tax lawyers to help them escape taxation.

And then here comes Rick Perry with another flat tax proposal, however, unlike previous proposals, wealthy individuals are under no obligation to pay a flat 20% of their income to Uncle Sam. They can continue to employ their army of accountants to pay little or nothing. In the end, Perry's proposal represents a tax increase only on those who don't want to go through the hassle of calculating exemptions and looking up tax tables. One wonders what the point is.

Of course, in the end, skeptics are more than justified distrusting Republican candidates' justifications and projections of the effects of their flat tax proposals. If tax loophole allow the super rich to escape taxation, why not simply close those loopholes? And given that most flat tax proposals tend to exempt capital gains from taxation altogether, the idea that these tax plans would repesent an actual tax increase on wealthy Americans is as fanciful a tale as stories about the lost continent of Atlantis.

What we have in Perry's plan, then is just the latest example of GOP policies that are completely divorced from arithemetic and empricial reality. Currently, the U.S. borrows some 40 cents of every dollar it spends. The idea that you can institute a tax plan that is guaranteed to decerase government revenues and still balance the Federal budget in six years... well that's akin to caliming, not merely that you've discovered the lost continent of Atlantis, but that it was inhabitted by Faeries and unicorns.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Puzzling Cain

I've got to say that I'm somewhat puzzled by Herman Cain. I mean, I can understand how a guy who's shown no interest in foreign policy could fumble a question about the Palestinian "right of return." But for a candidate running as a Republican to not realize that expressing an effectively pro-choice position on abortion is a deal breaker with GOP primary voters... that shows a remarcable lack of insight into the U.S. political process.

In any case, it will be interesting to judge the fallout from Cain's statements, especially in places like South Carolina where he's become an unlikely and unexpected frontrunner.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Orman

Paul Krugman points his readers to this column by Suze Orman, in which the personal finance guru endorses the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and rails against the unfairness of the events that have transpired over the past few years, with major banks and other financial institutions seeing massive bailouts while ordinary homeowners, their mortgages under-water, have been left out to dry.

One point Orman makes is to note the unfairness of a system in which our youth are graduating from college loaded up with student loan debt, and few if any job prospects to help them repay it. Furthermore, recent legislation makes this debt nearly impossible to discharge in bankruptcy court. It's no wonder the kids have taken to the streets.

By manner of comment, I would like to repeat something I have said in other venues: when future historians look back at the wreckage that is becoming of the American economy, they will note with sadness our skewed priorities. And they will wonder how it is we ever got to a point where a propective homeowner considerng the purchase of his next MacMansion can rest secure in the knowledge that should things go wrong, he can simply turn his key in and walk away from the mortgage suffering no legal ramifications. Whereas, by contrast, a young person looking over a stack of college prospectuses and trying to decide where she wants to pursue her higer eductaion faces the very real risk that the massive loans she takes out to pay for her education will haunt her for the rest of her life.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Perry/Thompson 2012

I must say that one of the few genuine pleasures of the GOP presidential candidate nomination process has been playing witness to the Rick Perry implosion. It reminds me so much of what happened in 2008 with the candidacy of Fred Thompson. With his genial grandad persona and "plain spoken horse sense" Thompson was the Republican. Dali Lama, a reincarnation of Ronald Reagan who would carry the presidency by channeling the Gipper, carried aloft into the White House by a throng of GOP faithful. Yet when he dropped into the race, instead of walking on air, Thompson fell to earth with a dull thud. Apparently the guy was just too lazy to get up and walk, and the rest of the field just ambled past him.

Perry, likewise, came into the race as gun-wielding, the neo-secessionist, guru and anointed prophet of the Tea Party cult. His initial poll numbers were staggering and he was pronounced the Republican frontrunner before he had even officially announced his bid. But he too, quickly fell to earth once it became amply clear that the quip that Perry was "George W. Bush minus the gravitas and intellectual curiosity" was far from an exaggeration. Indeed, it was so close to reality that even the Tea Party (heretofore enamoured of certifiably insane Christofascist Michelle Bachmann) was able to see him for the pretty-faced imbecile he was.

For me, the last nail in the Perry coffin was finally hammered in last night when, responding to an accusation of Mitt Romney's that Perry has thus far failed to present a viable economic plan, Perry responded by noting "you've been doing this much longer than I have" or words to that effect (I'm quoting from memory). It's always a bad sign when your retort to an accusation could just as easily have been an extension of the accusation itself. Had I been Romney My response would have been "You're right, Rick... I have been thinking about these issues and developing policy proposals much longer than you have. Thanks for making my point for me."

That said, I don't want to give the Tea Party too much credit. After all, their current darling appears to be Herman Cain, a guy who ridicules the notion that he should be expeceted to have a rudimentary grasp of geopolitics (or even, geography) and whose 9-9-9 economic plan reads like it was dreamed up in a Vegas hotel room by a trio of junior hedge fund managers after snorting a few lines of coke off the ass of the sleeping hooker they just shared.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Debate reaction

I only watched the first few minutes of last night's GOP debate. Couldn't stand to watch much longer. The extent to which the GOP is living in a world of purely ideological invention is just stunning. In response to questions referencing the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations, the GOP candidates all affirmed the conviction that the housing bubble, collapse and subsequent financial crisis were all a result of government regulation. Michelle Bachmann thrust the CRA canard front and center, blaming a 30 year old law that prevents banks from redlining minority neighborhoods for the orgy of speculation and securitization of worthless mortgages that were the cause of the crisis. This talking point has been thoroughly rebutted by those who have looked at the data (I mean, the law's been on the books for 30 years wihtout caysing these problems, and most of the institutions that pushed sub-prime mortages weren't even subject to the Community Reinvestment Act) but if the last 3 years have taught us anything it's that reality and GOP fantasy rarely intersect.

And Michelle Bachmann's nonsense paled next to Newt Gingrich's answer to the question of whether anyone on Wall Street should have been jailed over the massive fraud that led to the economic collapse. No, Gingrich insisted, instead Barney Frank and Chris Dodd should be jailed. Yes, legislators who were in the congressional minority (and thus powerless) over the bubble years, and who only recently have proposed measures to restrain Wall Street from bringing about another financial crisis are the ones who should be jailed. I can't help but think of the events that are currently unflding in the Ukraine, where a rising despot is in the process of jailing the former Prime Minister and a leading opposition figure on trumped up charges related to her government's handling of a gas pipeline with Russia. If htere's any doubt that the GOP is a party with totalitarian tendencies, let Gingrich's comments lay those doubts to rest.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Key Differentiator

There's been a great deal of debate in the media and on the blogosphere lately concerning the nascent "Occupy Wall Street" movement that has recently taken to the streets to protest social inequality and the corruption of our governing institutions by moneyed interests. Much of that commentary has focused on the question of whether these protests represent a left-wing answer to the Tea Party. And yet in all these discussions commentators have missed a key differentiator between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party: timing.

The Tea Party allegedly arose as a movement that was concerned about America's mounting Federal debt. And yet, it is a movement that did not exist in any form between 2000 and 2008 when a Republican president and Republican majorities in both houses of congress presided over a doubling of the national debt. Those of us who have been following politics closely for many years were hardly surprised by this, since concern about the Federal debt among Republicans is a purely opprtunistic, tactical move designed to weaken their Democratic opposition by mobilizing public opinion against them. In reality, Republicans have never cared enough about the Federal debt to make a significant debt, even, in the yearly deficit. In this sense, the Tea Party is merely an instrument of GOP policy, a purely Astro Turfed movement (even if its followers, in many cases, do not recognize themselves as such).

What differentiates the Occupy Wall Street movement, then, is that it has risen in the midst of a Democratic presidential administration, and until recently, was viewed with great skepticism by the Democratic party leadership. It is a truly organic, grass rootsmovement, not a instrument of the political opposition. I expect that we'll see more of this movement, well into the next few years, regardless of who wins the presidency.

I'll have more thoughts on this tomorrow (work becons!)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Economic Reality vs. fantasy

Haven't got much time this morning. Gotta be at work in a few minutes. Nonetheless, there are some thoughts I'd like to lay down before events have me moving on to other subjects and other considerations.

A fair amount of recent debate in the economics blogs (Brad deLong, Paul Krugman & others) centers around the effect that "regulatory uncertainty" is having on job creation. I don't have time to cite sources of offer links, however, the long and the short of it is that right-wing economists and trade associations have spent the last few years arguing against the notion that current economic woes are caused by a lack of consumer demand. For these guys, economic troubles are always the result of pressures on supply. Now, this is a ridiculous argument to make in these economic times, when we're living a terrible recession caused by the sudden disinflation of the mortagage bubble and the concommitant loss of trillions of dollars of consumer wealth that it occasioned. As Krugman and deLong (and other "Keynesian" oriented economists) point out, consumers who once spent profligately thanks to growing principle balances in their homes, suddenly found themselves "under water" on their mortgages, owing more on their properties than the properties themselves were worth. As a result they cut back on their spending and focused their economic efforts on paying down their debts (to the extent they were able). Suddenly businesses that depended on the American consumer for their profits saw sales dry up and profits vanish. Panicked, they cut back on production and fired workers.

The right-wing economist, however, tells a wholly different story. For him the problem isn't a lack of demand. For him the underlying problem is "regulatory uncertainty." Businesses would love to hire new workers and get the economy rolling, it's just that with a radical-Marxist in the whitehouse threatening massive burdensome regulation of private industry, they dare not hire workers who might come to cost them too much in the future.

Of course, this story is nonsense, but "regulatory uncertainty" has the benefit of being an ineffable quantity that one can summon when all other arguments fail to pan out. It basically equates to saying "because there's a Democrat in the White House." It is an argument that takes its own assumptions as conclusions.

Perhaps the quickest way to show this is to look at the evidence. While I don't have time to show it, at the moment, a look at the data clearly shows the economy falling off a cliff in the run up to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, then stabilizing afterwards. Hiring, which was plunging, picked up, though not at levels that would make a significant dent in our much higher unemployment figures, Nonetheless, a graph of the trajectory of hiring clearly shows a reversal in what was a terryfying trend (recall that from late 2008 to early 2009 businesses were cutting jobs by hundreds of thousands of workers a month. Comapred to those figures, a lackluster 30,000 new private sector jobs in a month looks like a veritable hiring boom.)

That the stimulus didn't return the economy to the place it was before the crash is indisputable, and the fact that conservatives use arguments along those lines to show that the stimulus "failed" shows the poverty of their reasoning. The stimulus did not acheive massive economic growth and reemployment, in part because it was too small, and because of politicl realities. Nearly one third of the package was made up of tax cuts, which are a poor way of providing stimulus to the economy. Roughly one third consisted of aid to the states, which merely replaced money they were cutting from their own budgets (and thus, added no net new money to the economy). And the last third (roughly $250 billion) was spent over a period of two years. SO, in essence, the money the U.S. spent over two years stimulating its own economy roughly equalled the sum we spent in one year supporting the occupation of Iraq at the height of that conflict's development.

So what about the uncertainty argument? Well, this argument has the virtue of being somewhat testable. If businesses were leery of hiring workers when Obama was the leader of a party that held hte congress and had a fillibuster proof majority in the Senate, then surely the loss of the Congress and the loss of the 60 vote majority in the Senate would have restored business confidence. After all, the actions of the GOP majoriyt in Congress and the minority in the Senate have made it clear that Obama will notbe able to pass major regulatory lesgislation. Regulatory uncertainty is a thing of the past.

So business is booming now, right? Well... not quite. In fact, we're about as close to falling back into recession as we have ever been, in no part due to the fact that the last of the Obama stimulus funds are being spent, and there is little prospect of a meaningful second round. In other words: orders have dried up. Demand is falling off a cliff again, and the economy is once again teetering on the edge.

(This analysis, of course, leaves off the looming european catastrophe, but that's. a story for another day)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Farce

So this is what it takes to make fair-weather friends like David Brooks become disenchanted with Obama... a millionaire tax? How perfectly sad. Now we see clearly where the Right's allegiances lie: in protecting the assetts of the ultra-wealthy. Ask people whose annual incomes exceed $1,000,000.00 to contribute a bit more, and you've gone off the deep end. How dare Obama call for shared sacrifice that actually demands that those who can afford to pay more, do so? After all, as Brooks so helpfully points out, a guy who brings in $1,000,000.00 a year today is really only left with $700,000.00 after taxes at current rates. If that ain't struggling to get by, then the phrase has no meaning.

It's pretty clear at this point (if there ever was any doubt) that guys like Brooks supported Obama purely for "Nixon in China" reasons. They felt that he was the one guy most likely to be able to sell a dismantling of the Great Society to Democrats.

What a farce.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Quote for the Day

People close to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mrs. Bachmann is often influenced by the last person she speaks with on an issue rather than maintaining discipline in communicating a message.

-An anonymous source "close to the Michelle Bachmann campaign" as cited by the New York Times.

I suppose that as long as we can ensure that the last person she speaks to before making a policy decison is sane, reasonable and well informed on the issue at hand, a Michelle Bachmann presidency would work out just fine.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Prodigious Anger

And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

It is hard not to be terribly depressed after watching last night's Republican/Tea Party debate. Rage is the one emotion that emanates from this crowd, blind rage fueled by ignorance and bigotry and a seemingly religious hatred of anything they naively deem "socialism." Perhaps the standout moment (and one that's making waves in the blogosphere) is the point at which the audience cheered the prospect of letting a 30 year old uninsured man die if he found himself in the position of being unable to pay for a needed medical procedure. At least one, perhaps two members of the audience, taken by much the same fervor with which the evangelical shouts "hallelujah" in church, could not contain his fury and screamed out loudly "Let him die!"

It was an amazing moment, to be sure. Yes, Wolf Blitzer's hypothetical involved a healthy young man who foolishly and irresponsibly chooses to forgo purchasing health insurance (presumably to spend the money on more pleaasurable pursuits). One could well argue that the audience would have reacted differently to the example of an individual too poor to afford health insurance (though in arguments that I have personally engaged in with conservatives, let me assure you many would have reacted in exactly the same fashion).

Still, for an audience supposedly so reverent of "Judeo Christian values" it is astonishing that they would react so violently to a hypothetical that is merely a variation on the New Testament parable of the Prodigal Son, as recounted in Luke , Chapter 15: 11-32 --a classic tale illustrating the virtue and praiseworthyness of compassion and forgiveness.

Maybe they just didn't see it. Maybe it takes a liberal atheist such as myself to make the connection.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Life on Charon

Just watched the tail-end of Fareed Zhakaria’s interview with Donald Rumsfeld. Pretty astonishing. The two takeaways on Rumsfeld’s views:

1) The US is not spending enough on defense. We can spend a lot more, as evidenced by the fact that at one point in our history we were devoting 10% of GDP to defense spending.

2) Rumsfeld’s one regret is that post-9/11 we weren’t vocal enough about the treat of radical Islamic extremism.

The first claim is astonishing enough: sure US military spending as a % of GDP is lower than it was at the height of the Korean and Vietnam wars. But to point to those years as sustainable limits is absolutely absurd. Furthermore, while military spending as a % of GDP may have been higher then, it is also true that in real, inflation-adjusted adjusted dollars, we are spending much more than we were even at the height of the Vietnam war (graph and source). Finally, in recent decades, Federal receipts as a % of GDP have run about 18% of GDP source. So a 10% upper limit means spending up to 55% or so of Federal revenues on defense!

The second claim is just a joke. The notion that over the past 10 years the American people haven’t been subjected to a steady enough barrage of hysterical Phillipics warning us of the threat of “radical Islamic extremism” can only be held by: (1) an idiot (2) a liar (3) a full-time resident of Pluto’s moon Charon. Which one is Rumsfeld? I'm going to be charitable here and suggest that maybe the guy was abducted by aliens sometime after he resigned as Secretary of Defense.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Dark Ages

Paul Krugman offers his thoughts on what has happened to the economic profession over the last few decades:

We’ve entered a Dark Age of macroeconomics, in which much of the profession has lost its former knowledge, just as barbarian Europe had lost the knowledge of the Greeks and Romans.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Was only able to watch a few minutes of the debate last night. The questioning was surprising incisive, to NBC's credit. Huntsman, to my mind, came off at the best prepared and most presidential cadidate. It's a sign of the extreme rightward turn of the GOP that he's also the candidate with the least real prospects of getting the nomination. Rick Perry seems to have stolen the GOP base's heart, and it's also telling just how transparently shallow and disingenuous his answers were. The question on health care was especially apposite. Contrasting Massachussetts' 5% rate of uninsured to Texas 27%, Brian Williams asked Perry why voters should favor his approach to Romney's (and by implicit extension Obama's). That Perry could claim with a straight face that excessive goverment regulation is the cause of Texas' uninsurance problem simply highlights the extent to which slogans have substituted for thinking in the GOP. After all, is Massachussetts any less regulated than Texas?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nothing special

Nothing much to say right now. Just feel like writing something. The day after the labor day weekend has a few bloggers returning to their blogs. Andrew Sullivan has some worthwhile observations on the current state of the Obama presidency. For the most part, I think Sullivan has it right. The Obama administration can boast some impressive acheivements (the rescue of the U.S. auto industry alone is a huge credit on his legacy) but the weak economy and the terrible jobs picture makes those acheivements moot, in many respects. It matters little at this point that the alterative policies that the GOP has floated would have dragged the world into a far worse state. For that reason, I doubt even the GOP would have followed their own policy proposals were they in power. As much as the right likes to portray John Maynard Keynes as the Devil incarnate, once they find themselves in power Republicans are hardly averse to turning the U.S. Treasury into their personal checkbook. How many stimulus checks did the Bush administration mail out between 2000 and 2008?

Now, this new pack of Teabaggers in Congress is another story. If you thought the debt cieling debate made John Bohener sweat, imagine what it would have been like to fight his own party to pass a budget championed by a Republican president! That day may yet come. One thing is certain: one of the very early steps the next president will have to take in 2013 is a raising of the debt ceiling. Should that event ocurr under a Republican president, it will be interesting to see if the result is internecine warfare or outright hypocrisy. My bet is we'll see just enough contrived protest to mollify whatever remnants of the Tea Party are still around at that time. But I suspect that rank hypocrisy is just a little less likely. Like the militia crazies that melted back into the woodwork when G.W. Bush came to power, the Tea Party will likely dissolve should a Republican president be elected. These movements are basically engineered by plutocrats, even if their members don't fully realize the extent to which they are merely following someone else's script.

Monday, August 22, 2011

John McCain: Not Fit to Run A Baskin Robbins

It's an idea that is astonishing in its singular stupidity: John McCain wants to impose reparations costs on the Libyan people for the money we spent supporting their revolution:

How this guy could ever have been taken seriously as a presidential candidate is a complete mystery, because as this tweet shows, McCain clearly hasn't the intellect, the temperament or the wisdom to manage a Baskin Robbins, let alone the world's lone Superpower. Recall that McCain isn't just another U.S. Senator: he was the GOP's last presidential candidate. There are certain responsibilities that inhere with that emeritas role, and one of the things the onetime GOP standardbearer absolutely should not do is go around antagonizing a nascent democracy and potential ally by shooting his mouth off in such a stupid manner.

(Via Wonkette)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Taking down Kevin Williamson

Andrew Sullivan today links to a critique of Paul Krugam's analysis of the so-called "Texas Miracle" in job creation over the past few years. The critique is by Kevin Williamson and appears in the National Review. I won't quote from the article extensively (you can follow the link and read it yourself) but I will offer my own rebuttal of its claims:

1) Cost of living: Krugman specifically acknowledges that Texas has lower cost of living (when noting the lower cost of housing), and that this lowered cost of living plays a factor in attracting both immigrants and businesses (since they can pay lower wages). So why Williamson spends so much time arguing against this straw man is a mystery to me. What is important is the significance of this lower cost of living to the current political debate: Texas' lower cost of living is not something that can be replicated on a national scale, so it can't possibly speak to Perry's attractiveness as a presidential candidate. Krugman sees this. Williamson, for some reason, does not.

2) Health insurance: Williamson dismisses statistics showing that Texas has a distressingly high percentage of uninsured residents by noting that the state has a high proportion of people under age 18. This is a perfectly bizarre defense of Texas' low rates of insurance. For one thing, residents under the age of 18 should be more likely to be insured, since they are generally covered under their parents’ plans. Furthermore, statistics also show that Texas has one of (if not the) highest rate of uninsured children in the nation. It's puzzling, then, that Williamson thinks that demographics somehow excuse the sad state of health insurance rates in Texas.

3) Unemployment: when you track actual job growth against population growth, you see that Texas pretty much follows national trends these past few years, and this statistic by itself refutes the notion that Texas has showed exemplary job growth. Williamson's entire article is premised on the notion that it was job growth spurred immigration into Texas and not vice versa. But the high unemployment rate in Texas belies this thesis, because what this high unemployment rate means is that for Texas to have been an engine of jobs in an otherwise depressed economy, it would have had to be very peculiar engine of jobs. It would have to have been an engine that created jobs that could only be filled by people outside Texas. Think about it: you've got an economy that is supposedly creating thousands of jobs intrinsically (that is, they are not being created as a result of population growth) but these are jobs that cannot be filled by native Texans (who live there, and don't have to deal with the economic burden and inconvenience of selling their homes and moving). Instead, they must be filled by out-of-staters. And even if this (credulity straining) situation proved true it would merely speak to the exceedingly poor state of education in Texas (and don't forget that Perry and the GOP legislature have slashed billions from education in recent budgets, as a way to avoid raising taxes.)

Monday, August 8, 2011

No right to judge...

Standard & Poors' recent decision to downgrade the United States credit rating from AAA to a AA+ has caused not a little handwringing among the chattering classes. The move dominated the financial news over the weekend, and investors the world over are wondering just what it means for the future borrowing costs of the world's largest economy.

Which is pretty silly.

Because truth be told, in the grand scheme of things and once the dust settles, Standard & Poor's rating of United States debt will prove about as relevant to investors as an unknown blogger's review of the latest Hollywood blockbuster is to the movie industry as a whole. Which is to say: about none at all. Indeed, it's a mystery why the the rating downgrade caused any sort of flare up at all, given Standard and Poor's miserable track record issuing ratings over the past few years. As both Paul Krugman and Daniel Gross have pointed out in recent columns, Standard & Poors' poor judgment in assessing the risks of securitized mortgage debt helped enable the 2008 economic collapse. Krugman is amazed at the Chutzpah:
America’s large budget deficit is, after all, primarily the result of the economic slump that followed the 2008 financial crisis. And S.& P., along with its sister rating agencies, played a major role in causing that crisis, by giving AAA ratings to mortgage-backed assets that have since turned into toxic waste.

Nor did the bad judgment stop there. Notoriously, S.& P. gave Lehman Brothers, whose collapse triggered a global panic, an A rating right up to the month of its demise. And how did the rating agency react after this A-rated firm went bankrupt? By issuing a report denying that it had done anything wrong.

So these people are now pronouncing on the creditworthiness of the United States of America?

And Gross reminds us that S&P's ratings of sovereign debt are both capricous and irrelevant:
S&P, which covered itself in a substance other than glory during the mortgage crisis, may have a poor record and strange methodology when it comes to sovereign ratings. France, which has a far higher debt per capita ratio than the U.S., still enjoys a AAA rating. And a downgrade, alone, doesn't mean U.S. interest rates will spike -- on Monday or at any time in the future. Japan's credit rating was downgraded several years ago, when the interest rates its government paid on bonds was already extremely low, and they've generally trended lower in the years since

My personal view is that, given the rating agencies' dysmal performance throught the 2000's, the current move by Standard is little more than an attempt to appear "serious, prudent" and "conservative" by issuing a "shocking" judgement that, on closer examination, looks to have been arrived at through the arduous, precise and scientific process of dilligently exaggerating currently fashionable cliches. Because S&P's downgrade of U.S. debt is an obvious and laughably transparent over-correction. Having given Lehman and the Subprime Mortgage market an undeserved vote of confidence just before they collapsed, Standard & Poor's seeks to repair its reputation by issuing the United States and undeserved downgrade. Yet as the driver who swerves left to avoid a ditch well knows, over-correction can just as surely leave you stranded in a ditch on the opposite side. The collapse of Lehman and the securitized mortgage market revealed a corrupt, incestuous relationship existed between the ratings agencies and the debt issuers to the point that the former were unable or unwilling to perform their job. What we see here is the little man behind the curtain, imploring us to ignore the little man behind the curtain, even as he hurriedly speaks those words into a microphone and frantically turns dials and flips switches. And if there were still some doubt that Standard and Poor's assessment of U.S. debt is a joke, the revelation that the agency crunched the debt reduction numbers wrong to begin with should settle it:
Before downgrading U.S. debt, S.& P. sent a preliminary draft of its press release to the U.S. Treasury. Officials there quickly spotted a $2 trillion error in S.& P.’s calculations. And the error was the kind of thing any budget expert should have gotten right. After discussion, S.& P. conceded that it was wrong — and downgraded America anyway, after removing some of the economic analysis from its report.

As I write this, the markets are in turmoil. That's not too surprising. In the short term the stock market reflects a casino mentality as traders attempt to gauge investor mood and market direction in hopes of making a quick killing. The long term trends should remain relatively unaffected after the inital rumblings subside. That's not to say everything's hunky dory with the nation's finances, but the long-term trends are as unaffected by Standard & Poor's rating as a freight train smacking a butterfly. Just ask Japan.

(Note: This essay also appears in Stinque)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Double Dip Recession

Brought to you by your friends at the Tea Party... with a helping hand by the Mainstream Media (AKA: the GOP talking points echo chamber) and a spineless Democratic party.

As international markets echo the Dow Jones Industrial Average's 500+ point tumble, just two days after Congress and the President negotiated a deal that pulls 2.6 trillion dollars out of the U.S. economy over the next 10 years (with a promise of another trillion or two in cuts to be announced later), one can't help but be overcome by simultaneous feelings of anger, betrayal and depression. Contempt and disgust are the correct emotions to feel towards the media. When they are not actively promoting a GOP agenda aimed at weakening the U.S. economy that a Democratic president might be defeated in 2012, they're playing the role of useful idiots to the Right, complicit in the Tea Party's contemptible (and potentially treasonous) economic terrorism by virtue of their spinelessness and/or evident intellectual incuriosity. Those who are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes, as George Santayana used to say, and the mainstream media has betrayed astonishing ignorance in their reportage. This intellectual deficit might be excusable in a laborer who puts in his daily 8 to 10 hours at a construction site then spends his evening sprawled out on the couch watching American idol, but in the men and women who are tasked with bringing and explaining the world to us it is nothing short of a crime (don't doubt for a second that your average CNN reporter spends more time putting on makeup than researching the subjects he'll be reporting on). After all, it's not like we haven't been down this road before, and it's not like we haven't seen what happens when the government slashes spending in the midst of a poor economy. It's not like we haven't been warned.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bald Faced Lie of the Day

"We've been down this road before, and Republicans will not go down it again. In 1990, Congress and the President struck a deficit reduction deal that combined spending cuts with tax increases. Unfortunately, while the tax hikes remained, the spending restraint did not, and our debt has only marched higher."

-Republican Senator, Orrin Hatch

Apparently, being a Republican means you can re-write history any which way you please, and not be called out on it. This morning, as I watched CNN, the 24 Hour News network ran a segment on President Obama's call for a debt limit/long term budget compromise position that would involve spending cuts and tax increases at a ratio of about 5 to 1. CNN then quoted Hatch above, but for some reason saw no need to point out that Hatch's statement is a bald faced lie, seemingly suggesting that the Clinton era tax increases (which left the nation with a $200+ billion surplus when the Democratic president left office) are still with us today, when in fact they were undone by his Republican successor, President Bush, who pushed through massive tax cuts that immediately plunged the nation into deficit. Hatch is correct that massive spending increases also followed, but conveniently fails to note that the spending increases, too, were the result of Republican policies, such as unnecessary wars and a poorly conceived prescription drug benefit for seniors that was not balanced by either tax increases or spending cuts and which specifically excluded the government from using its purchasing power to negotiate better drug prices.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

The extent to which Republicans are willing to damage the country's long term health to protect the assets of the moneyed classes is truly astonishing (and sickening). The Daily Beast is reporting that, even as the GOP stands in absolute opposition to any tax increases that might form part of a budget package to reduce the national debt, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Viginia representative Eric Cantor have identified one area of potential revenue increases they are willing to consider. Student loans:

As Monday’s White House budget talks got down to the nitty-gritty, Eric Cantor proposed a series of spending cuts, one of them aimed squarely at college students.

The House majority leader, who did most of the talking for the Republican side, said those taking out student loans should start paying interest right away, rather than being able to defer payments until after graduation. It is a big-ticket item that would save $40 billion over 10 years

That Republicans are willing to make higher education even more unaffordable than it is now to shield their wealthy patrons from tax increases is simply astonishing and betrays a degree of irresponsibility that is difficult to fathom. As our economy becomes more and more focused on high technology and innovation and as the nation faces ever mounting challenges from emerging econmies around the world, the GOP is promoting policies that would hamper the educational prospects of our next generation of scientists, businessmen, entrepeneurs and innovators. It's mind boggling. It's a dagger, thrust directly into the heart of the middle class. How these people still command legions of angry followers simply defies explanation. GOP voters need to get back on their meds so they can see the world as it really is, and not as the screetching voices echoing in the hollow spaces of their paranoid minds tell them it is.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Annals of Newt

You know that $500,000.00 Tiffany's line of credit that everyone's favorite joke of a presidential candidate, Newt Ginrich, spent the last few weeks playing down? Well apparently there's another Tiffany's line of credit he totally forgot to mention, and this one was good for a cool million. So gone are the days of Pat Nixon's "respectable cloth coat." $30,000 diamond tennis bracelets are what the smartly dressed Republican wife is wearing these days.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Not Afraid to Lie

I'm conflicted about writing about Bristol Palin. After all, I do believe that the children of politicians should not have to bear the consquences of their parents sins. But when the twenty year old children of politicians chase fame by appearing on reality shows and write vicious "memoirs" that slander others and are carefully crafted to polish the political family's image at the expense of the truth, it seems to me they invite closer scrutiny. Such is the case with Bristol palin and her new book: Not Afraid of Life. The memoir includes some startling accusations (including rape) and claims that must elicit, at best, skepticism. The younger Palin claims, for instance, that she lost her virginity unwittingly to the man who would later become her finacee, when the two were on a campign trip and she passed out from too much alcohol. She remembers nothing of the incident. Furthermore, she makes the hardly believable claim that she was on prescription birth control when she became pregnant and that the pil was prescribed for her due to menstrual cramps (wouldn't want anyone to think that family values icon Sarah Palin condoned her unmarried daughter's sexual activities). Couple these claims with the younger Palin's recent plastic surgery, which was paid for by her insurance company because she found a doctor who would sign off on it being "medically necessary" and a picture begins to emerge of a young lady who lies almost as frequently, publicly and badly as her mother.

(Correction: this post originally claimed Bristol Palin was 26)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Shorter John McCain

"There is substantial evidence that everything bad in the world is caused by people whose demonization furthers my political ambitions."

Christopher Hitchens Reads David Mamet...

...so you don't have to.

Here's a taste of what Hitch has to say:

Propagandistic writing of this kind can be even more boring than it is irritating. For example, Mamet writes in “The Secret Knowledge” that “the Israelis would like to live in peace within their borders; the Arabs would like to kill them all.” Whatever one’s opinion of that conflict may be, this (twice-made) claim of his abolishes any need to analyze or even discuss it. It has a long way to go before it can even be called simplistic.

...and also:
[Mamet] shows himself tone-deaf to irony and unable to render a fair picture of what his opponents (and, sometimes, his preferred authorities, like Hayek) really believe. Quoting Deepak Chopra, of all people, as saying, “Our thinking and our behavior are always in anticipation of a response. It [sic] is therefore fear-based,” he seizes the chance to ask, “Is it too much to suggest that this quote contains the most basic prescription of liberalism, ‘Stop Thinking’?” On that evidence, yes, it would be a bit much.

The entire review can be found here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

No, We Are Not Greece...

Regardless of what the Right might want you to believe, the U.S. is in no real immediate danger of collapsing due to eccessive debt obligations:

An investor now has to pay about $2 million annually to insure $10 million of Greek debt over five years, compared with about $50,000 on the same amount of United States government debt, according to Markit.

For folks whose actual money is on the line, U.S. debt remains a far safer bet than Greece... really, there's no comparison. Indeed, we are seen as 1/40th as likely to default as Greece.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


As a followup to my previous post: here is MIT Economist Brad DeLong explaining just how difficult it would be for the U.S. to acheive 5% economic growth:

For one thing, we'd need a significant increase in the number of Americans in the workforce, but:

The American working-age adult population in 2020 will on average be older than it was in 2000--and older people are less likely to want to work. Americans will spend more time in school in 2020 than they did in 2000--and adults who are in school aren't working. We won't see 64.7% again--not without big changes like raising the Social Security retirement age a lot, which aren't on Pawlenty's menu.

Nor will population growth help much here:

The Census projection sees the 18-and-over population growing at 0.88% per year, and the 18-to-64 population growing at 0.23% per year...

And there is little to suggest that productivity growth can make up for this:

We just had such a transient early-recovery spike: 5 quarters during which productivity growth averaged 6.1% rather than 2.7%. We are unlikely to have such
a spike again in the next ten years. Subtract out the excess productivity growth above trend of this spike and we have a forecast of labor productivity growth over the next ten years of not 2.5% per year but 2.2% per year. Now that is significantly better than the 1.7% per year of 1981-2011--or the 0.9% per year of 1981-1995. But it doesn't get you to 5% per year.

All in all, a sober analysis by someone who knows what he's talking about rather than just promising every voter a pony and a gingerbread castle with a chocolate draw-bridge and a gumbdrop doorbell.


He's being hailed as one of the "serious" GOP candidates this coming election season (in contrast to the crazies like Bachmann, the celebrity candidates like Sarah Palin, or the novelty candidates like Herman Cain), but one look at his economic proposals should belie any claim to seriousness. Pawlenty's economic "plan" consists of little more than continued gutting of regulations and a lowering of effective tax rates, then crossing your fingers and hoping for a miracle in the form of 10 years of steady economic growth at a rate that hasn't been seen in country since we were massviely ramping up our military industrial production to fight Tojo and the Nazis:

Let’s start with a big, positive goal. Let’s grow the economy by 5%, instead of the anemic 2% currently envisioned. Such a national economic growth target will set our sights on a positive future. And inspire the actions needed to reach it. By the way, 5% growth is not some pie-in-the-sky number. We’ve done it before. And with the right policies, we can do it again.

Between 1983 and 1987, the Reagan recovery grew at 4.9%. Between 1996 and 1999, under President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress the economy grew at more than 4.7%. In each case millions of new jobs were created, incomes rose and unemployment fell to historic lows. The same can happen again.
Growing at 5% a year, rather than the current level of 1.8%, would net us millions of new jobs. Trillions of dollars in new wealth. Put us on a path to saving our entitlement programs. And balance the federal budget.

How do we do it? In short, we create more economic growth. By creating more economic freedom. We should start by overhauling the tax code. Its currently an anti-growth, nine thousand page monstrosity. That’s chock full of special deals for special interests. It’s main goal, seems to be to generate campaign contributions. Not jobs.

I think my favorite part of Pawlenty's ridiculous proposal is the notion that if you just tell people to grow the economy at 5%, by gosh they'll do it! Thus the Paulenty Plan is one part Supply Side Vooodo, and one part Maoist Great Leap Forward. It's also amusing that, as evidence that 5% growth over 10 years is possible, he references two substantially shorter periods of less than 5% economic growth. Paul Krugman, for one, points out that we haven't seen this level of economic growth since the Second World War (a period diuring which corporate tax rates ran as high as 95%, BTW), and former White House deputy Press secretary Bill Burton delivered the most fitting reaction to Pawlenty's plan when he mocked it thus:
“Do you think Goolsbee and Sperling are sitting around the White House like, ‘Oh, why hadn’t we thought of that?’” Burton said of Obama’s economic advisers. “I mean, it’s not just pie in the sky. It’s a whole floating bakery.”
But almost as sad as Pawlenty's economic plan is his response to his critics:
Obama's economic team doesn't have a plan, so their spokespeople attack ours. The idea that they don't believe in the American people enough to say that we can grow the economy at 5% GDP really says everything.

This statement reminds me of nothing so much as the courtroom scene in Animal House, where the Delta House defense attorney, in a singular act of disingenuous sophistry, interprets the school's proposed sactions against his fraternity as an attack on the United States of America:
Otter: Ladies and gentlemen, I'll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests - we did.
[winks at Dean Wormer]
Otter: But you can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen! [Leads the Deltas out of the hearing, all humming the Star-Spangled Banner]

So with a disingenous rhetorical twist, criticism of Pawlenty's absurd economic plan becomes a lack of faith in the American people. It's enough to make one wonder why Pawlenety settled for just 5% economic growth? Does he himself not have enough faith in the American people to expect 10% annual growth? And if 10% is possible then why not 20%? Oh, ye of little faith!

This sort of thing makes for a funny movie, all right, but it's just pathetic (and potentially dangerous) demagoguery coming from a candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Political Decadence

Andrew Sullivan asks the question "At what point do we decide that a political system has become decadent?"

For Sullivan it was the moment that Congress assented to torture in 2006 and Sarah Plain was nominated for VP in 2008. I'll give a slightly longer answer with a more historical perspective, focusing on what I feel was the watershed event that led us to our current, dysfunctional political reality:

I suspect that the decline of the political process in this country can probably be traced back to George Herbert Walker Bush's defeat in the 1992 elections, not so much the fact of his defeat as the interpretation that was attached to it. This was widely interpreted as Republican voter backlash for Bush's broken pledge not to raise taxes. Bush did so, of course, because he saw looming catastrophic debt on the horizon if revenues weren't raised to tame the budget deficit. Nonetheless, Republican politcians got the message their core constituency was sending: don't raise taxes or we'll vote you out of office. This is the point at which the GOP adpoted a strategy of simply denying reality when it didn't suit their narrative. George H.W. Bush lost his job by being honest and doing something that was necessary but unpopular. The GOP resolved to not repeat that mistake. To justify the anti-tax stance demanded by their core voters while pretending to care about our mounting national debt, the GOP adopted the dogma that reductions in tax rates always pay for themsleves by fueling economic expansion. This is patently untrue, as any honest assesment of the data will show, but you'll never see a GOP pol on T.V. assert otherwise. From here on out the GOP became a party where ideology always trumps pragmatism. Meanwhile, the rise of Fox News gave the GOP a popular outlet in which to promote an alternative narrative of events that was completely divorced from reality. And so taxes must be lowered to pay off the debt, waterboarding is no longer torture, global warming is a hoax, or at the very least a subject of scientific dispute, and illegal immigration is the single greatest threat to our nation after Al Quaeda. It's what Sullivan and other heretical conservatives have been calling "epistemic closure," and I'd say that it's the greatest threat to our national unity since the Civil War. If you and I can longer agree on the basic facts underlying our national predicament, how are we supposed to work together, to compromise in order to find a solution? When both parties are inhabiting the same epistemic universe, you can reduce the national debt by reaching a compromise where you raise taxes more than the GOP would like and cut spending more than the Democrats would like. But what happens when one party holds to the dogma that raising taxes will counteract the spending cuts, so the only effective solution is spending cuts and tax cuts? No compromise is possible then, and the system begins to break down.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


An Episcopalian congregation in Maryland has decided that it would rather join a church that tolerated, enabled, and covered up rampant paedophilia in its ranks than remain with a church that condones gay marriage and the ordination of women.

Choosing between the twin evils of civil rights and paedophilia must be tough, no?

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Bypass Road Around Reality

Two must-read editorials in the Times today.

The first is a piece by Paul Krugman detailing how the mainstream media and the commentariat is colluding with the GOP in an attempt to silence those who would state the plainly obvious truth that the Ryan "Medicare reform" plan replaces the current medicare insurance system with a system of vouchers to buy private insurance (though I prefer to call them gift certificates).

The next one is by Nobel Prize winning economist Peter Diamond, and details his dismay at being denied a seat on the Federal Reserve by Republican politicians who did so under the laughable pretense that he was unqualified for the position.

A common thread joins these two columns: American politics has become a completely subjetive, relativistic, perspectivistic exercise. When it becomes unacceptable to call a voucher program a voucher program, when a Nobel prize winning economist can be deemed unfit to serve as a government economist, we have entered a twilight-zone in which there is no such thing as objective "truth" or "falsity." There are only things that are true for you, and things that are true for me. It's ironic, really: my vivid recollection of the 1980s academic culture wars were of conservative "textualists" battling liberal "deconstructionsts" over the question of whether there was such a thing as "truth." Conservative textualists took a roughly "Kantian" position, arguing for objective, eternal, reality grounding truths that no amount of disingenuous sophistry could undermine. Liberal de-constructionists followed the Nietzschean tradition, arguing that "truth" was a concept that was intimately intertwined with and irrevocably bound to relations of power. From the current state of politics and our intellectual tradition, I think we can come to two conclusions: (a) the textualists won the argument, and (b) the deconstructionists were right.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bin Ladin Capture Victory for Bush (And Geraldo Rivera)

At least that's the idea you'd get by surfing over to Fox News this morning. The sitting president is noticeably absent from Fox News coverage of the capture and killing of Osama Bin Ladin. Wouldn't want the anti-colonialist son of a Maori tribesman Barack Obama getting too much of an opinion poll bump from these developments, would we? (Click images to enlarge)

And this:

And this, of course, was inevitable (via Crooks and Liars):

And World Net Daily (your source for all things birther) knows that the announcement of the killing of Osama Bin Ladin deserves smaller size type than the annoucement that one of their "experts" has decided that Barack Obama's long-form birth Certificate has been "changed."

Meanwhile, 11:38 AM, EST and Rush Limaugh's website has still not reported on the news of the day (Via Andrew Sullivan):

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Banality of Fox

It's is as predictable as it is pathetic. The moment a Republican loses a closely watched race, the propagandists at Fox start running stories alleging election fraud.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Quote(s) for the Day

...I'm prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.

-Anthony Watts, prominent global warming denier, 3/6/2011 expressing confidence that a scientific study by a leading global warming skeptic, would rebut the global warming trend observed by mainstream climate scientists.

With his testimony, Dr. Muller has totally destroyed any credibility he might have had with me.

-Anthony Watts (CORRECTION*: Guest Blogger Willis Eschenbach), prominent global warming denier, 3/31/2011 expressing outrage upon learning that the results of the aforementioned scientific study tended to confirm, rather than rebut the global warming trend observed by mainstream climate scientists.

(Hat Tip: Salon, and Paul Krugman)

*I should scan my commnets sections more regularly. It appears that Anthony Watts has noted that the second quote should be attributed, not to him, but to a guest blogger who posted on his websits. the correction is duly noted. I assume that, given the new data, Mr. Watts has now accepted the overwhelming evidence in favor of man-made global warming and is no longer a climate skeptic (heh).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Beneath Contempt

QUESTIONER: “What is more important though to American values–being friends with Israel still or knowing there are jailed dissidents and journalists [in Egypt]?” the woman asked.

ANN COULTER: “What do you mean knowing that there are jailed journalists?” Coulter said. “I think there should be more jailed journalists.” This prompted a huge round of applause from the crowd.

Ann Coulter answering a question at the CPAC conference held earlier this year.

Tyler’s hands were bound by a strip of a scarf. A soldier took off Lynsey’s gray Nike shoes, then bound her with the shoelaces. “God, I just don’t want to be raped,” she whispered to Steve.

“You’re the translator!” a slight soldier screamed at Anthony. “You’re the spy!”

A few seconds passed, and another soldier approached, demanding that we lie on our stomachs.

All of us had had close calls over the years. Lynsey was kidnapped in Falluja, Iraq, in 2004; Steve in Afghanistan in 2009. Tyler had more scrapes than he could count, from Chechnya to Sudan, and Anthony was shot in the back in 2002 by a man he believed to be an Israeli soldier. At that moment, though, none of us thought we were going to live. Steve tried to keep eye contact until they pulled the trigger. The rest of us felt the powerlessness of resignation. You feel empty when you know that it’s almost over.

“Shoot them,” a tall soldier said calmly in Arabic.

A colleague next to him shook his head. “You can’t,” he insisted. “They’re Americans.”


A new group seized us, and they were rougher. They blindfolded us, tied our arms and legs and beat us. They then stuffed us into an armored car, where Lynsey was groped. She never screamed but instead pleaded. A soldier covered her mouth, tracing his hands over her body. “Don’t speak,” he warned. Another soldier tried to shove a bayonet into Steve’s rear, laughing as he did it.

A half-hour later, we arrived on what we thought were the outskirts of the other side of Ajdabiya. A man whom soldiers called the sheik questioned us, then began taunting Tyler.

You have a beautiful head,” he told Tyler in a mix of English and Arabic. “I’m going to remove it and put it on mine. I’m going to cut it off.” Tyler, feeling queasy, asked to sit down.

We were finally put in a pickup where a soldier taunted Lynsey.

“You might die tonight,” he told her, as he ran his hand over her face. “Maybe, maybe not.”

Excerpts from a recent New York Times piece detailing the treatment of four reporters who were recently abducted, beaten, sexually assaulted and subsequently released by forces loyal to Libyan dictator Mohamar Khaddaffi.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Krugman on Greenspan's Latest

Apparently, the guy who was minding the ship while our economy had a meltdown (and who actually encouraged ordinary consumers to buy exotic mortgage instruments) has advice for President Obama on how to lead the economy into recovery. And, as you might expect of Alan Greenspan, it's little more than a rehash of current right-wing doggerel (short summary: stop spooking the markets by being such a socialist). Paul Krugman is not impressed:

Greenspan writes in characteristic form: other people may have their models, but he’s the wise oracle who knows the deep mysteries of human behavior, who can discern patterns based on his ineffable knowledge of economic psychology and history.

Sorry, but he doesn’t get to do that any more. 2011 is not 2006.

Greenspan is an ex-Maestro... He’s no longer the Man Who Knows; he’s the man who presided over an economy careening to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression — and who saw no evil, heard no evil, refused to do anything about subprime, insisted that derivatives made the financial system more stable, denied not only that there was a national housing bubble but that such a bubble was even possible.

If he wants to redeem himself through hard and serious reflection about how he got it so wrong, fine — and I’d be interested in listening. If he thinks he can still lecture us from his pedestal of wisdom, he’s wasting our time.

Brad DeLong adds his two cents:

Greenspan writes:

What is most notable [about today]... is the unusually low level of corporate illiquid ong-term fixed asset investment.... This contrasts starkly with the robust recovery n the markets for liquid corporate securities.... What, then, accounts for this xceptionally elevated level of illiquidity aversion?... I infer that... the effect can be explained by the shock of vastly greater uncertainties embedded in the competitive, regulatory, and financial environments faced by businesses... deriving from the surge in government activism...

I don't see how this hangs together in any coherent fashion at all.
Private investment is low because aggregate demand is low and so capacity utilization is low--and is not expected to get better anytime soon. Full stop. That is an explanation that is coherent and fits the facts in the way that Greenspan's Randite claim that it must somehow be the fault of the gummint does not.

What's perhaps most irritating about right-wing critiques of Democratic economic policies is that they so often rely upon the "analyst" reading the minds of business owners, with no actual survey data to back up the claims presented. How many times have you heard Right-wing mouthpieces blather on about "regulatory uncertainty" unsettling businesses and the markets? And yet, as DeLong here again shows, when you actually ask business owners why they are acting the way they are, "uncertainty" almost never comes up as an answer.

A decent press corps, of course, might make it more diffcult for disingenuous pundits to get away with this sort of thing, but you'll die of old age waiting for the American media to do anything other than parrot official press releases and the talking points developed by the sophists turning the bog wheel at you typical right-wing "thinktank/propaganda mill"

Friday, March 11, 2011

Squezing Blood from the Middle Class Turnip

The recent events in Wisconsin are, on one level, baffling. Somehow the GOP has convinced voters that the best way to balace state budgets is to squeeze the wages of middle class families, in this case public sector workers, while keeping taxes low for the wealthy. Today, a story on school property taxes in the New York Times sheds more light on this peculiar direction our country has taken. The article focuses on the decidedly upper crust community of Bronxville, New York, and the desire of its residents to maintain high academic standards and good schools, but not have to actually pay for them:

Most family incomes in Bronxville, about 15 miles north of Midtown Manhattan, are in the six and seven figures, ranking the village among the wealthiest enclaves in America. But even an additional $100 to $200 tacked on, in a village where the typical homeowner already pays $43,000 in annual property taxes, has met enough resistance to make town officials think twice.

Some residents argue that the town should be more businesslike, cutting other costs to offset the outlay for smaller classes. Peter P. Pulkkinen is one. A 40-year-old investment banker, he and his wife, Sarah, moved here in 2004 from the Upper East Side and their two oldest children are now in the first and third grades. He wants small classes for them. But rather than raise taxes, he would restrict teacher compensation— particularly their benefits.

So here we have a wealthy investment banker looking to slash middle-income teacher salaries rather than pay a dime more in taxes. Meanwhile, hedge fund maangers still pay taxes on million dollar incomes at a mere 15% rate. Class warfare is not dead in America, my friends. Far from it. It's just that at the moment, it's a very one-sided war.

(EDIT: More on this in an excellent Salon piece by Robert Reich.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Quote for the Day

If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.

-GOP Rep. Peter King

NY Representative Peter King is holding hearings on the "radicalization" of American Muslims, using fabricated statistics to create the impression that American Muslims are on the whole supportive of terrorist violence against US interests. Yet his own past support for IRA terror campaigns against the British, including the above quote explicitly absolving of the IRA of responsibility for civilians killed in IRA terror bombings campaigns drives home the extent to which Republican posturing on the "war on terror" is little more than a hypocritical exercise in bigotry and demagoguery.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Face of the GOP

Don't let anyone tell you that the GOP has abandoned bigotry and racism. Nothing could be further from the truth, as GOP rep. Steve King's scheduled congressional show-trial of Muslim-Americans clearly demonstrates:

Mr. King, a Republican whose district is centered in Nassau County on Long Island, says the hearings will examine the supposed radicalization of American Muslims. Al Qaeda is aggressively recruiting Muslims in this country, he says. He wants to investigate the terror group’s methods and what he claims is the eagerness of many young American Muslims to embrace it.
Notice that the hearing is solely about Muslims. It might be perfectly legitimate for the Homeland Security Committee to investigate violent radicalism in America among a wide variety of groups, but that doesn’t seem to be Mr. King’s real interest.
Instead, he is focusing on one group that appears to have obsessed him since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, resulting in slanders and misstatements that might have earned him a rebuke from his colleagues had they been about any other group. More than 80 percent of the mosques in America are run by extremists, he has said, never citing real evidence. Too many American Muslims are sympathetic to radical Islam, he said.

And don't let anyone tell you the GOP is a proponent and promoter of democracy. Rather, the party's modus operandi involves dis-enfranchising voters who support their opposition. In this the GOP is no different from third-world despots who make outward assurances that their nations are democracies, while jailing opposition leaders and pronouncing their parties illegal:

New Hampshire's new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They're "foolish," Speaker William O'Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group.

"Voting as a liberal. That's what kids do," he added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube. Students lack "life experience," and "they just vote their feelings."

New Hampshire House Republicans are pushing for new laws that would prohibit many college students from voting in the state - and effectively keep some from voting at all.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Being Sarah Palin Means Never Having to make Sense

Salon reports on Sarah Palin's response to the recent Supreme Court ruling on Westboro Baptist's protests at funerals (tweeted, of course):
Common sense & decency absent as wacko "church" allowed hate msgs spewed@ soldiers' funerals but we can't invoke God's name in public square
I have a feeling that twitter is the best thing that ever happened to Sarah Palin. The medium's restrictions (140 characters) allow Palin to issue pithy little proclamations whose underlying assumptions are so convoluted, inconsistent and absurd that they would never survive a longer, more carefully considered exposition. In the above tweet, for instance, Palin is lamenting that the Supreme Court allows private citizens to voice their religious opinions in public, but bars the government from making religious proclamations.

Of course, you have to actually think through what Palin is saying to realize it. Those glassy eyed zombies that react instantaneously and mechancially to every word their oracle tweets would never get the inherent stupidity of what she's saying.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Say Anything

The Washington Post runs a fact check on a popular right-wing meme: that since becoming president Barack Obama has travelled around the world apologizing for U.S. conduct. Unsurprisingly the Post awards the claim it's highest dishonesty rating of 4 Pinocchios. But what struck me as most peculiar about the examples that the Post culls from right-wing websites and mouthpieces was this statement by Karl Rove:

In London, [Barack Obama] said that decisions about the world financial system were no longer made by "just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy" -- as if that were a bad thing.

So, wait... Karl Rove is nostalgic for a (probably mythical) time when decisions about the world financial system were formulated and negotiated in private by two heads of state? Silly me: all this time I thought government intervention was bad and the markets were supposed to organize themselves?

I think what this example shows is that conservatives can make the most absurd, foolish, nonsensical and contradictory claims in the service of attacking the President. It doesn't matter what Obama says. If he said it, it's wrong.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hyperbolize Much?

Oh, this is nice. Here's a Fox headline describing illegal immigration as "America's 3rd War:"

Yeah, that's right, Murdoch's propaganda network is comparing undocumented workers coming to the US looking for work to armed, violent insurgents in Iraq and the Afghan Taliban. Stay classy, Fox, and next time armed border vigilantes murder a 9 year old girl as she pleads for her life, remind us how you had nothing to do with it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

GOP Family Values

So, according to the GOP now, it's not really "incest" if she's over the age of 18.

The new version of the [GOP abortion] bill apparently retains the clause that limits the incest exemption to girls under the age of 18 and language that makes it tougher for women to obtain abortion coverage through their private insurers.

My guess is they're just trying to cover their tails.

VIA: TPM Cafe.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Rememeber the last two of years when Dick Army's Tea Party engineered massive astroturf rallies against the Obama Administration by scaring seniors into believing that the President was going to implement large funding cuts to Medicare? The nation saw scenes of seniors on electric scooters attending anti-government TEA party rallies terrified by the prospect that the Obama administration was threatening their access to a Socialist, government run health insurance program.

The juxtaposition was incongruous, to be sure. But nonetheless, there they were wit their government supplied scooters and their signs, proving that in politics it is far more effective to scare people with lies than try to convince them of the superiority of your actual policy positions by explaining the intricacies and nuances of your plan.

Well, now that they finally have control of the House, GOP leaders are not only threatening Medicare with cuts of their own (you mean the party that has derided Medicare as Socialism for 60 years didn't really mean to strengthen and protect the system?) they are floating a plan to do far worse: they want to privatize the system, effectively ending Medicare altogether.

Interestingly, it appears that the GOP is now a subsidiary of the radical, far-right TEA Party, and cannot even impose the discipline necessary to quiet the radicals until after the 2012 election when they might actually have the political power to start putting some of these ideas into effect.

I have a feeling that the Obama administration is salivating at the prospect of running in 2012 against the party that wants to not only give health insurers the right to discriminate against people with pre-existing medical conditions, cap lifetime medical benefits, and raise rates on a whim, but is also the party that wants to end the Medicare system altogether, replacing it with fixed payments that seniors must use to buy a policy from these same insurance companies that have just been given the green light to screw their customers seven ways to Sunday.

The only question that remains is whether Democrtas will take the opportunity that's been handed to them and hammer this message 24/7 over the next two years, or whether they'll shrug their shoulders and continue to "play nice," virtually assuring that Barack Obama will be a one-term president.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More Race Baiting from Fox

Does it surprise anyone that Fox News has decided to launch a salvo against the latest call for political civility --the suggestion that Democrats and Republicans sit side by side at the State of the Union address, as opposed to gathering in separate camps-- by making a mocking, sardonic reference to the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement? (Click the image at left to expand the headline that reads "'Kumbaya Seating' at State Of the Union a Distraction?")

Two years ago, a Republican congressman from South Carolina enthralled the Tea Party faithful by shouting out the words "you lie" as our nation's first African American president delivered the traditional State of The Union message to Congress. For showing such infantile disrespect to president Obama, congressman Joe Wilson was hailed as a hero, and came to embody and give voice to the hateful bigotry of those who cannot accept that our nation, the world around them and the times, have changed.

I have little doubt that many of those who question Barack Obama's citizenship and country of birth do so because they see in their fanciful conspiracy theories a vain hope of clearing America of the "stain" of having been governed by a black president. if Obama is illegitimate, then he never was president in the first palce, and America's history governance by white males remains unbroken.

Kumbaya, people.