Friday, December 30, 2011

How Iceland Recovered

An interview with the President of Iceland on CBC is here. The interview starts at about the 9 minute mark. Iceland did precisely the opposite of what prevailing economic orthodoxy recommends. They allowed the banks to fail, allowed their currency to devalue, rejected austerity, expanded social services, didn't concern themselves with balancing the budget. Basically anti-Republicanism. Where Republican policies remain in force in Europe economic downturn remains.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Four Key Gulf War I Stories

I was talking with a colleague about Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and I realized that there are certain critical facts that are just unknown to most Americans about this war. I talk with people all the time and almost nobody knows anything about this until I tell them.

1-Just prior to the invasion the US Ambassador to Iraq gave Saddam an effective green light to invade. April Glaspie (shown meeting Saddam to the right) questioned Saddam regarding the troops he was amassing at the border. It was well known that Saddam regarded the border as illegetimate. It blocks his access to the sea and deprives him of certain oil rich regions. It was intended to prevent one state from having too much power in his view. Following the Iran/Iraq War, which Saddam probably entered at the behest of the US, the treasury was drained and he thought he could resolve this by eliminating the border and conquering Kuwait. After questioning Saddam about the troops Glaspie informed him that the US has no position on Arab-Arab conflicts and Secretary Baker asked her to emphasize this instruction. This was probably taken by Saddam as tacit permission to invade.

2-Public opinion in the US was not strongly in favor of US involvement in a war. The President was seeking Congressional approval and it wasn't obvious that he would get it. Then came testimony from a Kuwaiti girl that claimed Iraqi soldiers were removing sick babies from their incubators at Kuwaiti hospitals and the result was the death of these babies. George Bush would repeat this story multiple times to achieve maximum exposure in the media. Seven Senators cited this testimony in their speeches explaining their ultimate support for the war effort, which passed by a mere 5 votes. After the war was over some facts started to emerge. The girl was the daughter of the Kuwait ambassador to the US. She had been coached in her presentation and possibly in her testimony by the PR firm Hill & Knowlton, a group that in the past had worked for the tobacco industry attempting to convince people that there were no verfiable links between smoking and lung cancer. The story is a concocted fraud.

3-Prior to the initiation of hostilities with the US, Iraq repeatedly offered peaceful withdrawal proposals. Those offers were ignored, both by the US government and the major media.

4-In an effort to help remove Saddam from Kuwait President Bush called on the Shiites in Iraq to rise up and rebel against the dictator. So they did. And when Saddam withdrew from Kuwait Bush then assisted Saddam's efforts to crush the rebellion because he preferred that Saddam remain in power. The result was the death of 300,000 people. The mass graves were discovered after the 2003 invasion.

I believe these are 4 of the key facts everyone that wants to understand this war should know. And in the US most Americans know of none of them. It's the kind of event that left these Chinese students perplexed when they visited the US in 1979. What they really wanted to understand was how the party secretary of New York controls the NY Times. When they are told that no party controls the NY Times they were incredulous and confused.

Propaganda in the US is much more sophisticated than control by force or on command. And quite a bit more effective.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is Peter Schiff a Parasite?

Peter Schiff is one of Ron Paul's economic advisers, and I've been listening to his radio show lately. On his December 22 show he talked about an appearance he'd made on Cenk Uygur's show. He was ultimately cut off by Cenk. On his radio show he explains that he was having trouble with his ear piece, so he didn't realize Cenk was trying to break in. Cenk probably thought Peter was ignoring him so he cut him off. More of a misunderstanding than anything.

On the show Peter was essentially defending the 1%. They create the jobs, they write the checks, they pay the taxes. He read an email from someone that saw him on Cenk's show and the email called him a parasite. Peter laughs and says no, the writer has it backwards. He's the host. He's paying all the taxes. Do the poor want him to leave? If so who's going to pay for the welfare that all the poor people want? Who's going to employ everyone? You are sucking off his tit. He's not sucking off yours.

I was thinking about how I would react to Peter as I listened and I was a bit stymied. I had to think about it. This is the value of listening to those I disagree with. Something's not right about what he's saying, but formulating that into words takes effort. Putting myself through that effort is a good thing because I think it prepares me to explain it to those that might want to know.

In a capitalist system there are two ways to make money. You can work and get paid a salary. Or you can own a business. If you are paid a salary you aren't a parasite. You are compensated for what you are doing. And if you own a business you aren't necessarily a parasite. Suppose you work really hard to create a business that provides a product people value. Let's just use a janitorial service as an example. Someone is willing to pay you to clean their home or building. That's not parasitic.

Let's suppose your business expands and you can employee one person. You delegate this person to do 75% of the cleaning. You are the owner and you do 25% of the cleaning and also run the books, try to find new business, etc. Your employee is better off having the job opportunity. And you are providing a service to consumers. That's all fine. But there is just a tiny bit of a parasitical relationship here. Your employee is obviously doing something productive and your company gets a check for it. You take a portion of that check and pay him a salary. You keep the rest. That's fine. There's nothing wrong with it. You took a risk and started a business, made an employee better off, provided a service for your customers. I don't think anybody has a big problem with this arrangement. But the work he does provides more value then the amount of compensation he is given. If it didn't he wouldn't have been hired.

As this arrangement continues and the business expands that parasitical arrangement becomes more and more pronounced. Maybe a right winger would still not object if the owner had expanded to 1000 employees, including management that permits the owner to do nothing at all, including dealing with books, advertising, and marketing. The owner just stays home, pays salaries with revenue generated, and then retains the surplus revenue. You can call that good or bad. Maybe that's his just reward for taking that initial risk. But it is parasitical. Right now the productive efforts are entirely the work of others and he collects the money.

And let's take it a step further. Let's suppose we're not dealing with a person that worked hard in starting a business. Let's suppose a man has $1 million for whatever reason. Maybe he inherited it. Maybe he won a lottery. Maybe he stole it. He decides one day he's going to start a janitorial service, but he isn't going to do any work. He's going to pay someone a salary to initiate it. This person needs to hire workers, manage the books, and perhaps do some cleaning if necessary. Let's suppose this service succeeds. The owner doesn't do anything productive. He wrote an initial check, and that was it. Now he sits back. The service employs 350 people. It generates $1 million/month in revenue. With that revenue he pays his employees an average of $1500/month, or $18K/yr. The balance is $475K/mo. He spends $100K/mo on materials/tools, etc. He retains $375K/mo. He never breaks a sweat. He does pretty much nothing except writing checks (most check writing is delegated to someone else, but he writes the one check to the manager). He is in fact generating his revenue based on the sweat of others. He is a parasite.

This is really close to what Peter Schiff is. Peter Schiff runs an investment firm. He makes money from owning things. Suppose he just buys all the stock in this janitorial service. His income could be in the form of dividends. Payouts based on the profit of the company. If he owns all the stock he gets the $375K/mo.

If you think Schiff is contributing to the service, consider what would happen if the employees were to decide that they simply weren't going to respect the ownership title that he waves in their face. Suppose they said sure, you own the brand and you own the mops. But we don't care. We're going to use them to clean buildings, and we're going to take the revenue and distribute it amongst the workers as well as keep the business running. Would the work cease? Would it no longer be possible to clean the buildings? No. Work would go on as before. We don't need Peter Schiff to clean the buildings and make a good living. He's doing nothing but collecting the revenue that is generated due to the work we do.

Where I work the janitorial service has been outsourced, perhaps with a company like Peter would own. They drive up in their rickety cars. They try to hide their smiles so we don't see their crooked teeth. I've befriended one lady. Her name is Kathy. She goes to work at her first job at the shock absorber plant and works about 10 hours. Then she comes in to our office building and puts in another 3 or 4. She works in our office 5 days a week and at the plant 6 or 7. But that's not enough for her to afford a home, so she lives with her brother. Yeah, she drinks and smokes. Not wise. But it's a tough life and it's hard to cope. She really could use some health care coverage. She obviously can't afford it.

Peter Schiff says we should be grateful to him because he pays all the taxes. He takes his $350K/mo or whatever it is he makes which comes from the productive efforts of people like Kathy and he's outraged that he's expected to pay taxes. "Do you want all us rich people to leave?" he asks.

I say sure, let him go, but with a caveat. If he doesn't stay we aren't going to send him the surplus revenue generated by the janitorial service. We aren't going to respect the piece of paper that says he owns it. He doesn't do anything that is needed for productive output. He doesn't really contribute. He wouldn't even be paid in the first place if people didn't respect his property rights.

This is of course not how all the rich became rich. Many of the rich did it the way the hypothetical man that started the janitorial service in my example did. Everyone respects that. Everybody knows that in cases like this, where a person is taking a lot of risk and working really hard, harder then most others, that this guy should be rich. That is just and good for the economy. But that's just not what has been going on in the US over the last 30 years. Those that are getting rich these days are overwhelmingly hedge fund managers and CEO's. The belief that people like this are actually compensated due to their productive value is highly dubious, and certainly not necessarily true.

The janitors, factory workers, tomato pickers, and garbage men aren't parasites, leeching off the benevolent capitalist that owns Waste Management and gave the garbage man a job as a gift. The garbage man is keeping only a portion of his productive effort and giving the rest to the stock holder, who for all we know is sitting in a mansion doing absolutely nothing. Schiff says the worker is the parasite and the rich man sipping piƱa coladas by the pool is the host. That's twisted and wrong.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Massacre in Kazakhstan

It's a full on war on unions in Kazakhstan. An overview at Naked Capitalism here. It's mostly ignored in the US as is our own bloody labor history. Some Johnny Cash in memory of the murdered Kazakhs.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Immorality and Failure of Austerity

There's nothing new about austerity. It's a program of lower deficit spending, reduced government expenditure, and debt reduction. This is a part of a program that goes by another name. Neoliberalism. Neoliberalism came to be associated with policies dubbed the Washington Consensus.

It's been tried in many places. In the 80's countries in Latin America attempted to install governments that expanded social spending, income redistribution and the like. Basically the opposite of austerity. The response was a terrorist war and imposition of thuggish governments that did in fact impose the Washington Consensus. In Haiti the people attempted to install Aristide. Once again he advocated progressive economic policies. He was ousted and replaced by a World Bank official that retained the austerity type programs. The failure of these methods is obvious.

But let's suppose you're not a history buff and you're unaware of this. That's fine. Take a look at the places where austerity has been implemented since the turn of the century in Europe. It's places like Ireland, Spain, Italy, and Greece. How have they performed since their austerity measures? About as bad as could possibly be conceived.

Not every country has gone that path. Take Iceland. The movie "Inside Job" used Iceland as it's initial focal point. The reason is because it was just that bad. The failure was so big that a bank bail out wasn't even an option. So they had no choice but to tell creditors to take a hike. They in fact expanded the social safety net. Once again the opposite of austerity. They're one of the few European nations doing rather well.

Precisely the same thing happened in Argentina. In 2001 they defaulted on debt. Rather than bailing out the banks (rewarding the rich) and repaying that by punishing the poor (implementing cuts in social services) they did the opposite. Screw the creditors. Expand the welfare state. The result? An economy that is growing like gangbusters.

What else would you expect? Impose Haitian and Latin American economic models on countries and those countries go straight down the crapper just like Haiti and countries in Latin America did. It doesn't work. We've known it doesn't work for decades. We're learning again as we watch even 1st world nations now falter.

But it's not just that it doesn't work. It's unjust. It's a reward to the rich for their abuse paid for by the poor. Mark Blyth, professor at Brown University explains why.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Why I Abandoned Ron Paul

You have to respect Ron Paul in that he is principled. A key moral principle is that if an action is wrong for others it's wrong for us. Ron Paul understands that and so he recognizes that various US invasions on the basis of perceived threats are wrong. He talks about the enormous human costs of our invasions. He asks us to think about how we'd feel if it was done to us.

I had a big Ron Paul sign in my yard in 2008. Still have the sign in fact. But I won't be putting it up this time. As much as I respect him and agree with him on many issues, he's just wrong economically.

Paul Krugman has been noting this recently. Paul's models have simply failed. People of the Austrian school of economics made some really bold predictions. They've just been dead wrong. That matters.

Today Paul Krugman has some similar erroneous claims from Peter Schiff from back in 2009. Schiff is a huge Ron Paul fan. I was likewise a fan of Schiff. I knew about how he was predicting a crash and being called a moron for it. Watch how accurate he is compared to Ben Stein. So yeah, he looked to be someone that understood what was going on. But even in that popular video you can see hints of how he's wrong. He's expecting a dollar crash. That hasn't happened.

On the other hand when you look to Krugman you see that he likewise saw the downturn coming due to the housing bubble and additionally let it be known that he expected the dollar to be strong. He also expected the downturn to be prolonged because there was on net no stimulus (you hear that Obama passed stimulus, but this wasn't enough to offset reductions in state revenue, hence no stimulus on net).

On a similar note, here's an interesting article regarding Friedrich Hayek. Similarly wrong about the Great Depression like Paul and Schiff are now.

Goodbye Fifth Ammendment

Congressional approval levels are at record lows. 9% approval. Lower than porn, polygamy, and the BP oil spill. That's still enough clout to pass through an outrageous dismantling of our Constitution. It used to be that if our government wanted to put you in prison for a long time they had to charge you with a crime and convict you. Then sentence you. You had the opportunity to prove that you were innocent. Bush violated that and so did Obama, but at least we knew that they were breaking the law. Sure, the law doesn't apply to them because they are rich and powerful, but perhaps they hesitate a bit to break the law.

No longer. Soon it will be legal for them to act in this way. A discussion with Cenk Uygur and Glenn Greenwald below.

Was Fox News Always This Bad?

I used to watch and like Fox News, but don't like or watch much anymore. I get news online. But when you're at the gym on the tread mill and there are 10 screens I usually decide that Fox is the most interesting, so I watch it sometimes. I can hardly believe how deceptive they are or that I used to watch them unaware of this.

A while back I watched Hannity interview Dick Cheney. The transcript is here. Here's Hannity supposedly doing an interview and they are talking about the Plame/Wilson affair. Plame's identity was leaked and this was possibly a crime. Hannity first points out that the prosecutor knew at the beginning that the source of the leak for Novak was Amitage. And yet the prosecutor went after Libby anyway. That's supposedly outrageous. Why does he go after so many other innocent people, like Libby? "Doesn't this make you mad?" Hannity asks?

Hannity betrays that he knows certain details about this event that suggest he must know that this is grossly misleading. I explained the details here, but in summary yes, Armitage was Novak's source. But Plame's name was leaked to multiple reporters by multiple people, including Libby and Rove, and that would be just as much of a crime as what Armitage did. It doesn't matter that only Novak published the information. This info was leaked in a coordinated effort coming from the Vice President's office. Fitzgerald was attempting to determine the facts and decide if a crime had occurred as part of a coordinated leak. Libby concocted a story to throw Fitzgerald off the trail. That's a crime for which he was properly convicted. Come on, Sean. You must know this stuff.

Then last night was the Fox Republican Presidential debates. Gingrich apparently took $1.6 million from Fannie and Freddie as a "paid consultant." Yeah right. He's selling influence. According to Bachmann it's doubly bad because Freddie and Fannie were at the center of the financial collapse.

Gingrich should respond by saying no they aren't. Every independent study has shown that they are not responsible. In fact if anything they relieved some pressure because they did have higher mortgage standards due to government oversight, so they issued fewer loans that defaulted. Gingrich must know that. But his response assumes the Bachmann caricature is right and everybody else played along. He has to sustain right wing caricatures because that's what his financial backers demand. And presumably tea party Republicans believe these lies. So they all have to pretend that up is down in order to pander.

Bachmann also claimed that Iran was months away from getting a nuke "according to the IAEA." No. That's just not what the IAEA report said. Nor do we really have good reason to think he wants to wipe Israel off the map. This is out of this world nonsense which passes unchallenged or is defended by the Fox moderators. Fortunately Ron Paul corrected Bachmann in this case, but later Hannity would interview Paul and peddle the same nonsense. They are so aggressively misleading it's strange that they are taken as seriously as they are.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stephen Schneider: Science and Distortion

A really well done video on climate change and disinformation. Via Peter Sinclair.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How Much is Spent on Welfare?

Reading some right wingers one might think that the source of all economic problems is black welfare queens having baby after baby in an effort to extract tons of federal welfare dollars so they can live in mansions and drive Cadillacs. OK, maybe that's a bit of an exaggerated description of right wing thinking, but it captures the sentiment.

The actual poor are nothing but the whipping boy. The total amount spent on welfare for the poor is not large. There's a nice break down here. People conflate welfare for the poor with other forms of welfare, like Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment. The latter are in fact programs that you must pay into in order to receive generally speaking. They aren't targeted to poor people. When you set all that aside and actually look at outlays to the kind of people the right wing have in mind it's not much. 6.4% of the federal budget.

How much is defense? There are different ways of measuring it, but the standard claim is that it's about 20% of the federal budget. And what kind of value does this bring? It's kind of a bad joke. Is there an entity that actually represents a threat to our nation's security? Even with 9-11 the fact is that the threat of terrorism is miniscule, as this interesting report from Cato makes clear.

This kind of expenditure is pure corporate welfare. Our military endeavors certainly enhance the threat of terrorism in this country. Our wars are counterproductive. We knew they would be before we embarked on them and we now know that in fact they have enhanced the threat of terrorism. We'd be better off giving defense contractors the money, but just dropping bombs in our own deserts. Our military adventures overseas are the root cause of Islamic terrorism.

So if you want to blame our economic problems on welfare why not first blame the much larger and much more counter productive corporate welfare that is our military industrial complex. Instead the right wants to blame the much smaller amount of welfare that actually helps poor single mothers.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bill Ayers was a Vandal, not a Terrorist

For some reason the right wing is ratcheting up the Bill Ayers rhetoric lately. During 2008 Sarah Palin accused Obama of "paling around with terrorists". The right wing is restating the charge now. I saw Sean Hannity going nuts on it again last night. Dutko's talking about it. I wonder if these people really know what Bill Ayers did.

There's a decent documentary available at Netflix on the Weather Underground. It gives the details of what they did and why. I'd like to record a brief summary. First some historical context.

In 1962 JFK sent the Air Force to bomb South Vietnam. When you carpet bomb a country in this way (tens of thousands of bombing runs occurred in 1962) you recognize that civilians will pay a heavy price. This is pretty unambiguously terrorism and an extreme moral outrage if there ever was one.

Opposition movements in the US were slow to emerge. In fact the anti-war movement in the US was tiny and faced enormous hostility. Noam Chomsky says that prior to 1966 if he were giving a talk against the war even in a liberal city like Boston he'd be taking his life in his hands. Later the protest movement was larger. But the incredible death and destruction imposed didn't seem to be slowing.

This is what lead to the Weather Underground, which formed in 1969. By now the enormous US backed terror campaign was rising to the fore of the American consciousness. The My Lai massacre had occurred. It wasn't particularly unique, except in two respects. A Life Magazine photographer happened to be there. And after the Tet Offensive the business community started to turn against the war, which made it more likely for events like this to be discussed in the major media. Various pictures were taken, including the one to the left. In this case the photographer asked the soldiers to pause just a sec so he could get this shot. They obliged. They gave him a moment so he could get his picture. Then they immediately gunned them all down.

This is an enormous evil and it's occurring on a large scale. Don't think the image to the left reflects an isolated incident.

Members of the Weather Underground decided that the war needed to be brought home to bring pressure to end this. But here's the key. They DID NOT want to kill anybody. They initially planned an event that would have killed people, but in the process of creating the bombs there was an accident. The only people killed were members of the WU. After that they realized that trying to kill people was a mistake. They decided instead to destroy some property.

There modus operandi was as follows. Plant a bomb in a federal building. Time it to go off at midnight when nobody was present. Phone it in to the police so everyone would know it was coming. This would minimize the chances that anybody would be injured or killed. Hope that the prospect of property damage helped end the war or other acts of violence perpetuated by the US government.

They engaged in property damage in reaction to other acts of US violence besides Vietnam. For instance in 1973 the Nixon administration helped bring about a coup in Chile that installed a military dictator and terror state. Concentration camps were built to torture and murder thousands of people. The WU responded with some property destruction.

One can object to Bill Ayers methods, but unless I'm unaware of what the WU did I don't see how it can be called terrorism. And what he was reacting to is unambiguously terrorism. Yet that terrorism is not just ignored. It's actually celebrated by a lot of the same people that now criticize Obama for "paling around with terrorists."

Bill Ayers engaged in property destruction. JFK, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan engaged in a level of terrorism that Osama bin Laden could only dream of. Shouldn't we first object to the hero worship of Reagan before complaining that Obama had a fundraiser in the home of Bill Ayers?

[Edited mention of B-52's in 1962. These may not have been initiated until the post 1965 escalation under Johnson.]

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Family Guy Writer's Occupy Experience

Patrick Meighan describes what it was like to get arrested by the LAPD for peacefully protesting. Read it here. H/T Greenwald. Frank Zappa put it as follows:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Some People Knew

I just stumbled across this Youtube clip with Janeane Garofalo on Fox News. It was apparently prior to the invasion of Iraq. She says Collin Powell's speech was a joke. She takes the view that the inspectors effectively disarmed Iraq and there wasn't good reason to think they had WMD, and that the costs of an occupation were a large unknown and potentially very high. In response Brian Kilmeade of Fox News is talking about the link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. They are so wrong and she is very right. The contrast is stark.

The wars and economic downturn have been immensely damaging. If nothing else those of us that were on the wrong side of the debate at the time must acknowledge our mistakes and learn from them. How many of us were dismissive of Garofalo as a know nothing Hollywood celebrity? She knew her stuff. The Bill Kristols, Fred Barnes, and Charles Krauthammers seemed so impressive. They were clueless.

Some Links on Tax Policy

What is the optimal upper marginal tax rate? Should it be much higher than it is now as it was in previous more prosperous and more egalitarian times? Or if you do raise rates in that way will you stop innovation and see all the job creators "going Galt"? Krugman discusses an interesting study by Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez here. This study evaluates the effect of high taxes as a disincentive so as to arrive at an optimal rate. The result? 70%. Much like it was back in more prosperous times. Maybe the study is wrong, but it's important for people on the right to remember that just because it sounds plausible that higher taxes do more harm than good that doesn't necessarily make it true. The data and facts matter.

Also a couple of links from Bruce Bartlett. In the first he talks about how Republican solutions to our economic problems are precisely the opposite of what CBO and other data indicate would work. In the second he talks about how the tax hikes of 1990 and 1993 clearly were causal in deficit reduction and they were of course likewise opposed by most Republicans. There are workable solutions to our current fiscal problems. Republicans just won't allow them.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Do People Listen to James Delingpole?

I get newsletters via email from conservative publications sometimes. One is Human Events. There's a book by a guy named James Delingpole called "365 Ways to Drive a Liberal Crazy". Human Events sends them out one at a time, maybe once a week, kind of as a teaser to buy the book. I read them. They're kind of juvenile. One day he suggests you refer to the media as the "Old Left Media." Talk about how great Columbus was. Talk about how the reason God made liberals with whiny voices is so even the blind could hate them. We shouldn't celebrate MLK day. Just stupid things.

I follow another blog called Climate Denial Crock of the Week. Peter Sinclair does some good videos covering the climate science denial community. Apparently Delingpole was on the BBC and interviewed by a prestigious scientists. I was a little surprised by that. Is it worth interviewing a guy like this? I mean sure, you'll find obnoxious trolls in comment sections for blogs. People do act in this way. But these are obscure people, right? I would expect that even conservatives don't want to give a guy like this a platform. So why is he being interviewed? Watch below. It's kind of interesting.

I thought that could be an aberration, but apparently not. Now he's written a column and it has been published by the Wall Street Journal. He's pushing another batch of so called Climate Gate hacked emails. In the Wall Street Journal? You give a guy like this that kind of forum and real scientists like Michael Mann apparently feel compelled to reply. (HT to Peter Sinclair)

I guess I'm a bit surprised. I've been getting these emails from Human Events for a long time. I just assumed this guy was a crank and not taken very seriously. In fact it appears he's taken quite seriously. If I were a conservative I'd be embarrassed.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bryan Caplan - High Priest of Wealth

I thought it was put well by someone that goes by the name of "t" over and Pink Scare (thanks Sheldon). Throughout history those with wealth sustain their grip on power not just by controlling means of violence. They do it also by attempting to legitimize their wealth. The kings of old were justly endowed with their riches by divine right. The role of the scribes and priests was to justify the king's position to the masses.

Economist at George Mason University Bryan Caplan gave a lecture that you can watch here. In it he talks about his new book. New at the time. It was 2007. It's "The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies". In this talk Caplan tells us that economics departments have been beating into the heads of students the glories of neoliberalism for 30 years, but the public stubbornly refuses to accept it. It's baffling. Why won't the public go along with expert opinion? It's hard to say.

Take NAFTA. Like this NY Times article explained, it's going to be really great. Corporate lawyers, PR firms, the financials. They are going to really benefit from this. Of course (read the end of the article) there will be some losers. Women, blacks, Hispanics. You know, like 70% of the population. It will be tough for them. But all in all it's really great. Why is the public opposed?

Or take immigration. The public seems opposed to large scale immigration. They seem to think that it would depress wages. What are they, racist or something? Large scale immigration is really good for the economy, says Caplan.

Which it is. If by the economy you mean it's really good for the short term profit of wealth. Productive outputs require labor and equipment. On capitalism the equipment is owned by the capitalist and he hires labor to operate the equipment. He pays labor with the revenue generated by production and keeps the remainder for himself. If you can get a lot of unskilled labor to come into the country the capitalist of course can pay the labor less and keep more for himself. So this is unquestionably a better scenario for wealth, at least in the short term. If you're more poor and don't generate income from ownership but rather you live by the income gained from labor, this is a tougher situation. Prices could come down, but does this compensate for your depressed wages? That's not clear. Clearly though capital and wealth stand to gain. So this is really great for capital and not clearly so great for the bulk of the population. Caplan can't understand why the bulk of the population doesn't want to go along.

So what can be done? Here's Caplan's solution. And I'm not joking. People are so stupid that we need to undermine democracy. We need to force everyone to accept economic arrangements that they think are harmful to themselves. An independent panel of priests for wealth. That's the trick. Lower tariffs, free trade, financial deregulation. Look how great things are thanks to the independent Fed (remember, this is in 2007). The masses are asses.

Not that there's anything new here. The kings have always paid the priests in order to prevent the common man from having a voice. The cathedrals are now the economics departments at our universities.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Media - Seeking Profits, Not Truth

I was having some car repairs done yesterday and they had Good Morning America on. Apparently there's another pretty blonde girl that's gone missing in Aruba. Seems like this happens occasionally. It's the kind of story that Greta van Susteren and Nancy Grace really like. I don't know how people can watch these shows, but to each his own.

I know absolutely nothing about it. GMA was the first I'd heard of it. They first did an intro piece. They basically laid out the case for why they think her companion was responsible. He was detained for a rather long period in Aruba, but was never charged. Still it sounded pretty nefarious. He says she went missing while they were scuba diving. He took out a large life insurance policy on her though he didn't know her very well. There are reports that he excitedly called the insurance company to collect very soon after the events. Video footage shows him seeking help after he says they went missing, but he doesn't look too excited.

After the intro it turns out Robin Roberts, the GMA host says "And Gary Giordano (the accused) joins me now in his first interview since being released." Wow. A tough intro and now he's facing tough questions. Should be interesting.

Gary seems annoyed and you figure out why very quickly. In my judgment the intro was a hit piece. Watch all segments of the GMA segment here. He's got very reasonable explanations for every accusation. Yeah, he took out a life insurance policy. He does it for himself every time he travels. He has 3 kids and a large mortgage payment. He added his companion. He maximized insurance for himself. He's not able to select one insurance coverage amount for himself and another amount for others that are listed along with him, so her coverage went along for the ride with his. Yeah, he called his insurance company after she went missing. His lawyer advised him to. Search and rescue operations were going on and his lawyer told him he might get an invoice for it, so he'd better call. And it turns out government agencies do recommend that you first call authorities, then call your insurance company after someone you know goes missing. This is standard behavior. They say he doesn't look excited in video footage as he's trying to notify someone. He says he was exhausted and he shows up at an establishment but apparently everyone has gone home. He's banging on the windows. What is he supposed to do? Scream at nobody and flop around on the floor? It's ridiculous. Robin Roberts says he's not wet. He says of course he's wet. The video isn't clear enough. Why is she saying he's not wet? There are other pictures of him that show in fact he clearly was wet, so he came directly from the beach to find help.

I thought GMA looked pretty bad at this point. Their intro portrayed him as if he was guilty. But his answers sound very plausible. Roberts should have been aware of them before hand. Knowing these details would have led to a less nefarious intro. There's no actual evidence against him. Nothing I see from the piece would lead me to suspect that this guy is guilty.

So last night I go to the gym and catch Shepard Smith on Fox News. They're covering the GMA interview. I thought it would be interesting to watch how they covered it. It was a bit bizarre. They were very dismissive and portrayed Giordano as if he was guilty. They sliced and diced his replies to give the appearance that he was dancing and unwilling to answer questions. They pretend his lawyer had to jump in and save him. It was crazy. I can't see any reason to treat this guy like he's a murderer. But that is what they did. They should have been talking about how GMA embarrassed themselves.

It made me think immediately of how ABC treated this poor guy from the Bachelor. They basically made a guy a villain because that makes for an interesting story. Why would they do that? Because it gets people to watch.

People like the lost pretty blond girl in Aruba story. Nancy Grace and Greta probably get a big boost. But it's much better if she was murdered. If there was an accident and she was lost that's boring. If the murder accusation is a lie, so what? It's more profitable.

They're just shaping it and crafting it so as to make for a profitable story. We know it's true of seeming reality shows like the Bachelor, the Real World, Hogan, Kardashian, and whatever else. Is the news much different?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Fairness of Free Markets

Walter Williams tells us that:
in a society of voluntary relationships income is not “distributed”; it is earned—earned by individual efforts to please one’s fellow man. One person is not poor because another is rich. The fact that people earn income reflects the morality of free markets. It is their ability and willingness to please their fellow man that enables them to have a claim on the productive assets of the society.
Is this true? Let's consider a hypothetical voluntary relationship.

Suppose you are driving off the beaten path in Death Valley with your wife and child and your car breaks down. I pass by. I'm your only hope of survival. You need water and a ride. I've got both. But I want $10M of your future earnings in exchange. I've got a contract and you can choose to sign it or not. If you do, should it be enforced? If you sign it you do so in a state where you are perfectly lucid. You are rational. Should a court enforce this contract in a free market world and respect my property rights?

According to the law today this contract would be ruled unconscionable and declared unenforceable. One party took advantage of its position of superior bargaining power in order to craft a contract that is excessively unfair.

Reading Williams you'd think that the court's action is unfair. You can't have a court come in violate a freely agreed upon contract. I've earned the $10M in your future compensation. I helped my fellow man.

That's a pretty bizarre stance in my world and I doubt very much Williams really believes this. He uses this definition of fairness in his economic arguments, but does he use it in his home? Let's suppose he had two children and let's suppose they happened to be stranded in town and wouldn't get a ride for 8 hours. Child A is hungry and Child B has $20. Child B says that she'll give Child A $10 provided Child A licks her boots. Child A after a few hours is desperate enough and does so. What would Williams say to his children when he finally arrived to pick them up and Child A complained? Would he say "Good job. You both helped your fellow man. One was able to be fed and the other was able to be entertained. A mutually beneficially transaction. This is a just and right a system as could possibly be devised."

When right wingers start arguing about economics they'll defend boot licking and bum fights. The bum knows what's in his own best interest so he and another bum should be allowed to fight each other in hopes of gaining meager compensation. I doubt very much these right wingers would say the same to their children that received boot licking for modest compensation. I bet they'd be outraged. I bet they'd say that their children should feed these hungry people rather than demand that they humiliate themselves.

But that all changes when they enter a blog comment section and start arguing.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Quote Of The Day

The crises of the mid-1990's hit countries that had, in general, embraced the policies of the Washington Consensus. The pattern was the same in each case. Following financial deregulation, countries enjoyed strong capital inflows and booming stock markets. Some seemingly minor event produced a reversal in market sentiment and a sudden flight of capital, producing an economic crisis. Following the crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and world markets sought to impose the 1980's package of public expenditure cuts and economic contraction, which only exacerbated the problem. Finally, in retrospect, the victims were blamed for minor divergences from the free market ideal which, before the crisis, had been seen as unimportant, or even praiseworthy.

John Quiggin, Professor of Economics at the University of Queensland writing in Zombie Economics

Documentary About Terrorism Against Cuba

If you get Netflix instant streaming and you'd like to see a documentary about the various acts of terrorism directed against Cuba you can watch Will The Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. It's interesting to see the various unrepentant terrorists interviewed. One thing I learned is how in Miami the Cuban exile community has actually engaged in a lot of terrorism against Americans. When policies are enacted that they object to they can bomb related people in the city. One person interviewed says that more bombs were going off in Miami than in many other war torn regions, like Beirut, and yet it's odd that people don't seem to notice. The US government seems uninterested or unwilling to put a stop to it, so the terrorists get their way.

Except for the title it doesn't seem to me the film tries hard to cause anyone to reach a particular conclusion. They just interview the various people and allow them to speak for themselves. Quite informative.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Manufacturing Consent-The Documentary

If you haven't seen the documentary done about Chomsky and Herman's book, it's definitely worth watching. I've embedded it here.

It was at the time the most successful documentary ever made by a Canadian producer. It was huge overseas. Shown in about 30 countries. Where it was shown in the US it tended to sell out, but it wasn't shown on television here. In fact it was barely reviewed. The NY Times did review it in a sort of positive review you can read here. The thesis seems to be, according to the NY Times review, "that the government is most responsive to the wishes expressed by the minority of citizens who vote." Huh? It's pretty hard to understand how someone could watch this movie and miss the point so badly.

As far as I know Chomsky never watched the film. He apparently was a bit annoyed because though there was an overwhelmingly positive response he found that people looked to him like he was the leader of a movement. I suppose this violates his anarchist sensibilities. But he doesn't blame the creators and thinks they did the best they could. People naturally react this way apparently.

Friday, November 25, 2011

You Are Irrational

In this Ted Talk Dan Ariely explains how humans decisions are easily manipulated such that they are irrational.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Should We Vote For Obama?

There's only one guy that I read religiously and that's Glenn Greenwald. If he writes it in his column I read it. I think he would advise the left not to vote for Obama in 2012. Obama is killing US citizens with no due process, gets lavish praise from people like Dick Cheney for his handling of our overseas wars, aggressively punishes whistle blowers, pressures attorneys to let Wall St bankers skirt the law. He's an absolute disaster. Greenwald seems to side with Ralph Nader who likes to point out that these spineless liberals repeatedly demonstrate that they just have no breaking point. You can give them absolutely nothing and they'll still vote for you as long as you have a D next to your name. You've got to communicate that you have your limits or they will give you nothing.

You know what though? I think we did communicate that in 2010. Democrats stayed home instead of voting. And what do we have to show for it? Did the Democrats move to the left? We got Republican majorities in Congress. And what has this done for us?

We've got an economic crisis right now and it could be solved. Yeah, we have a deficit problem. We also have an unemployment problem. We also happen to have corporations and wealthy individuals sitting on record amounts of cash. You can solve the deficit problem by raising revenue and by cutting expenditures. But you don't want to cut expenditures when unemployment is as high as it is. In fact you want to increase them. So what you do is of course you raise taxes back to something like the prosperous 90's level, or the even more prosperous (and more progressive tax era) pre-80's level. You use the revenue to reduce the deficit and also spend some of it to spur demand. This improves the employment situation.

OK, that's my fantasy solution and I recognize that Republicans aren't going to go along with that. But in a reasonable political climate what you do is you compromise. Maybe I'm not going to get spending increases. But I can at least get some revenue increases in a sane world. I might offer some spending cuts in a compromising move.

But that's not feasible post 2010. These Republicans won't budge. No compromise. You cut spending. In exchange we'll give you nothing. That's the Republican compromise. That's insanity. This is the result of the 2010 election. Is this good for the country? Had Democrats won I wouldn't be happy with the results. But it would be better than this.

Obama is a war criminal. If the Nuremburg standard were applied he'd be hanged. But that's true of every American president since FDR. And it will be true of the next President whoever he is. I think the question is, do you want a war criminal that crushes the American poor or do you want a war criminal that might throw the poor a bone?

Or do you want a war criminal that will wreck the climate at an extremely fast pace. Obama is nothing to brag about on the environment. But at least he's not a member of the lunatic fringe climate denying anti science crowd. He says climate change cannot be denied, and economic growth must be sustainable in that it must combat this change. This may be rhetoric. He may do what his fossil fuel burning owners demand in the long run. But the Republicans can't even acknowledge the basic facts.

It's up to us to do the work that provides voters with a real choice. But suppose November 2012 comes and we haven't done the work required. Should we step aside and let a Republican win? These are real people that will suffer immensely with prolonged unemployment and the minimal benefits they have getting slashed.

Take an issue like a Boeing effort to undermine their union. The National Labor Relations Board's job is to flag violations of labor laws. Under Bush there's no problem. Bush just didn't enforce the laws, so Boeing can run rough shod over the union. Obama serves the same cronies, but he had to appoint members to the NLRB and he did go ahead and appoint some pro labor people. So what did they do? When Boeing broke the law they actually did something about it. Boeing is outraged of course. And Obama is doing what he can to help them out. He's appointed a former Boeing director to head the Commerce Department. So both Democrats and Republicans work to undermine unions and people on behalf of corporations. But under a Democrat you still have a bit of a chance. Under a Republican it's just blatant law breaking on behalf of wealth. That's real people that suffer. Do we stand back and let Romney walk into the White House? That's imposing unemployment and reduced wages on a lot of real people that will suffer.

What we need is a Presidential candidate that actually cares more about what people think than what wealthy corporations think. Then the war crimes would be scaled back, the police state can be rolled back, health care can be fixed, etc. Our best hope is that the occupy movement (possibly in conjunction with the Tea Party) can produce something like that. But if they haven't by November 2012 I think you do have to support the least worst option, and that is Obama over Romney.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Fake USPS Crisis

Here's a bizarre one. You hear how terrible the US Post Office is. They lose tons of money supposedly. They operate at a loss. Government is terrible at everything. They should be abolished and privatized (even though it is explicitly authorized in the Constitution).

But have you heard why it is they are losing money?. In an absurd move Congress passed a law that mandated that the USPS prefund pensions, including health benefits, out for a full 75 years. And they had 10 years to do it. This means funding pension liabilities for people that not only don't work yet. We're talking about liabilities for people that haven't even been born. That's $105 billion in 10 years. On top of that none of this money applies to current retirees. That's additional funding that is required. Almost no large businesses could have a burden like that imposed on them and survive.

And here's another kicker. The USPS previously operated under a retirement plan called the Civil Service Retirement System. Since then a different system has replaced it. But the Post Office overpaid into the CSRS to the tune of $82 billion. The US Treasury has not refunded the money. If the USPS could get their hands on the money that is due to them then that, combined with the money they've already contributed to the 75 year forward retirement fund covers the requirements and the USPS operates in the black.

Democracy Now covers it here. Ralph Nader has some details here. What we are dealing with here is elements acting on behalf of private wealth and profit seeking, like AEI, are seeing to it that the rules are rigged so the USPS can't function. Then when they don't function they point to them and act like they are defective. Then they can be privatized.

More on Freddie and Fannie

Another good summary of the arguments against AEI on this point. A couple of interesting tidbits.

1-Peter Wallison of AEI prior to the mortgage crisis criticized Fannie and Freddie because they served to retard the issuance of mortgages to sub prime borrowers. He's now the lead proponent of the theory that their excessive lending to sub prime borrowers is the problem.

2-Wallison's colleague at AEI, Ed Pinto, played 3 card monte in an effort to place the blame with Fannie and Freddie by saying that Fannie and Freddie had tons of sub prime AND OTHER HIGH RISK MORTGAGES and when you group all together it was a huge number. These so called other high risk mortgages had a default rate that was very close to the national average and much lower than the default rate of sub prime. By grouping them together though you are given the illusion that Fannie and Freddie had a lot of sub prime.

3-Wallison was appointed to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and he presented these arguments. They were regarded as so outlandish by even the Republican members of the FCIC that these Republicans were asking each other if Wallison was on the take (which he is in a sense). We have their emails in which they wonder about this. The Republicans did have their own dissents from the FCIC findings but they would not join Wallison in his dissent and instead wrote their own dissent separately so as to be in no way associated with him.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Welfare and the War on Drugs

It's starting to make some sense to me why liberals talk about institutional racism against blacks. People I know don't regard blacks as inferior or evil by race. But people do recognize that blacks as a group have more social problems relative to other races. Higher incarceration rates. Higher broken family rates. Lower educational attainment rates. Lower family income. This is all true. Why? I think when you fail to recognize the institutional factors that contribute to this while laying the blame at the racial group as a whole, that's what a liberal means with institutional racism. And I think it's fair to call it racism.

In my view one of the major reasons for social problems in the black community is the war on drugs. Glenn Greenwald recently debated the war on drugs, and you can watch here. His opening statement is quite powerful. You might be shocked at just how unfair drug policy is to African Americans. I was taken aback. There's some great info here. That source indicates that drug use is actually higher among whites. Blacks are 14% of all illicit drug users, yet they are over half of the prison population. The war on drugs was crafted as a racist policy by design. It was based on the presumption that black were inferior and dangerous.

What are the consequences? By 1991 29% of all black males had spent time in prison. Compare to 4.4% of whites. It's pretty tough to be married when the father is in prison. It's tough to get a job when you have a criminal record. Even if you are a law abiding black citizen and you live in a black community this will affect your home's value. It affects your ability to get a loan on favorable terms. The result is that for every dollar of wealth white people have black people have 8 cents.

The one thing that can alleviate suffering a bit for black children is welfare for dependent mothers. This is your lifeline. So what might you think if you were a black person and you knew that your lifeline was being pointed to as the cause of the social problems in the black community? You'd wonder if these people were racist.

Thomas Sowell loves to blame welfare for black social problems. He does so in this hour long program on PBS. Gosh, black families weren't broken prior to 1962 when welfare legislation was passed. I guess welfare is the cause.

In my view Sowell isn't so great when it comes to allowing facts to inform your theory. I haven't seen him provide plots of the number of children headed by single parent families through the years. Did it take off in 1962? I'm not sure. I'm trying to find some data myself. Here's what I was able to find, via this link.

This of course doesn't break it down by race, but there's no noticeable downturn in 1962. In fact it looks bad just after 1970, right about the time the war on drugs began. I found another chart that does break down single parenting by race. Unfortunately data for black families only goes back to 1970.

I think what you can conclude here is that much of the spike in single parenting that you see around 1970 is the spike due to the increase in black families. That makes good sense. When you lock up a large proportion of black males you'd expect the number of single parent black families to rise.

With regards to Sowell's theories that welfare is to blame, take a look at this plot of the amount of welfare going to families and children. Doesn't it take off right about the time the war on drugs started?

If I were black I could see getting pretty ticked listening to the Tea Party object to welfare because it is unconstitutional. Where is your outrage about the war on drugs? Where does the Constitution say you can craft laws that provide extra punishment to people that use a drug more common amongst one racial group and less punishment to people that use a virtually identical drug more common amongst another racial group? You crush the black family with an unconstitutional law, but you only object to the unconstitutional law that provides the black family with a little bit of assistance in light of the devastation imposed on him. Are you a racist? I can sympathize with a black person that thinks that way.

However I don't think my tea partying friends are racist. What I think is that the corporate pressure is working to emphasize the evils of government growth that harms profits while downplaying the government growth that helps profits. So the prison industrial complex and weapons manufacturers profit greatly from the drug war. So the tea party doesn't emphasize that. The corporate elements within the tea party like that unconstitutional behavior.

Principled tea partyers need to recognize that they are being played. They can join forces with OWS and object to the drug war. It is unconstitutional. And it is destructive to minorities.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Walk of Shame

You may have seen images of peaceful protestors at UC Davis being sprayed with chemical agents. Here's a link to the video. A couple of images below.

Watch this incredible video of the Chancellor of the school walking to her car. She had refused to leave the school building because students had gathered because of their outrage associated with what had happened. The students apparently decided to line the pathway to her car and remain in silence. It's very powerful.

Glenn Greenwald comments here. Read an open letter from an untenured professor at UC Davis calling for the Chancellor's resignation and describing the events that lead to the pepper spraying incident. Also read this NY Times column written by a 70 year old poet laureate clubbed and shoved, along with his wife, because he went there to see what was happening and couldn't believe the stories of police brutality.

Charles Krauthammer's Strategic Incompetence

Have you ever had to deal with health care companies? Most of us have. It's common for them to deny legitimate claims. My wife and I have a method. We always tried to pay what we thought was our co-pay at the doctors office. That way if we ever got a medical bill in the mail we knew not to pay it. We knew we were seeing it because there was an error of some kind. Probably our health care provider denied a claim or didn't pay all that they should have.

I'm dealing with it in a big way with Aetna right now. I've been fighting with them for 5 months to get compensation that is due to me. I'm amazed at their incompetence. And I also have noticed that their incompetence always serves to improve their profit margins. Is it strategic incompetence?

Here's Charles Krauthammer in a debate prior to the presidential election in 2008 telling us the Democrats plan for troops in Iraq. Have a listen.

It's unequivocal. Hillary and Obama will immediately begin troop withdrawals. Well, that's pretty incompetent. Even I knew that was silly. I had listened closely enough to know that they were calling for troop expansions in the region.

So while Obama wasn't really promising that he'd scale back the wars his critics were pretending that he was. Is Krauthammer this incompetent? Or is he a genius?

Because think about what Krauthammer gets with Obama. An expansion of the wars. More mercenaries. Now we have due process free assassinations for US citizens. The surveillance continues. Guantanamo stays open. War opponents vote for Obama based on an expectation, delivered by Krauthammer, that Obama was somehow different from Bush. Krauthammer has in Obama everything he could want in a war mongering president. And it's the liberals that delivered it to him. Sure, he'd have preferred McCain, but this isn't bad.

Pretending that mainstream Democrats are liberals is really useful for the right wing.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The 53%-Proud To Be Slaves

It's kind of like 1984. In the future world people will be conditioned so that they are proud to be trampled on. Proud to spend no time with their wife and kids. Proud to sacrifice it all for the wealth of another.

I was just checking out the right wing answer to the "I Am the 99%" letters. It's the 53%-ers. I think they have a perception that the bottom 47% of income earners don't pay federal taxes, which is nonsense. But here's one on the top of the screen at the moment. A proud 53%-er.

Work 50 hours a week to get yelled at and that's good enough to allow you to afford the clearance racks. This is a badge of honor.

I might respect this guy. He should be proud that he's able to sacrifice in this way and able to deprive himself of luxuries. But I think he should not regard his condition as just. We can do better than this.

A liberal replied to an apparently popular post from a 53%-er. Letter from a liberal to a young marine. It captures my sentiments well. Via Reddit.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blaming Freddie and Fannie

The 2008 financial crisis looks to me like very clear evidence that the more unregulated free market economic system that has been implemented in the US since 1980 has failed relative to the more regulated market system that existed prior. This disconfirms a lot of right wing economic theory in my mind.

But of course in the mind of right wingers it doesn't and a key pillar of the argument is that the blame lies with Freddie and Fannie. The theory is that the government not only encouraged, but mandated that banks issue risky loans. That's Thomas Sowell's assertion here.

But as far as I can tell that's just not true. The Community Reinvestment Act did not require banks to make loans to the poor and risky. What it did was disallow redlining. Redlining was a process whereby services and the costs associated with them were determined by simply drawing a "red line" on a map and saying those on one side of the line get one set of services at a certain cost and on the other side people get other services and costs. The effect was to generally make things tougher for minorities. What the CRA did was it required institutions to use consistent standards that were not based on which side of the tracks someone lived on but based on other factors, like a person's financial status.

There were a number of causes for the crisis in 2008. Several are discussed in this article that also addresses this myth that Freddie and Fannie are to blame. These causes don't support free market dogma. But why are people blaming the CRA? In fact CRA regulated institutions were less likely to make subprime loans. Further they were less likely to repackage and sell them. According to Wikipedia "every empirical study that has looked at CRA loans has concluded that they were safer than subprime mortgages that were purely profit driven, and CRA loans accounted for a tiny fraction of total subprime mortgages." Wikipedia cites this paper from Michael Simkovic out of Seton Hall and Harvard to justify that claim.

So if every empirical study shows that Freddie and Fannie were not responsible where are these claims coming from? The paper from Simkovic provides insight, so I will quote it below:
A. Industry has sought to defend itself by blaming government

Arguments that government policy primarily caused the financial crisis have generally been made in the context of advocacy paid for by the financial industry rather than through empirically substantiated academic scholarship. Many of the most forceful proponents of these arguments—such as mortgage consultant Edward Pinto and Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission dissenting member Peter J. Wallison136—are not academics but are instead affiliated with “think tanks” such as the American Enterprise Institute (“AEI”) which fundraise based on their efforts to deflect blame for the financial crisis from private financial institutions and which are committed to advocating free market ideology and limited government.137 AEI “is governed by a Board of Trustees, composed of leading business and financial executives.”138 During the five-year period from 2005 to 2009, the vast majority of its revenues came from annual donations.139

AEI’s 2009 report trumpeted Wallison and other AEI-funded writers efforts to deflect blame for the financial crisis from private financial firms and to place the blame for the financial crisis on government policies.140 The report also highlighted AEI’s ability to influence “Financial Regulation’s Future” because of Wallison’s role on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.141 The report suggested that Wallison would likely use the opportunity to blame the GSEs for the financial crisis and to combat more comprehensive financial regulation.142

AEI’s 2010 annual report points out that in his role as a dissenting member of the FCIC, Wallison did in fact blame government policy for the financial crisis.”143 The report reiterates Wallison’s opposition to regulation and his ability to influence legislation.144

Wallison’s unwavering efforts to blame GSEs and government policies for the financial crisis were noted by other members of the commission, including fellow Republicans, who were often critical of his single-minded approach.145
For further analysis of Wallison and Min's apologetics for the financial industry, go here. I keep coming back to this point. You might think it strange that such smart people can argue in this way when all of the empirical evidence is against them. But it makes perfect sense when you recognize that confusing people on behalf of wealth is their job.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Huge Win for OWS

There's oil in the tar sands of Canada. Lots of it. Oil companies of course want to exploit it, and part of that involved building the Keystone Pipeline.

Extracting oil from tar sands is a lot more energy intensive. You have to heat the ground and burn a lot of fossil fuel just to get the fuel out. That of course generates a lot of CO2 emissions. But the larger issue is just the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere that will result if we exploit the tar sands like we exploited Saudi Arabia.

NASA's lead climate scientist has run the numbers. What does he say? We go this route and "it's essential game over." The game being human civilization as it exists today. See further discussion here and here.

So this has caused unusual activity in the scientific community. Scientists leaving their offices and protesting in Washington. As Naomi Klein discusses here they really didn't think there was any way to stop the corporate freight train. They've got all the money. What do we have? We have the majority of little people. But if you aren't organized, who cares?

Then came Occupy Wall St. The result? Obama for once did not cave to wealth. He delayed approval, which will scare off investors and stave off the day of reckoning. A huge win.

Of course the corporate lackeys are ticked. Profits above all else. The science and the facts be damned. The Wall St Journal says "But what about jobs!!" Jobs claims are bogus anyway, but does anybody really think the WSJ cares about jobs? They care about profits, which benefit owners. They'll be back, fighting for wealth and ownership and against people. But we've won for once.

Contrast OWS with the Tea Party Again

The so called liberal media (AP in this case via NPR) informs us that police at Berkley were shown in video "pulling people from the steps and nudging others with batons." Watch the video which shows the nudging. Makes sense to Colbert. He comments here.

This is just one of dozens of videos you can watch of protestors getting assaulted. This is another difference between the Tea Party and OWS. OWS protestors get beaten without provocation routinely. Also arrested. Not so for the Tea Party.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Contrast OWS with the Tea Party

Interesting graphic here. A couple of interesting facts:

1-OWS protestor is more likely to be employed (though the Tea Partyer is more likely to be retired).
2-The Tea Partyer is older and less educated.
3-Look at the contrast in the number of arrests. 50 in 3 years for the Tea Party. 1500 in just a couple of months for OWS. Which does the establishment prefer?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Confronting Global Warming Skeptics

I want to formulate a basic case regarding global warming based on some study I've been doing in response to global warming denial. In addition to the basic case I want to address some common skeptical claims.

I think a good place to start if you are trying to formulate an opinion about this is to look at the strength of the scientific consensus. Some of this is complicated and most of us aren't experts. Relying on experts is rational as a starting point. What do they say?

The scientific consensus is pretty overwhelming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a massive effort to assess the scientific consensus. It concluded that global warming is real, the recent spike is the result of human emission of greenhouse gases, and that it represents a serious threat to human kind as well as other living species. No scientific body of international standing rejects these conclusions. Studies show that 98% of climate scientists accept the IPCC conclusions and in fact the greater the level of expertise (as measured by the number of papers published) the more likely the scientist was to accept the IPCC consensus.

So why believe that global temperatures are rising? Because multiple peer reviewed studies show that it is. Take a look at this chart of global temperatures based on multiple studies.

You might ask, what are these based on? How can one know what the temperature was 2,000 years ago? The answer is that there are various proxies that can be used to attempt to answer that question including tree rings, coral, ice cores, and glacial records. These are imperfect of course. And the error bars generally enlarge the further away you get from the present day. But these various studies based on various proxies tend to converge on a similar conclusion.

The first historical temperature reconstruction produced a graph like this and it was referred to as the hockey stick. It was used by the 2001 IPCC Report, and, though the creators of it made obvious reference to the uncertainty associated with it, the IPCC literature presented it in a graphic without error bars. Global warming skeptics were outraged and aggressively attacked the scientists that produced the graph, even though the scientists presented the results tentatively and with generous error bars. It rose to the level of Congressional hearings. Wikipedia has a summary here. The whole Wiki entry is worth reading, but in summary the skeptics have made several runs at discrediting the chart. The first ended in disgrace (Saul and Baliunus). Next was an effort by a guy named Stephen McIntyre, which apparently did provide some decent correctives, but didn't change the overall conclusions. More recently a Koch funded study has tried again and failed (as I mentioned here). At least to this point. Meanwhile over a dozen peer reviewed scientific studies have been published confirming the general accuracy of the original study.

So what about CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere? Here is a historical chart.

Makes sense. You take massive amounts of hydrocarbons out of the ground and release the CO2 to the atmosphere and you get an increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

But why believe this is the cause of warming? There are a number of good reasons.

Here's one reason explained in some detail, but I'll offer the quick version. CO2 levels have increased dramatically relative to the past several hundred thousand years and CO2 absorbs infrared radiation. There's no debate on that. But here's the key. Outgoing IR radiation can be directly measured. The amount of outgoing IR radiation has dropped at precisely the frequency at which CO2 absorbs IR radiation. That means this radiation is being absorbed rather than released to outer space. Effectively it is like putting on a blanket.

Another reason is that the stratosphere is cooling while the troposphere is warming. That is, the very top part of our atmosphere has been cooling while the atmosphere closest to the ground is warming. View the surface and upper air temperature historical plot here. That's pretty bizarre, right? What can account for that?

It was a long ago predicted consequence of warming due to man made CO2 emissions (see that prediction here). Go here for a good description of the causes. I don't think I can summarize it any better than it is done at that link.

These are not the only reasons. Several more are discussed here. Once again, in the scientific community the consensus is strong.

There are legitimate scientists that dissent. There are two main categories to the objections. The first is the claim that solar forcing explains the recent warming. The second is that the recent warming can be explained by what is known as the Cosmic Ray Flux (CRF) and its effect on cloud formation. A brief overview of these views and discussion of why they are by and large rejected in the scientific community is offered in this Youtube video.

So now, on to some of the questions that arise from the right wing disinformation effort.

Didn't scientists predict a global ice age back in the 70's?

The short answer is no. Time magazine had an article that made this claim but failed to provide a source. Surveys of the scientific literature revealed that at the time about two thirds of the experts expected global warming and a third expected global cooling (not an ice age). You'll notice based on the hockey stick graph that temperatures had been falling prior to the 70's. This was due to pollution from coal fire plants. There was debate about which effect would dominate. Would it be the cooling from the aerosols or the warming from the greenhouse gases? It's impressive that despite the history of cooling the majority of experts still expected warming and they were right. Since then there has been a lot more good research and the debate has been resolved. The warmers were right. For an overview watch this video.

Hasn't CO2 concentration changes lagged temperature rise in the past by 800 years? Doesn't this mean the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere is an effect of warming, not a cause?

Often CO2 rises have lagged the temperature increase, but not always. There are a number of different mechanisms that can drive a temperature increase, including the earth's orbital variation, volcanoes, solar irradiance, meteorites, possibly cosmic rays. In the present case we know it is greenhouse gases because scientists have managed to rule out alternative causes and because we are observing the predicted effects of temperature rise through artificial greenhouse gas emissions.

What causes the CO2 concentration changes to lag the temperature changes? Let me explain with an example using the earth's wobble as the dominant forcing mechanism.

The angle of the earth's axis to the sun varies from about 24° to 21°. When the angle is 21° there is less direct sunlight in the polar regions and ice forms there. Imagine what would happen as the tilt shifts towards 24°. More direct sunlight on the cap melts some ice at the cap. Melted ice converts to water. Water absorbs more heat than ice. Ice reflects radiation. So now with more water and less ice the earth as a system absorbs even more heat. That heat melts more ice and you create a positive feedback. Runaway warming and ice melting.

CO2 is trapped in ice. So as ice melts CO2 is released. This is why the CO2 concentrations lag the temperature change.

This process can reverse. As the earth's axis heads back to 21° we again get the freezing of the polar ice caps. Once again you go from a state where water is absorbing radiation to ice reflecting the radiation. This is a cooling positive feedback. The additional ice and snow can trap CO2 and methane from escaping to the atmosphere, once again creating a positive cooling feedback. The CO2 drop in the atmosphere once again lags the cooling.

The real concern is not the temperature effect of CO2. It's that the slight warming caused by CO2 can create a positive feedback due to the ice and other effects. At that point you can have runaway warming that can't be stopped even if you stop producing CO2 artificially.

What about the hacked emails? Don't these show a conspiracy within the scientific community to mislead the public?

Absolutely not. Multiple independent studies have confirmed there was no wrongdoing. For a fun video explanation of part of the issue, go here.

Isn't the sun the dominant climate forcing mechanism?

Of course. Without the sun there would be no climate. And solar output does vary. Approximately every 11 years the sun's polarity flips, and this results in altered solar output. But the conclusion in the scientific community is that recent solar changes cannot account for the rise in temperature we've experienced. The sun's output has been quite stable, following it's 11 year cycle regularly. Yet temperatures are rising. Why? The consensus of the experts is the greenhouse gases.

In times past CO2 concentrations were much higher. Today they are much lower. Why wasn't it a problem then?

Because the concern is not strictly the CO2 concentrations but the combined effect of the various temperature forcing mechanisms. Take the Huronian Glaciation. About 2 billion years ago the entire globe was covered in ice. Remember what I said about the feedback mechanism. An ice covered globe reflects solar radiation. That means when the entire globe is covered in ice solar output could increase a lot and yet you still may not be able to extract yourself from the snowball earth condition. That solar heat is just not absorbed.

And the reality was the sun's output was in fact much lower then than it is today. Solar heat was about 75% of what it is today. How did the earth ever come out of the snowball condition?

The answer is CO2. Volcanoes continued to erupt. When they did they emitted CO2. And there was no vegetation to extract the CO2 from the atmosphere. It took a really long time, but finally the concentration was high enough (about 1000 times what it is today) that ice started to melt. Once again the positive feedback kicked in. The ice melted rapidly. After it was all melted the earth continued to warm. Even with the sun producing a mere 75% of the output it is making today the earth was still much warmer thanks to the greenhouse effect. Vegetation began extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and though solar output increased the temperature on earth began to drop.

But why do I hear so much criticism about global warming in the media and from the right wing think tanks? These are smart people. They must know something.

Of course they are smart people, and they may know what the scientific community knows. But what is there job? Informing you? Or serving their owners and customers. I work for a corporation. In my professional capacity who do I serve? The owners and customers. Is Rush Limbaugh any different? Is the American Enterprise Institute any different? Limbaugh works for a mega corporation. His customers (advertisers) are mega corporations as well. He's going to spin tails that serve their interest. AEI is going to funnel money from Exxon to climate science denial efforts. Why? It serves their profit agenda. AEI's job is to confuse you for the interest of profit. They do it for economic matters. Why wouldn't they do it for environmental matters? You should expect spin and lies from them. That's what they deliver. Stop listening to them if you want to be informed.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

When Republicans Become Keynsians

To grow this economy we need to cut spending. The deficit is an enormous burden on job creation, as are taxes. So, say the Republicans, let's cut taxes. And cut spending even more. On education, health services, research, welfare, etc.

What about defense? Can't do that!! That would cost us jobs. Krugman has a good article on the recent flip flop from Republicans here. It's the weaponized Keynzians. Stimulus to create stuff we blow up? Good. Stimulus to help average Americans? Bad. Yglesias likewise comments.

And I agree with Yglesias. For once the Republicans are right. Cutting defense spending would be a real blow to the economy. It's probably true that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have prevented our economic situation from being even worse. That's an absurdity, but it's a consequence of our consumption based economy.

Notice the pattern though of the right wing apologist. When it comes to government spending that helps the average guy they talk about waste, misallocation of resources, Milton Friedman is awesome, etc. When it comes to spending on war? A lot of chirping crickets. Austerity is for poor people. For the rich? Socialism.