Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Irrational Crapola

John Cassidy of the New Yorker joins the ranks of know-nothing punditry with his latest blog post, Newt’s Going Down so the G.O.P. Establishment Can Live. As one can tell from the title, it's yet another of the very tired, very wrong, pseudo-analytical "they's out to get Newt!" sort of pieces.

Cassidy offers nothing new in the piece, no new quotes (hell, only one quote, from Palin of all people), no heretofore unknown facts, no penetrating insights, nothing. Just another series of declaratory statements grounded in assumptions that look like they belong in the latest G. Edward Griffin "history."

Really, I'm starting to worry about the media elites. Forget the GOP, Democrat, or DC establishment, let's talk about the media establishment. I think about 80% of this group no longer knows what an original thought is, they seem to just pick up some bit of an idea and roll with it. Look at what passes for analysis in Cassidy's piece:

The "cracker counties"

Jonathan Martin from Politico--appearing on MSNBC--refers to Florida counties in the Panhandle as "cracker counties." From the RCP link, Martin's words:
Chuck, one last thing on the map, though, if I could. I think the other reason why north Florida is going to be fascinating to watch tonight is because it's going to give us a sense of what's ahead in March, when this primary does move to the deep south states, because as you know, Chuck, a lot of the counties in the panhandle, in north Florida, the cracker counties, if you will...
So, does he know what he just said? Does he know that "cracker" is a pejorative. Probably. But to be fair to him, the term was used in reference to Florida voters in the past, by Bill Clinton. While being interviewed by Larry King in 2008 during Obama's campaign (Clinton was helping out), he said this:

Snakes in the grass

Despite the title, this bit is not about politics. Really. I live in South Florida and we have a problem...well, we have a lot of problems, but the one I'm talking about here concerns snakes. Real, live, actual snakes.

When I was in school during the eighties, having a pet snake--usually a python--was all the rage. People even took them out at night, to areas with a lot of nightlife and clubs, and took them to malls. Then at some point, I guess they tired of caring for the snakes and had the bright idea of setting then free. In the Everglades.

The pythons survived and multiplied, and by 2000 it had been confirmed that the pythons--Burmese pythons, mostly--were well established throughout the Everglades. And they're serious predators, having become significant threats to Florida mammals, birds, and yes, even alligators. The Burmese python can reach lengths in excess of seventeen feet and weigh over one hundred and fifty pounds. The bigger ones are more than capable of killing even large mammals and alligators. One fifteen-footer was found with an 80 pound doe inside of it. Here's a picture of a python that ate an alligator, then exploded:

Monday, January 30, 2012

Krugman's willful ignorance

The heir-apparent to the throne of John Maynard Keynes is at it again. This time, Paul Krugman targets Europe with his one-size-fits-all solution of spend, spend, spend. Nevermind that Krugman dumped actual Keynesian theory a long time ago, for the generalized solution of governments spending their way out of every problem no longer even needs the dishonestly supposed support of Keynes; it's become nothing but a political talking point, thanks to people like Krugman (who, of course, cannot be criticized because he has a Nobel Prize).

He focuses in on Great Britian (well, Krugman says just "Britian," but that's imprecise; surprising for such an erudite person, no?), arguing that an "austerity doctrine" there has had tragic consequences. As evidence, he compares conditions now with those in the post-Great Depression era:
It turns out that by one important measure — changes in real G.D.P. since the recession began — Britain is doing worse this time than it did during the Great Depression. Four years into the Depression, British G.D.P. had regained its previous peak; four years after the Great Recession began, Britain is nowhere close to regaining its lost ground.

Beating back the Tea Party "Establishment"

Erin McPike--writing at RealClearPolitics--asks the question "Is the Tea Party Losing Its Grip on the GOP?" She takes as a given the Tea Party movement's opposition to Romney and points to Gingrich's sagging campaign in Florida as evidence that the movement is losing influence:
An official endorsement Saturday night from last year's Tea Party standout, Herman Cain; an all-but-official backing from longtime Tea Party darling Sarah Palin; and the support of the Tea Party Express have not lifted Gingrich back over Mitt Romney in the Florida polls. That weakened clout has been accompanied by the Republican establishment's full-throttle charge at Gingrich's past -- to great effect with the primary here just one day away.
And of course, she repeats the "establishment" mantra, something very few pundits seem capable of ignoring. But look at the fundamental assumptions she is making, that Palin, Cain, and orgs like the Tea Party Express exercise some kind of power over the movement and define what the movement wants, as a matter of course. If there is any national figure that can claim to have been at the forefront of the movement, that figure is Michelle Malkin. And just today, Malkin has openly endorsed Santorum in a piece that is highly critical of Gingrich. It's worth reading, because it lays out the truth--in my opinion--of what Gingrich really is.

European Implosion

An article in today's Wall Street Journal addresses the economic problems Europe is facing, noting rightly the role demographics plays in this regard. Citing a study by the World Bank, the article points to the labor market in Europe as an area of concern:
As for the bad news, the first source of trouble is the labor market. European workers aren't nearly as productive as they ought to be, especially in the South. Labor participation is low, and those who are employed are working less than they used to. In the 1970s, the French worked the longest hours among advanced economies. By 2000, they worked a month and a half less than Americans each year.
The European model of labor is often touted as superior to that in the States. Hours are shorter, vacations are longer, job security is stronger, and benefits are more extensive. The short term costs for this are generally accepted as unavoidable. Aside from strictly monetary expenses, the chief cost is a higher unemployment rate, with a much higher permanent level of unemployment. But some of the longer term costs are often ignored, particularly the gradual declines in productivity brought on by the "de-incentivation" of the labor market.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

More on the taxation lie

Last year, I posted a piece about what I called the "taxation lie that won't go away." Simply put, the idea--the lie--is that by increasing a tax rate, there will be a directly proportional increase in tax revenues for the following  years. And the corollary of the lie is that decreasing a tax rate will lead to a corresponding decrease in revenues for the following years. This is, of course, a principle argument for those wishing to see a repeal of the Bush era tax cuts (for the upper income earners, anyway) and/or the creation of a "millionaire tax."

In this simplistic and tragically flawed model, the economy is like a computer program: change an input and the output changes, according to some mathematical formula. Thus, by applying this formula in reverse, liberal politicians, pundits, and economists are able to proclaim that the Bush tax cuts have cost the government some amount of dollars. Here's an article from October of last year that does just that. The number is the total cost to the government since 2001 and stands at a staggering $1 trillion dollars. But again, it's just plain nonsense.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hilarious "analysis" at MediaMatters

Cleverly titled How Fox News is Destroying the Republican Party, this piece by Eric Boehlert does for insightful political commentary what the Gong Show did...for insightful political commentary. Reading it, I'm having a hard time believing that the writer was serious about any of it. Some of his claims are very nearly on par with claims that the Lunar Landing was an elaborate hoax.

It opens with the idea that conservatives are becoming "despondent," that they see chances of a win in November "dwindling." Most of the conservatives I know have assumed for a while now that 2012 would be a tough nut to crack, particularly after the 2010 Republican avalanche. Such a conclusion is simply a product of history. And right away, the piece hits the "establishment" note:

Friday, January 27, 2012

The SIGA Pump and Dump

I've previously addressed the SIGA scandal, here, here, and here. A brief refresher:

Ron Perelman, major Democrat Party donor, bought controlling interest in SIGA--originally a small biotech firm--and shortly thereafter, SIGA received a contract to develop and produce a new Smallpox treatment, for use on people who could not be vaccinated in time against Smallpox (supposing some kind of massive outbreak).

SIGA initially received the contract--worth over a billion originally, but cut back to some $433 million--as a small business, thus allowing bids to be limited. But then, Chimerix--another form--protested, claiming that SIGA did not qualify as a small business. The SBA agreed, which should have resulted in either Chimerix--the only true small business applicant--getting the contract or having an open bid. Instead, Administration officials declared that the contract would remain with SIGA, essentially rigging the game, for Perelman's (and Andy Stern's) benefit.

RedState Nonsense

In A Dangerous Redefining of "Establishment," I was somewhat critical of the analysis offered up at RedState, with regard to what the establishment is and who is in it:
I don't mean to sound unduly harsh, but it's stuff like this that really burns me up, people redefining concepts to serve their own agenda. And while I'm sure Dan's heart is in the right place, it's a bit much to suppose that he gets to decide who the "real" conservatives are and gets to put the rest into the "establishment" box.
Not wanting to be too harsh with people whose general ideology mirrors mine in many ways, I pulled back on my criticism. No more. Yesterday at RedState, Erick Erickson posted this diary entry, which concluded with:
The fix is in for Romney, which just means when he is crushed by Barack Obama a lot of Republicans will have a lot of explaining to do. Newt may not be able to win. But Romney sure as hell can’t beat Obama either if Newt can’t win. The problem remains — Gingrich supporters intrinsically know this to be so and are happy to die fighting. Romney’s supporters are still deluding themselves.

The Alamo...remember it, Craig James?

Texas Tech had a good season in 2009, going 8-4, though it wasn't the season that 2008 was, when the Red Raiders went 11-1 in the regular season and earned a trip to the 2009 Cotton Bowl. Nonetheless, the team was bowl bound again, the 2010 Volero Alamo Bowl to be precise. But their head coach--rising star and hot property Mike Leach--would never make the game.

On December 28, 2009 Leach was suspended by Texas Tech University. Two days later, he was fired. Why? According to the school, he was fired for refusing to apologize to a player, one Adam James, for supposed mistreatment. Oddly, he was also fired just a day before he was due some $2.5 million in bonuses and guarantees from Texas Tech University.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Most Clueless Statement of 2012, early favorite

Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, during a radio interview, offered this beauty:
Twenty thousand jobs is really not that many jobs, and investing in green technologies will produce that and more.
Watch it here:

The silliness of Nancy Pelosi

Unbelievably--well, maybe not that unbelievably--Pelosi's stupidity continues to get coverage in the media. For those unaware, Pelosi claimed she knows "something," a something that for some reason would prevent Gingrich from ever becoming President.

Truth be told, I'd bet many people on Capitol Hill are walking around with dirt on other people there. But not knowing who has dirt on them, they probably aren't willing to risk saying anything. Though I should clarify, here. When I say "dirt," I mean gossip that may or may not be true. I'm quite certain that if a politician had hard evidence that would bring down an opposition leader, they wouldn't hesitiate to use it.

So now we have Pelosi, threatening to "dish" on Gingrich. If she had something real, she'd have already run with it. Unless. Unless whatever it is she knows might be equally damaging to someone else...like maybe herself. There's a secret she could actually have! Pelosi and Gingrich were secret lovers, or maybe they had a three-way with Rahm Emmanuel. That would, I think, end Newt's campaign.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The 800 pound gorilla is named "Marco"

Yesterday, I was reading this article at Newsmax by someone named Andrew Henry. As I read it, I couldn't help but think the writer was allowing himself to led around by the nose by Roger Stone, a guy who--though very effective, very good at what he does--is hardly an unbiased source, hardly someone you would go to for an objective opinion.

In the article, Henry is making a case for the Florida Primary to essentially be Rubio-Crist all over again, with Newt playing the part of Rubio, of course. And it is true that people who had worked for Crist's campaign are now working for Romney's. But staffers are staffers, professionals. The good ones go where the work is. Supposing that the presence of similar faces in Romney's campaign automatically makes him a new version of Crist is flawed thinking.

Chart of the Year...no, Decade

From the WSJ op-ed on last night's speech, we have this handy-dandy chart that tells us all we really need to know:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Budgets? We don't need no stinkin' budgets!

As the Washington Times reports, the Administration will once again fail to present it's budget to Congress on time:
Congressional officials said the president now will send up his budget on Feb. 13, which is a week later than the usual date. The law requires the budget be sent by the first Monday in February. 
Late budgets are common in the first year of a presidency, but this move, in Mr. Obama's fourth year, drew fire from Congress. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, called it an "abdication of leadership." Mr. Obama missed the mark in 2009 and 2011, though he was on time with his 2010 budget.
That's hardly an end-of-the-world kind of failure, though. Especially since Congress hasn't been able to pass any kind of budget in time for the fiscal year of the budget since 2009. Moreover, the Senate has now failed to pass a budget for 1000 days. From the Weekly Standard:

Gingrich Republicans?

Craig Shirley offers an interesting piece of analysis at Politico. He looks at the campaigns of Goldwater and Reagan, arguing that both ran as "insurgents" (the current hot term for the so-called outsiders of the GOP) against more moderate Republican opponents. Their victories in key primaries forced their anti-establishment agendas to the forefront, ultimately garnering both Presidential nominations and one the Oval Office, largely because of the effectiveness of their populist rhetoric.

Shirley notes that their legacies loom large, as even today people call themselves "Reagan Republicans" (or Reagan conservatives) and "Goldwater Republicans" (or Goldwater conservatives). He opines that maybe one day, there will be people proudly adopting the moniker of "Gingrich Republicans."

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Ministry of Truth: the Media

Ryan Lizza--writing for the New Yorker--offers a detailed and truly enthralling piece on the Obama administration's internal political machinations, from the campaign (and before, really) to the present. It is very long, but well worth the read. And make no mistake, it is not a panegyric. It details explicitly Obama's movement from a politician promising real change and partisan bridge-building to one content to use whatever tools were available to advance agendas. And it honestly reviews moments of hypocrisy or near-hypocrisy on the part of Obama, both as a candidate and as a President.

Given such honesty, I have to admit to surprise in finding an overarching theme throughout the piece, a theme that maintains as an absolute truth something that is no such thing. Specifically Lizza assumes, nay insists, that the Stimulus Bill-- the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009--was a Good Thing, a necessary thing, and that there is no legitimacy to claims it wasn't. From early on in the piece:
As for the economy, conservative and liberal economists agreed that fiscal stimulus was the necessary response to a recession; the only question was how much stimulus.

A Dangerous Redefining of "Establishment"

With Gingrich's win in South Carolina, pundits are--as expected--falling all over themselves in an effort to explain what this means. Well, what it means is that Newt was better received by South Carolina voters than was Mitt or anyone else. No doubt, Romney's fumbling over his tax records played a role in this, as did the attacks on Gingrich's marital past (hands up, who didn't see that backfire coming?).

But there is also a lot of talk about the so-called "GOP Establishment" being worried about this, even frantic, because--apparently--the GOP Establishment is in the tank for Romney. Republican strategist Steve Schmidt tells Rachel Maddow:
And if Newt Gingrich is able to win the Florida primary, you will see a panic and a meltdown of the Republican establishment that is beyond my ability to articulate in the English language. People will go crazy...And you will have this five week period until the Super Tuesday states that will be just as unpredictable, tumultuous as any period in modern American politics. It will be a remarkable thing to watch, should that happen in Florida.
Wow, that's quite a prediction, so crazy that it's "beyond [his] ability to articulate" it. At least not in the English language. Maybe in Klingon? But it does beg the question, who is the Republican or GOP "establishment"?

Is Mankind Becoming More Peaceful?

Article first published as Is Mankind Becoming Less Violent? on Technorati.

Steven Pinker--in his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined--argues that we are. From the book's description:
Faced with the ceaseless stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new work, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species's existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, pogroms, gruesome punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows (with the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps) all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned.
This is a powerful claim, on Pinker's part. After all, the twentieth century was filled with violence, horrific violence, from the World Wars, to the Holocaust, to the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, to the Killing Fields of Pol Pot. Timothy Snyder--reviewing the book for Foreign Affairs--explains how Pinker attempts (and fails, in Snyder's opinion) to account for this apparent problem:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Just leave this long-haired country boy alone...

So went the chorus of Charlie Daniels' immortal classic from 1974's Fire on the Mountain. I call it an immortal classic, even thought it never broke the top ten on any charts, mostly because it captures my self-mage. The full chorus:
But I ain't askin' nobody for nothin',
If I can't get it on my own.
You don't like the way I'm livin',
You just leave this long-haired country boy alone.
This kind of self image I've spoken of before, in a roundabout sort of way. I think it's very common, far more common than most realize, and in and of itself goes along way towards explaining the growth of the Tea Party movement.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Murphy Brown, Twenty Years Later

In May of 1992, the fictional character Murphy Brown--from the TV show of the same name, played by Candice Bergen--gave birth to a baby boy. She did so as a single mother. Her fictional pregnancy had been received in very different ways. Many praised the show for presenting it as a valid choice, merely a different lifestyle, and neither good nor bad as a matter of course. Others saw it as promoting poor choices, arguing that two parents was the "natural order" of things and that Murphy Brown was creating a poor role model.

Dan Quayle famously involved himself in the deabte, saying in a speech before the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco:
Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong. We must be unequivocal about this. It doesn't help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown — a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another "lifestyle choice."

Obama not campaigning all that much

That's the word from White House spokesmodel, Jay Carney. When questioned by a reporter on the issue, Carney replied that Obama "spends a relatively small amount of time" at campaign events:

Another clueless defense...

...of a clueless decision.

With the Keystone XL Pipeline project now all but dead for the remainder of the year, the punditry world is busy defending and criticizing the President's decision in this regard. I recently noted a particularly egregious defense by the actor, Robert Redford. I didn't think it could any worse than that, but I was wrong. An op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has set a new standard for clueless.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Creative destruction at Solyndra?

Well, it's actually not very creative. A CBS affiliate in San Francisco caught Solyndra employees destroying hundreds of thousands of custom-made glass tubes. According to the report, Solyndra paid some $8 million for the tubes to a company it still owes money to.

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy? Really?

With the South Carolina primary looming, things are certainly heating up. And some are arguing that there is now a concerted effort to derail Gingrich's campaign, as the latest polls have him moving in front of Romney in South Carolina. For instance, an Investor's Business Daily editorial says:
In reaction, the major media have launched an all-out nuclear strike at Gingrich — the eve of the conservative South Carolina primary being the perfect time to release the most damaging dirt on a conservative candidate.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

SOPA, PIPA, and Fiduciary Obligations

It looks like SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House) and PIPA (the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the Senate) are on their last legs. Various Cogresspersons are withdrawing their support--like Marco Rubio and Orrin Hatch--and the President has vowed not to sign the legislation, regardless.

And throughout the 'net, there is much rejoicing.

Victory for the people, right? An example of grass-roots organizing and a thumb to the eye of powerful lobbying groups and moneyed interests--like the MPAA and RIAA--as well?

Keystone brings out the loons

I like Robert Redford as an actor, I really do. And I admire many of the things he has accomplished, many of the events he has helped to creat (like the Sundance Film Festival). But let's face it, he's no Paul Newman. Never was, never will be.

Politcally, Paul Newman was very much a traditional liberal, but as a successful businessman he also knew there was a limit. Robert Redford would do well to follow his former compatriots example. We all know Redford is a staunch environmentalist, and that's fine. But if he's going to jump into the fray on national issue, he should get his facts straight. Otherwise, he risks looking like a fool.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Oh Noes! Romney tax rate at 15%!

Google "Romney 15%." Go ahead, try it. Or google "Romney tax rate." Look at all those people pontificating on the subject. They're everywhere. Even at the Wall Street Journal. The outrage is brimming over. Then there's the money Romney made through speaking engagements. Outrageous! Has the man no shame? How dare he pay that tax rate! How dare he earn that kind of money giving speeches!

A different tale of income inequality

I hate it when people say the things I think or I know, before I get to say them. And that seems to happen all the time, when it comes to articles by Niall Ferguson. His latest at Newsweek takes on the idea of income inequality and the fundamental realities of why there is such a large apparent divide between rich and poor in America.

He crafts this piece by citing arguments from Charles Murray's upcoming book, Coming Apart, to provide a more conservative approach to a problem he--and Murray--sees as very much a reality. The piece is well worth a full reading, as Murray's book will no doubt be as well. But I'd like to touch on several observations made that are very much consistent with my own observations.

Poison Pill for the Administration?

There's no denying that Romney has taken it on the chin, with regard to his history at Bain Capital. Almost all of his Republican opponents have taken a shot, here or there, at the former Governor. And the topic drew in quite a bit of outside criticism, as well.

DNC chairwoman Wasserman-Schultz, for instance, had no problem jumping into the fray:
"Mitt Romney is consistently talking about his economic experience and his private-sector experience as the reason voters should put him in the White House," Wasserman Schultz said. "We think it’s important to show that what his experience really is is dismantling companies, shipping jobs overseas, bankrupting companies deliberately and talking about how he enjoys firing people."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More clueless journalists in action

Huma Khan at ABC News authored this piece yesterday, which asks the rather lame question: "Is South Carolina the Last Gasp for the Tea Party" in the nominating process? She then goes on to talk about the "failure" of the movement to get behind a single candidate, apparently unaware that such a goal is not one shared by all sympathizers to the movement.

As is usually the case for members of the media elite, Ms. Khan can't help but apply her own pre-conceived notions, with regard to what a political movement is and how it should behave. For this piece, she interviews Judson Phillips--founder of the Tea Party Nation--and ostensibly treats him as the spokesman for the entire movement, which he clearly is not, has never been, and will never be:
“Romney is not a moderate. He is a liberal. He is almost as far to the left as Barack Obama,” Phillips, who organized the first tea party convention in February 2010, said. “Had Obama been governor of a state, his policies would’ve looked identical to what Romney’s looked like when he was governor of Massachusetts.”

Next stop for Obama's appointments: SCOTUS?

Article first published as Lawsuit Over Recess Appointments on Technorati.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses has tacked on a challenge to Obama's recent appointments of three NLRB board members to an already extent lawsuit over the "poster rule." From the NFIB website:
Amending its existing challenge to the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) “Notice Posting Rule,” the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) today added new claims, alleging that the Board appointments issued on January 4, 2012, violate the Constitution. The amended complaint argues that the Board does not possess the authority to enforce the poster rule, as the agency is operating without a legal quorum since the three appointments last week are not permissible under the law.
The original lawsuit is over whether or not businesses should be required to post notices, informing employees of their right to unionize. That rule was proposed by the NLRB last year and meant to into effect last November. The NLRB has agreed to delay implementation of the rule due to the original lawsuit, file jointly by the NFIB, the NAM (National Association of Manufcturers, and several other groups.

This new addendum by the NFIB legally raises the issue--already hotly debated--of whether or not a pro forma session of the Senate counts as a legitimate session, thereby preventing any recess appointments by the President.

The argument that the appointments were unconstitutional is simple: the Senate was technically in session, thus recess appointments cannot occur legally, by definition. The counter from the administration and its supporters is that a pro forma session is a procedural trick and doesn't prevent the President from exercising his constitutional authority to make recess appointments.

Further, those supporting the President's action argue that the Senate's power to "advise and consent" is, itself, technically impossible when in pro forma session, since business cannot be conducted. Additionally, they argue that blocking nominations for political reasons violates the spirit of the power, that using tricks to delay votes on nominations indefinitely is not a legitimate use of the power.

But the appointments in question here--the three NLRB ones, not the Cordray appointment--don't fit that template. As Laura Meckler and Melanie Trottman as the WSJ note, two of these three appointments were just made, neither having had a single confirmation hearing. So the argument that the appointments were being held up by the Senate is invalid, on its face. As to the last, Traditionally, the party in power (with regard to the Presidency) has three members on the board, the other party has two:
The third, a Republican, was nominated a year ago, but there is little evidence that Democrats pushed for a vote on his nomination, perhaps because installing him without also confirming another Democrat could have given Republicans a majority on the board.
As to the idea that business cannot be conducted in a pro forma session, the Senate passed the payroll tax break extension during such a session. Thus it would seem the White House can only rely on the first argument, that the pro forma session "doesn't count."

And this is a question that can only be decided by the Supreme Court.

Cheers, all.

Procopius works at Newsweek

Andrew Sullivan's latest cover piece--Why Are Obama's Critics So Dumb--is a painful read. It's full of pseudo-facts, questionable analysis, and fan-boy braggadocio. In that regard, it proves one thing: clever panegyrics remain an art form. Because embedded in this rather lengthy love letter are the seeds of reality, seeds that--I think--Mr. Sullivan knows are there, all too well.

The economic analysis of the piece hits the same tired note once again, that lie that just won't go away:
Under Bush, new policies on taxes and spending cost the taxpayer a total of $5.07 trillion. Under Obama’s budgets both past and projected, he will have added $1.4 trillion in two terms.
The phony "tax cuts cost us X dollars" is once again taken as a given. Even worse, Sullivan speaks of Bush's "policies on taxes and spending," but only of Obama's "budgets." But here's the real rub: Sullivan makes this statement immediately after noting that Obama didn't raise taxes during his term, yet fails to factor those numbers into his analysis. Surely, he must know people will see that "error," mustn't he?

Sullivan also brags on Obama's "accomplishments" in solving unemployment. Seriously. Look:
The right claims the stimulus failed because it didn’t bring unemployment down to 8 percent in its first year, as predicted by Obama’s transition economic team. Instead, it peaked at 10.2 percent. But the 8 percent prediction was made before Obama took office and was wrong solely because it relied on statistics that guessed the economy was only shrinking by around 4 percent, not 9. Remove that statistical miscalculation (made by government and private-sector economists alike) and the stimulus did exactly what it was supposed to do. It put a bottom under the free fall. It is not an exaggeration to say it prevented a spiral downward that could have led to the Second Great Depression.
Now, Andrew Sullivan is--in  my opinion--a smart guy. Smart enough not to believe what he has written here, but maybe I'm wrong (I don't think I am). Because if we look back at the reality of the moment, we know that this version is just not what was being peddled. It was created wholesale from sackcloth much later. Moreover, we also know that--historically--actual recoveries don't follow the kinds of paths Sullivan outlines. And regardless, a simple comparison to the first term of Reagan shows what the consequences are for a very different set of polices.

Andrew Sullivan--who opens the piece by claiming to be "a conservative-minded independent"--writes like a DemocracyNow-watching, DailyKos-reading, dyed-in-the-wool progressive. How can that be?

One more bit worth looking at is Sullivan's praise for Obama's killing of Osama bin Laden. A portion:
And when the moment for decision came, the president overruled both his secretary of state and vice president in ordering the riskiest—but most ambitious—plan on the table. He even personally ordered the extra helicopters that saved the mission. It was a triumph, not only in killing America’s primary global enemy, but in getting a massive trove of intelligence to undermine al Qaeda even further.
Maybe Obama was even on the com-channel of the Seal team, barking orders and directing the assault? Regardless, it's worth treading carefully here. The President did what he had to do. But really, what President would not have done the same (aside from Carter, of course)? The actual locating of bin Laden was a process, however, that took years and began before Obama took office. Those responsible for locating him are the nameless, faceless operatives of out intelligence community and will likely never receive much in the way of credit. But what we have in Sullivan's version is a defiant Obama that almost single-handedly ordains the death of bin Laden, that uses his military expertise to design the perfect raid. Right.

During the reign of Justinian I in Byzantium, the official historian was Procopius. He composed several histories of the period, detailing the many triumphs and accomplishments of the Emperor, who was always portrayed as the principal actor, the driving force, the hero. But Procopius also composed the once-infamous, now-famous Secret History, which detailed some less-than-noble activities of the Emperor and his wife. It is widely accepted that this last history reflected Procopius' real attitude towards his leader. And indeed, a careful reading of the other works suggests the possibility of Procopius' tongue often being firmly in his cheek, as he glorified Justinian.

I suspect Sullivan is a fan of Procopius...

Cheers, all.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Negative Space

As a concept, negative space is relevant in a number of fields of inquiry, including art, architecture, mathematics, sociology, history, language, and even economics. Let's talk about a few of them: visual arts, mathematics and sociology.

Most are probably familiar with the concept, as most commonly employed in the visual arts. Classic pictures--wherein the outline of an apparent image is actually the outline of something else--are commonplace, like this cover of a Pink Floyd album, or this tribute-to-Jobs version of the Apple logo.

There are also vivsual artists engaged in far larger and more difficult negative space pieces, like the sculptor Rachel Whiteread. This is her Holocaust memorial in Vienna, the Nameless Library (2000):

It represents the negative space inside of a library, the area defined by the shelves, walls and doors. And it is, in my view, quite brilliant.

In mathematics, the concept of negative space is particularly relevant in number theory. Consider the classic Fibonnaci numbers, 0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34..., wherein each successive number is the sum of the previous two numbers (Fn=Fn-1+Fn-2). It is a simple formula that yields a surprisingly interesting series of numbers.

But what about the whole numbers that are not in the series? The first ten would be: 4 6 7 9 10 11 12 14 15 16. Is there a formula for those numbers, too? Are they--the anti-Fibonacci numbers--as "interesting" as the Fibonnaci numbers? The answers to those questions would appear to be "probably not" and, surprisingly, "yes," but further exploration of this would probably bore most to tears. Let's move on to negative space in sociology, instead.

I say "sociology," but "anthropology" would be equally appropriate. What we are talking about here--when we say negative space--are identifiable social, political, or economic structures of a society that are unanticipated or unintended consequences of development, with regard to traditional structures. Really, what we're talking about here is largely Marxist thinking (don't anyone freak out!). Much of the analysis on these types of things are explored only by Marxist-oriented thinkers. And certainly, some of it is nonsense. But not all of it.

Previously, I offered a post wherein I identified some of the chief influences on my own thinking, my own point of view. That was--necessarily--far from a complete list of influences. So let me note another one here: James C. Scott and his Domination and the Arts of Resistance, published in 1990. Scott argues that there is a "hidden transcript," with regard to the actions--speech, movement, and general activity--of groups not in a dominate role within a given society. That is to say, public interactions--visible to all, especially those in a dominant role--are very, very different from private interactions among members of the oppressed group, only.

Scott, in fact, argues that resistance to oppression is--even when seemingly non-existent--always present in this hidden transcript. This is a very critical issue in Marxist theory, for with this contention Scott questions the conclusions of Gramsci and the later's concept of cultural hegemony. In fact if one accepts Scott's conclusions--as I do--Gramsci's theory is demolished wholesale.

The negative space here is that hidden transcript, the actions, attitudes, and practices of a population segment that is invisible to the remainder of the population but can often be identified as existing by observing the public transcript. It's a complicated thing, no doubt. But very interesting and very significant. I urge everyone who has any interest in these things to read Scott's book, but be sure to do it with an open mind. Because if you do, you'll see that Scott's critique is quite useful, not only for identified oppression but also for identifying what is not oppression.

For instance, ask yourselves this question: does the Occupy movement have a hidden transcript? If so, what does that tell us? If not, what does that tell us?

Cheers, all.

Lynyrd Skynyrd and the prism of the past

What is it about Lynyrd Skynyrd? Someone says "Freebird" on Google+ (thanks for that, Summer Daniels) and I spend the next hour going through my music library, plucking out classics from Skynyrd and other Southern Rock greats, and another thirty minutes looking at YouTube videos of the same, while occasionally choking back a tear or two during some of the most moving moments.

Frequent readers might recall that I've brought up Skynyrd before. Once, I was merely riffing off of a song title, but the other time was actually about the themes inherent in many Skynyrd songs, and indeed in other classics from the genre (Southern Rock).

And building from that previous piece, there is no doubt that these themes--outllaw-ism, wanderlust, and individualism--appeal greatly to many people (like me). But there's more there, I think.

The tragedy of the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash looms large in the pschye of Southern Rock (and Country, as well) artists and audiences. Even people that were born after the incident recognize it and often--when they are artists--pay homage to that moment.

For those unaware, the date was October 20, 1977 (I had just turned twelve) when the Convair CV-300 took off from Greenville, South Carolina with the band. Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant was killed in the crash, along with guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister Cassie, and three others (an assistant road manager and the pilots). Other members of the band had severe injuries, especially Allen Collins and Gary Rosington. That was the end of Lynyrd Skynyrd for a decade, until the band was reformed with Ronnie's younger brother--Johnny Van Zant--as the frontman.

Those years, from the date of the crash until the band reformed in 1987, saw the legend of Lynyrd Skynyrd grow to unimaginable proportions. Freebird--already a classic--became one of the two great anthems of Rock and Roll, along with Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. Radio countdowns of the top rock songs of all time--typically happening on Memorial Day weekends--usually ended with one or the other at number one (I remember Born to Run occasionally getting to the top, though).

But whenever Freebird was played--on the airwaves or by another band--the plane crash was usually referenced, thus the song itself became something of a tribute to the lost members. Still, I think there's even more to it than all of this, a heavy load of symbolism and imagery for any song to carry already.

And yes, there are racist and misogynistic components to worry about, as well. That's not to say that either have anything to do--as a matter of course--with the band, the song, or fans of either, but only to recognize the cultural context of the song within the American South of the Seventies and Eighties, a region still coming to terms with changes to more or less uniform cultural norms through the last several decades.

In that respect, Freebird hearkens back to the Way Things Were, in the sense of an idealized version of the past. We remember--those of us born into this culture, anyway--what we want to remember, the best parts of the experiences we had growing up.

For instance, I remember my years in school--from grade school into college--through such a prism, wherein conflicts between groups are minimized, where there seems to be an order of things, timeless and wholly appropriate. Freebird and other songs from the same genre and era encapsulate this vision in my mind: wild-eyed boys engaged in horseplay, with cars and loud music, pestering the girls in tight jeans or short shorts.

And those times, of course, are a thing of the past, the idealized past. For the typical eyes of a teenaged WASP in the American South of the Seventies and Eighties are hardly unbiased, hardly a means of glimpsing the reality of clashing social and cultural institutions of a changing world.

Still, the loss of that dream of a world is something that must be coped with, both by understanding the feelings of loss and by understanding what was really happening. But a sense of loss is what it is, and the emotional imagery conjured up by the music of my youth remains ever-present.

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a day to recognize--in my opinion--the greatness of a man who led a movement to not only right wrongs, but to help us see the flaws in ourselves, our own failures in perceiving injustice for the sake of our own comfort, happiness, and memories.

But yesterday was Ronnie Van Zant's birthday. He would have been sixty-four years old. And I can still miss him, what he stood for, even as I recognize the change that had to come, the loss of old dreams for the sake of just ones.

Well done, Dr. King, thank you for your life's work and Godspeed, to you. And thank you, Ronnie, for the memories, for the dreams, and for the music. Godspeed to you, as well.

Cheers, all.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Road to 1984

People--especially those of a libertarian bent like me--see it all the time in government laws and policies, in the growth of multinationals, and elsewhere, that fabled and dreaded road to the totalitarian future envisioned by George Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It's a future wherein governments engage in mind-control and phony, eternal wars with each other, where Big Brother is an omnipresent reality and rules over even the thoughts of the population.

And it's no wonder that we see increased government meddling and control of daily life as leading to this end. The criminalization of thought--via things like hate crimes--and the potential expansion of government into things like healthcare worry some of us to no end.

Similarly, multinational corporations--with resources greater than most nations--bend governments to their will, even those of a democratic nature, and wield greater influence than most political leaders. Their growth oftentimes seems unstoppable, suggesting that it is only a matter of time before the world is controlled by a handful of corporate boards.

But really, that's still a far cry from thought control, from being able to decree--at will--what is truth, from being able to change history on a day to basis. And even as we worry over these encroachments, we praise the free and open flow of information that modern technology has given us. Of course, technology has its costs.

Looking back, the invention of the movable type and the printing press first unleashed access to knowledge on a massive scale. Books--once a luxury of only the rich--became steadily more accessible for the average person. Quickly, bookselling became an industry unto itself, giving rise to publishing houses, printers, various book shops, and--of course--public libraries.

The last became institutions throughout much of the world. Those of us alive today grew up in a world where the compiled knowledge, ideas, and literary works from all of history were freely accessible with just a short walk or drive.

Now, the digital age is upon us. Traditional booksellers are struggling and failing, as electronic books gain in popularity. Online retailers like Amazon have quickly embraced the new technology, as have publishing houses that wish to survive. Meanwhile, brick and mortar libraries are seeing phenomenal growth in their rental programs for e-books. But right now, they can't keep up with the demand. As this story from the Washington Post notes,  the waiting lists for e-books can easily go into the hundreds:
Want to take out the new John Grisham? Get in line. As of Friday morning, 288 people were ahead of you in the Fairfax County Public Library system, waiting for one of 43 copies. You’d be the 268th person waiting for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” with 47 copies.
And not all publishers are thrilled about this kind of business model. Some--like Simon and Schuster--don't make their digital titles available to public libraries, at all.

They cite concerns about piracy in this regard, but quite obviously they could also be worried about losing business, particularly if libraries figure out a way to solve their waiting list problems. After all, who would buy a book--in print format or e-book format--when their e-book reader can simply access it for free at a public library?

But step back and imagine that theoretical future, where all books--and magazines and papers--are freely accessible to all. Forgetting about the issue of new content (who would provide it, if there was no potential compensation?), consider the potential for abuse. Who is guaranteeing the accuracy of the stored and accessed data? A bureaucrat? At the Ministry of Truth.

Of course, that theoretical reality will likely never arrive. But a lesser one--meaning one with even more knowledge freely accessible than now--probably will, with the same sort of potential for misuse and abuse.

And that's a paradox, of sorts: the greater the access to storehouse of knoweldge and the more dependent the population becomes on the form, the easier it is for it to be twisted, for the public to be duped, one way or the other. The road ahead is not always easy to see.

Cheers, all.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hello, I'm a clueless journalist

Given my previous entry--on the supposed increase in divisive discourse in politics--I can't help but share the following bit from the Daily Show:

In it, John Oliver interviews the president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, one Froma Harrop. The reason for the fun is that this is the organization behind the Civility Project:
The Civility Project does not seek to redefine political campaigning or reinvent the public-policy conversation. We aim to be persuasive, no matter how great the distance between points of view, in promoting respect, not only for the adversary but also for the audience and for the democratic institutions whose wellbeing depends so much on the wisdom of an informed electorate.
Meanwhile, the president of the NCEW wallows in divisive rhetoric, herself, having no problem referring to tea party folks as terrorists and hostage-takers. A sample:
Make no mistake: The tea party Republicans have engaged in economic terrorism against the United States – threatening to blow up the economy if they don’t get what they want. And like the al-Qaida bombers, what they want is delusional: the dream of restoring some fantasy caliphate in which no one pays taxes, while the country is magically protected from foreign attack and the elderly get government-paid hip replacements.
And the irony of this is lost on Ms. Harrop. Again, and again, and again, and again.

However, note that in the bit quoted from Ms. Harrop's Aug. 6, 2011 op-ed, she not only engages in name calling, she also openly mischaracterizes the truth (for those that don't speak pundit, that means she lies). Which tea party Republican was advocating no taxes for anyone? None of them, of course. But that's the way of things for ideologues who like to pretend they're objective journalists: build a strawman whenever possible so you can make yourself--or your side--look good. And to be clear, this is not a left-right thing at all. Everyone does it. The trick is--for the common person--learning how to filter out such nonsense.

That's every bit as true for all of the divisive rhetoric and violent imagery people like Ms. Harrop and Representative Wasserman-Schultz are complaing about, the imagery that is, was, and always will be present in an open political system like that of America.

To be fair to Ms. Harrop, however, I'd like to point out that--according to Kevin Drum at Mother Jones--she seems "very nice."

Cheers, all.

A lack of civility is a new thing? Hardly.

Article first published as Political Discourse Hasn't Changed in 200 Years on Technorati.

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, addressing the press in New Hampshire after the primary, opined on the tea party, linking the growth of the movement to the shooting in Tuscon of Representative Gabrielle Giffords:
We need to make sure that we tone things down, particularly in light of the Tucson tragedy from a year ago, where my very good friend, Gabby Giffords--who is doing really well, by the way--The discourse in America, the discourse in Congress in particular...has really changed, I'll tell you. I hesitate to place blame, but I have noticed it take a very precipitous turn towards edginess and lack of civility with the growth of the Tea Party movement.
Really, she didn't hesitate for very long. And the general idea--that divisive political rhetoric was somehow to blame for the tragic shooting--is nothing new. In fact, the theme appeared almost immediately, following the shooting. And blame for such rhetoric was placed squarely on conservative and tea party shoulders. In particular Sarah Palin was blamed, largely because of the graphics she had used on a map for potential "targets" in upcoming elections.

These new comments by Wasserman-Schultz have ignited a wave of commentary already, with opinions largely following those previously expressed, as conservative and right-wing writers and pundits criticize her for trying to make the linkage while liberal, progressive, and left-wing writers and pundits credit her for speaking the truth.

But what's amazing about all of this, in my opinion, is the near-infinitesimal memory of those claiming that there has even been a heretofore unprecedented increase in divisive--and violent--political rhetoric and imagery. They have no concept of American history in this regard, whatsoever.

During the previous administration--that of George W. Bush--rhetoric was every bit as divisive, especially during the aftermath of the 2000 Election and during the years following the invasion of Iraq. Aside from various calls to waterboard and torture various members of the administration, there was a constant barrage of violent imagery criticizing the President. Hell, a movie was made with the theme of assassinating him.

The years under Clinton were not that much better, particularly after the Impeachment began. Can we so easily forget Alec Baldwin's call to have Henry Hyde and his family "stoned to death"? Or the rhetoric coming from people angered by the Ruby Ridge and Waco fiascoes?

The truth is, divisive discourse--flavored with violent imagery--has been standard fare in U.S. politics since the nation was founded. Some periods are worse than others, that is true, but the general tenor is omnipresent. What's amazing is how infrequently such language has spilled over into action. The most famous case of this happening is undoubtedly the caning of Senator Charles Sumner by Representative Preston Brooks in 1856.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it began with Sumner taking the floor of the Senate to make a speech denouncing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed those territories to determine--via popular vote--if they would be Slave or Free States. In the speech, he attacked Senator Andrew Butler--an author of the Act--going so far as to call his mistress an ugly harlot and to mock Butler's mannerisms and speech (Butler had recently suffered a debilitating stroke). A few days later, Brooks--nephew of Butler--beat Sumner into unconsciousness with a cane in revenge for the verbal attacks on Butler and South Carolina.

The incident reflected the the rising tide of emotions that would sweep the United States into civil war. It was seized on by both sides for its propaganda value, the North seeing it as an unjustified assault, the South as a righteous and provoked response to personal attacks.

The tragedy of Giffords' shooting notwithstanding, nothing about the current state of affairs in politics is particularly unusual or particularly divisive. Even given the sometimes revolutionary flavor of comments from tea party types--and Occupy Wall Street types--nothing suggests a looming civil war. In fact, one could argue that the consistent harping on the divisiveness of current discourse is more divisive than the discourse, itself. And Wasserman-Schultz is doing her part to keep it going.

 Cheers, all.

Friday, January 13, 2012

More strikes against Gingrich, Krugman

In her column at the WaPo today, Jennifer Rubin expounds further on the stupidity of Gingrich's attacks on Romney and Bain Capital. She passes on an e-mail received from one of her readers that makes a salient observation,with regards to Rick Tyler's (from Gingrich's superpac) comparison of Romney to Steve Jobs.

Tyler's words:
This is not free-enterprise in the sense of Steve Jobs and Apple. People think of these [firings] as isolated incidents. But there is a Bain victim in nearly every state of the union. If voters learn about a pattern of predatory corporate muggings, I think they’re going to get angry.
The devastatingly correct critique from Rubin's reader:
This just proves neither Gingrich nor anyone on his team understands basic economics. Steve Jobs was perhaps the most creatively destructive force on the planet in the last twenty years. That dude is still destroying entire industries even after he’s dead.
Apple--under the direction of Jobs--almost single-handedly destroyed the CD industry, completely changing the music industry in the process. His iPhone has changed the cell-phone industry drastically. And his iPad has done the same to the laptop industry. That's an awful lot of destruction. But it is--and was--creative destruction, the kind of destruction that makes capitalism work. And that's no different from what outfits like Bain Capital do. Except Jobs and Apple did a lot more of it.

Rubin goes on from there, however, to note that Romney's response demonstrates, at the very least, that he understands how the economy and businesses function, something not true of Gingrich, Tyler, or the various people from both sides of the aisle agreeing with them. In her words:
To be blunt, at least he[Romney] has a clue what the private sector does.
That brings us right back to Krugman's column from yesterday, discussed previously. Krugman--believing he is being brilliant--says:
And there’s also the question of whether Mr. Romney understands the difference between running a business and managing an economy.
And with that, Krugman proves Rubin's point. Because the question is: does a candidate actually understand how things work in the private sector, for if not, how can they make good policy? For Gingrich--like Obama--the answer is a resounding "no."

Cheers, all.

Speaking the plain truth

In keeping with my previous couple of posts, here is some more economic analysis, this time from Peter Ferrara at Forbes. Ferrara goes through the real numbers on the recovery and provides the historical comparisons that demonstrate just how pititful--thanks to the policies of the current administration--the recovery has been. It's a long piece, but well worth the read. Some highlights:
As should have been long expected, Obama’s trillion dollar Keynesian stimulus did nothing to promote recovery and growth, and almost surely delayed it. That is because borrowing a trillion dollars out of the economy to spend a trillion back into it does nothing to promote the economy on net. Indeed, it is probably a net drag on the economy, because the private sector spends the money more productively and efficiently than the public sector.
A simple fact, yet one no one the left seems willing to acknowledge. More:
Obama apologists cannot argue that this is because the recession was so bad, because the historical record in America is the worse the recession the stronger the recovery. Based on historical precedent, we should at worst be finishing the second year of a booming recovery by now. 
Compare Obama’s lack of a recovery 2 ½ years after the recession ended with the first 2 ½ years of the Reagan recovery. In those years under Reagan, the American economy created 8 million new jobs, the unemployment rate fell by 3.6 percentage points, real wages and incomes were jumping, and poverty had reversed an upsurge started under Carter, beginning a long term decline.
And there is the heart of the matter. The attempts to "plan" growth by Obama and company have failed miserably, by any standard. In contrast, the simplicity of getting government out of the way and freeing up capital under Reagan resulted in phenomenal growth. Yet, we're still arguing with people--like Krugman--that want to double down on the failed policies and initiatives of Obama.

And finally:
Most people do not know that already enacted in current law for 2013 are increases in the top tax rates of virtually every major federal tax. That is because the tax increases of Obamacare become effective that year, and the Bush tax cuts expire, which Obama has refused to renew for singles reporting income over $200,000 per year, or couples reporting over $250,000 per year (in other words, the nation’s small businesses, job creators and investors, in plain English). 
As a result, if the Bush tax cuts just expire for these upper income taxpayers, along with the Obamacare taxes, in 2013 the top two income tax rates will jump nearly 20%, the capital gains tax rate will soar by nearly 60%, the tax on corporate dividends will nearly triple, and the Medicare payroll tax will leap by 62% for those disfavored taxpayers.
We're poised to roll into a buzzsaw of economic destruction. The only thing keeping it from happening is the natural movement of the business cycle, as the stalled recovery pushes back against the wrong-headed policies forestalling growth. And that will--in the end--lead to a lost decade for America, a prolonged period of economic malaise, all for the sake of combating the supposed evils of the capitalist system and striving for a nonsensical ideal of economic justice.

Cheers (?), all.

Cut down those trees, Mr. Krugman!

Paul Krugman's op-ed yesterday in the New York Times takes on Mitt Romney--via the strawman of Gordon Gekko--and carefully explains why the nation cannot be run like a company:
America is not, in fact, a corporation. Making good economic policy isn’t at all like maximizing corporate profits. And businessmen — even great businessmen — do not, in general, have any special insights into what it takes to achieve economic recovery.
Krugman is right, of course, insofar as the nation--or more precisely its economy--is not a corporation and comparisons that make that assumption are inherently flawed. In that regard, Krugman questions the idea that a successful businessman might have the needed tools and acumen to "fix" the troubled economy.

Obviously, that's an idea Romney and previous Presidential hopefuls--like Herman Cain and H. Ross Perot--have latched onto and promulgated in their various campaigns. Because it plays well, nevermind the truth of it. But is there any truth to it? Krugman says no, that business experience doesn't translate into running the country experience. He points to Herbert Hoover as evidence for this and returns to his own mantra on government spending to highlight the very different nature of an economy, as opposed to a business:
Consider what happens when a business engages in ruthless cost-cutting. From the point of view of the firm’s owners (though not its workers), the more costs that are cut, the better. Any dollars taken off the cost side of the balance sheet are added to the bottom line. 
But the story is very different when a government slashes spending in the face of a depressed economy. Look at Greece, Spain, and Ireland, all of which have adopted harsh austerity policies. In each case, unemployment soared, because cuts in government spending mainly hit domestic producers. And, in each case, the reduction in budget deficits was much less than expected, because tax receipts fell as output and employment collapsed.
And while that's true, Krugman makes the fatal mistake of assuming that the approach would be identical, that someone with a strong business background would not recognize these differences.

But more significantly in my opinion, Krugman says something else in this piece that is very, very true, something that he otherwise ignores when he offers his own solutions for "fixing" the economy:
Why isn’t a national economy like a corporation? For one thing, there’s no simple bottom line. For another, the economy is vastly more complex than even the largest private company.
Focus on the last bit: "the economy is vastly more complex than even the largest private company." Right. Exactly right. Vastly more complex, exponentially more complex. Yet, Krugman consistently argues that if the government simply spends more money, all will be well. See it? He sees complexity in the system when criticizing approaches that he does not like, but sees simplicity in the same when presenting his own approach.

The Great Conceit continues.

Cheers, all.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Goo-Goo Economics

The chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers--Alan Kreuger--spoke at the Center for American Progress, today. In his speech, he reiterated the goals of the administration, when it comes to the economy: tax the rich at a higher rate, extend the payroll tax breaks, and extend unemployment benefits.

Of course, we already know that increasing tax rates on the wealthy will not--as a matter of course--increase revenues. And we know that extending the payroll tax breaks as a means of creating jobs is nonsense. And that the one demonstrable consequence of extending unemployment benefits is increasing unemployment. Still, this is the plan, the strategy, the White House is sticking to as a means of growing the economy: policies that may or may not increase government revenues (and even if revenues were increased, that wouldn't mean economic growth), will not create jobs, and will increase unemployment. Brilliant.

To be fair though, the real objective--via these policies--is actually the reduction of income inequality. And that is what will lead to economic growth. Supposedly. Kreuger, as evidence for his argument, pointed to the gini coefficient, noting that:
Our income tax system is less progressive than that in other countries. This chart shows the Gini coefficient for OECD countries, with the blue bars indicating inequality in before-tax income and the red bars inequality in after-tax income. The difference in the height between the bars is a measure of how much the tax code reduces inequality. Of all the OECD countries, only Chile, Korea, and Switzerland have tax systems that reduce inequality by less than the U.S.
 And he provided a handy-dandy chart, as well:

So, if I'm understanding Kreuger correctly, in order to grow the economy we need to get our gini coefficient more in line with that of...Italy? No, that can't be right. Spain? I don't think so. GREECE? Any country in the EU? Because as we all know, the EU is a raging success story, with money to burn...

Beyond that, Kreuger also says the following:
Now, I could see why someone could support tax cuts for top income earners if they had materially benefited the U.S. economy, but the macro evidence is clear that the economy did not perform better after last decade’s tax cuts than it did after taxes were increased on top earners in the early 1990s.
That's a fascinating position to take, given that macro evidence clearly shows the current administration's policies failed to check the growth in unemployment and failed to spur on the economy. Of course, when someone says that about the administration's policies, the retort is always "it would have be much worse, without those policies (like the Stimulus bill)." Yet in the case of  the Bush tax cuts, it is assumed that no other factors matter.


Cheers, all.

Our media: vindictive and smug

The vicious attacks be the left-leaning pundits and journalists has subsided, somewhat, thanks to Romney's increased traction and victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now, the same people that were jumping on any bit of news--however small--that would make people like Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, or Gingrich look silly, the same people whose animosity for the tea party crowd dripped from the corners of their mouths, have been magically transformed into thoughtful analysts, engaged in dispassionate assessments of Romney's chances going forward against Obama in the General Election.

On the flip side, the fanfare from the right-leaners that followed the spurts of growth in the support of the tea party "darlings" is gone. It's been replaced with antagonistic, spiteful attacks on Romney, dopey calls for his tax returns, and ill-conceived questions about capitalism.

That's what we get from our benighted gatekeepers of the truth. The left can't help itself; it's overcome with smugness, as it perceives a drop in fortunes of the tea party and the Christian Right. Plus, it get a candidate that speaks their language, the language of a northeastern elitist and the language of Wall Street, paradoxically. The right devolves into vindictive barbs, as various pundits realize there is an excellent chance they'll soon be eating crow and that the tea party movement can't--all by itself--overcome the obvious weaknesses of various candidates.

The last is a critical issue, something that most in the media--on the left and the right--fail to comprehend, for very different reasons.

The tea party, since its very inception, has been a localized, grass roots phenomenon. In the 2010 elections, the most plentiful gains by Republicans occurred--by far--at the sate and local levels. Largely ignored by the national press, the gains here were truly unprecedented. Gains in the House were significant, as well. But things didn't go nearly as well in Senate races. The one Senator who benefited the most from the tea party movement was probably Marco Rubio in Florida. Yet, he never proclaimed allegiance to the movement, merely sympathized with them and their concerns.

The attempts to usurp control of the tea party movement by national figures and organizations have all failed. Palin was--and is--the closest thing to a national leader, but she knows she cannot actually claim that mantle. And that's why the movement has failed to coalesce around a single candidate: it's a movement of individuals. Each tea party-type candidate has positions, ideas, or values that are not necessarily reflective of all members of the tea party.

Consider the social conservatism of someone like Santorum. Their are many people in the tea party movement that don't give a rats ass about some of his concerns, in this regard. In fact, many think he's completely wrong. Ron Paul--who is miles away from Santorum on such issues--appeals to such people. Thus, the movement is fractured in its support, as both claim allegiance, yet differ on core principals.

Most pundits on the right don't seem to understand this, probably because they have their own built in assumptions about conservatism in general and the tea party movement in particular.

Then there is the publicly avowed evangelicalism of a candidate like Perry. His staunchest supporters see that as a part of the tea party package, as essential to the movement. But again, many others in the movement--even some that are themselves evangelicals--disagree.

And the pundits on the left can't disengage themselves from this notion, at all. They take it as a given that tea party equals Christian Right, never mind all of the evidence--like Rubio's success--that says otherwise.

So here where are, heading into an election season with a media that is--by and large--devoid of critical thinkers, that falls all over itself in its pettiness. And that's a shame, since if things continue to go Romney's way, the race for the White House will be very interesting, even if Obama remains the odds on favorite.

Cheers, all.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Perils of Fabulous Wealth

Everyone would like to be filthy rich, right? Imagine the freedom that comes with knowing you can do pretty much anything you want do, can go anyplace in the world at the drop of a hat, and can buy whatever strikes your fancy. Of course, no matter how much money you might have, it can still run out.

Just look at all of the former pro-athletes that earned million-dollar salaries who are now down on their luck. Or actors who commanded millions upon millions for film roles, but are forced to now take any role they can get because of financial difficulties. Or the former titans of Wall Street that believed they could make as money at will, only to see their fortunes disappear in the wink of an eye. Then, there stories and more stories of lottery winners who are forced into bankruptcy, sometimes less than a year after winning their fortune.

Then again, there are plenty of rich people that stay that way throughout their lifetimes. Some earn their money, some fall into, and some are born into it. And some still manage to be reckless with their cash, yet not so reckless that they spend their way into the poor house.

For those, however, that just keep making money hand over fist, that seemingly cannot help but become wealthier and wealthier, there is another danger. Regardless of where the money comes from--investing, successful businesses, sports, the film industry, etc.--the people at the top seem more susceptible than most to the curse of making asses of themselves.

There's Donald Trump, with his "birther" nonsense, Tom Cruise with...well too much to count, Paris Hilton with her home videos, and a host of others.

Now we have the latest filthy rich person to join the ranks of the colossal asses: Warren Buffet.

After the silliness of his various op-eds last year, Buffett has upped the ante. If you recall, when Buffett decided to publicly announce his willingness to pay more taxes, a number of Republican lawmakers told him to go right ahead, no one is stopping him.

Of course, Buffett did no such thing. Posturing is much easier when you aren't forced to actually do what you say you'd be willing to do. But the latest from Buffett revives the nonsense:
Still, he’s willing to take them up on it. “It restores my faith in human nature to think that there are people who have been around Washington all this time and are not yet so cynical as to think that [the deficit] can’t be solved by voluntary contributions,” he says with a chuckle. So Buffett has pledged to match 1 for 1 all such voluntary contributions made by Republican members of Congress. “And I’ll even go 3 for 1 for McConnell,” he says. That could be quite a bill if McConnell takes the challenge; after all, the Senator is worth at least $10 million. As Buffett put it to me, “I’m not worried.”
So, Buffet says he'll match the extra tax payments from Republicans. Great. But here's the problem: the Republicans never said they thought they were under-taxed! That was Buffet's--along with some others'--claim.

He wants to challenge somone so he can match them dollar for dollar? Challenge all the people that want taxes increased, that don't think they're paying enough, not the ones that think tax rates are too high and/or too punitive.

This has to be one of the absolutely dumbest attempts at scoring political points that I have ever seen. It's so stupid, I can't even wrap my head around how Buffett might have thought it was a clever retort.

The only explanation I can come up with is that fabulous wealth slowly turns people into morons.

Cheers, all.

Gold, line, and sinker

As an avid listener to talk radio, I have to say that there is one kind of commercial--common to pretty much every right-leaning show out there--that really grates on my nerves: the "buy gold" commercial. In some markets, such commercials are not enough, as there are even paid infomercials with people hocking gold.

There's nothing wrong with owning gold, in my opinion. It can be a very sound choice as an investment. And as everyone knows, it's gone up in value pretty dramatically over the past decade, or so. Currently, it's in somewhat of a trough, but it might rebound back to previous highs. It also might not.

But as an investment in 2011, gold actually failed to beat out long-term U.S. treasuries. I not this because the typical "hook" for these commercials is that gold performs better than the market and U.S. treasuries. Sometimes, that's certainly the case. But as a rule? No.

For 2011, gold was up overall some 13%. (long term treasuries were up over 14%). That's certainly better than the Dow. But then, why compare gold--a single asset--to the Dow? How does it compare to individual stocks one might but? For 2011,  Exxon-Mobil was up a respectable 15%, Apple was up over 24%, and Starbucks was up a staggering 40%.

Investing in any one of those blue chippers would have been a smart move, but also a relatively safe one. So, where is the magic of gold, here? It's just another possible choice, but at the end of the day it's just metal. And it's value rises only so long as people want it, demand it. And that demand is predominantly about hoarding, not industrial use.

But again, there's nothing wrong with owning some. Just recognize that the people telling you how great it is aren't doing to benefit you. And don't accept the nonsensical idea that gold is something so special, that it's value is eternal, and that you can't lose by buying it.

Cheers, all.

Forging new realities

Article first published as Near the Mountains of Madness on Technorati.

At the Mountains of Madness is one of H.P. Lovecraft's most memorable works, a combination of science fiction, fantasy and Lovecraftian horror that deals with an ancient and alien city in the mountains of Antarctica. Near the end, one of the lead characters descends into madness because of what he sees.

H.P. Lovecraft was far from the first writer to dabble in the theme of madness, of course. One of his chief influences was a writer named Robert W. Chambers, who--in 1895--published a collection of loosely connected short stories entitled The King in Yellow. The first story in the collection is entitled "The Repairer of Reputations," and concerns a man who sustains a head injury and is eventually revealed to be stark raving mad.

The problem--for the reader--is that the story is told in the first person from the point of view of the insane man, one Hildred Castaigne. Thus, every detail the narrator shares, every observation he makes may not be reflective of reality, at all. In this way, it's is very reminiscent of the movie The Usual Suspects, insofar as it's impossible to tell what is reality, what is really happening.

And I can't help but wonder if we--all of us--are currently trapped within a similar situation, as we are subjected to political opinion after political opinion in the media that may very well be coming from people that have slipped into madness...

Consider this piece by Gary Kamiya at Salon. Entitled "The anti-Obama cult," it is a supposed analysis of right wing thinking, the how and the why such thinking has manifested itself as, for all intents and purposes, a cult springing from Christian roots with one primary goal: opposing the President.

The analysis--at first glance--appears deep, the language scholarly, the conclusions profound. A sample:
Because “big government” does not have a fixed meaning, attacking it can simultaneously serve as a rallying cry for racial resentment, an impassioned demand for personal liberation and a marker of class-and region-based solidarity. This is why when the Republican candidates inveigh against big government, which they do approximately every time they open their mouths, their rants have all the weird, malevolent imprecision of a Stalinist attack on “running dog lackeys of the bourgeoisie.” They are the ravings of True Believers, of cult members.
Kamiya breaks down the opposition to Obama and finds it based on a furtive totalitarian agenda, not unlike the ideology of Stalin and Mao, but rooted in faith and race. And because he cannot comprehend some ideas, they must not be truly meaningful. The oddest part of the piece is his conclusion of why "cult" is the appropriate descriptor. It is because:
...cults always delineate themselves by drawing sharp lines between Us and Them.
Like Hildred in Chambers' tale, he sees the conspiracy aligned against him--or Obama--and uses it to justify his own actions, his own beliefs, and his own creation of an "us" and "them." The problem, of course, is that he has got everything wrong.

And he is far from alone, in this regard. The madness extends far and wide, encompassing all sides of the political spectrum. For example, here is Thomas Sowell--a man whom I very much admire, whose depth of knowledge in economics may be currently unparalleled--arguing with a straight face that President Obama has fundamentally changed the nature of America. And Sowell can no more be accused of being "cultish" than can Charles Krauthammer.

So, where do we go for sanity? Aside from that last name I just dropped, I don't see a lot of it, these days. But maybe it's more of a symptom, a consequence of the need to be noticed, to say something new. I hope so. I really do.

Lessons from the Shire

With the New Hampshire primary now over, it's time for every pundit to opine on what the results mean, to predict what the results predict. So, I'll pretend to be a pundit and offer my analysis

Mitt Romney won with around 39% of the vote (96% reporting). Paul finished second with 23%, Huntsman third with 17%. Gingrich and Santorum  both failed to crack 10% and Perry--God love  him--didn't even get 1%. But to see what really happened here, we need to look closer. The Google Politics site is a great place to get results, specific by county. And that's where the meat is.

Note that Romney did not lead in every county. In a number of them, Paul led. In a few more, Huntsman led. However, by hovering over the various counties, a simple rule is apparent: the larger the district (in number of primary voters), the more likely Romney was on top. Counties wherein Paul or Huntsman led are smaller, by and large.

Overall, Romney did better in New Hampshire this time around than in the previous Presidential Primary, where he garnered 31%, to McCain's 37%. That's right, Romney did better in New Hampshire this year than McCain did in 2008. And as Sean Trende notes, Romney's 39% is typical for winning candidates since 1972. And that's not all:
He led among almost every demographic group, the exception being younger voters (who supported Paul). Among registered Republicans, Romney won with 48 percent of the vote to Paul’s 15 percent. And perhaps most importantly, he carried very conservative voters and won a near majority of somewhat conservative voters.
What more could Romney possibly ask for?

Santorum's less than impressive showing--which was entirely predictable here--and Perry's fall into obscurity means more defections from supporters of those two. And the majority of them will no doubt turn to Romney. Which means Romney's lead in South Carolina and Florida will--at the very least--creep upward. Meanwhile, Paul will--predictably in these states--fare much worse than in New Hampshire.

The problem for all of the candidates is that they've run out of ammunition. Gingrich's last foolish salvo is having the exact opposite effect from what he had hoped for. Paul has nothing fresh to say (he hasn't since day one, really), and the others have played their hands as well. But Romney doesn't need any more ammunition. He has, for all intents and purposes, taken the hill and planted his flag. It will take a bombshell to move him out.

Cheers, all.