Okay, Y’all are just Creeping me out here!!!

linus3I watched the new Joy Behar show yesterday on Headline News. I have to admit I liked it. Bette Midler–koolaid sipper extraordinaire–had a lot to say as the show’s first guest. I’ve often compared Glenn Beck to the character Lonesome Rhodes in the 1957 movie a “Face in the Crowed” but Midler went one step farther.

“Someone like Glenn Beck has made gazillions of dollars because he’s out there being sort of hateful in many ways,” Behar said. “He calls himself a clown and a comedian. Do you think it’s funny?”

Midler confirmed what one would probably expect – she’s not a fan of Beck at all.

“I don’t think he’s funny even a little bit,” Midler said. “I’ve never had a laugh from Glenn Beck. In fact, I find him terrifying. I find him terrifying. He’s like an old school demagogue, and it’s really frightening.”

What did Midler compare Beck to? She likened the popular Fox News host to the instigators of the Rwandan civil war, which was the catalyst for the Rwandan genocide where an estimated 800,000 to 1 million lost their lives.

“If you look around at the rest of the world and what this kind of behavior has done, like in Rwanda, where the demagogues got on the radio and fomented all that hate between the Tutsis and the Hutus and the devastation that happened from that, I mean, it’s terrifying,” Midler said.

According to Midler, that’s a possibility in the United States.

“And that could happen, you know, you could turn on a dime,” Midler warned. “That could happen here.”

So, that was yesterday. Then I tripped over to Memorandum this morning to find this tidbit from Gore Vidal who is waxing poetically over “we coulda hadda Hillary”. A little late for the sippy cup grandpa but at least he admits that he was wrong. Not the same as an apology though.

Last year he famously switched allegiance from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama during the Democratic nomination process for president. Now, he reveals, he regrets his change of heart. How’s Obama doing? “Dreadfully. I was hopeful. He was the most intelligent person we’ve had in that position for a long time. But he’s inexperienced. He has a total inability to understand military matters. He’s acting as if Afghanistan is the magic talisman: solve that and you solve terrorism.” America should leave Afghanistan, he says. “We’ve failed in every other aspect of our effort of conquering the Middle East or whatever you want to call it.” The “War on Terror” was “made up”, Vidal says. “The whole thing was PR, just like ‘weapons of mass destruction’. It has wrecked the airline business, which my father founded in the 1930s. He’d be cutting his wrists. Now when you fly you’re both scared to death and bored to death, a most disagreeable combination.”

Oh, wait, it gets better.

Vidal originally became pro-Obama because he grew up in “a black city” (meaning Washington), as well as being impressed by Obama’s intelligence. “But he believes the generals. Even Bush knew the way to win a general was to give him another star. Obama believes the Republican Party is a party when in fact it’s a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred — religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word ‘conservative’ you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They’re not, they’re fascists.”

Another notable Obama mis-step has been on healthcare reform. “He f***ed it up. I don’t know how because the country wanted it. We’ll never see it happen.” As for his wider vision: “Maybe he doesn’t have one, not to imply he is a fraud. He loves quoting Lincoln and there’s a great Lincoln quote from a letter he wrote to one of his generals in the South after the Civil War. ‘I am President of the United States. I have full overall power and never forget it, because I will exercise it’. That’s what Obama needs — a bit of Lincoln’s chill.” Has he met Obama? “No,” he says quietly, “I’ve had my time with presidents.” Vidal raises his fingers to signify a gun and mutters: “Bang bang.” He is referring to the possibility of Obama being assassinated. “Just a mysterious lone gunman lurking in the shadows of the capital,” he says in a wry, dreamy way.

Vidal now believes, as he did originally, Clinton would be the better president. “Hillary knows more about the world and what to do with the generals. History has proven when the girls get involved, they’re good at it. Elizabeth I knew Raleigh would be a good man to give a ship to.”The Republicans will win the next election, Vidal believes; though for him there is little difference between the parties. “Remember the coup d’etat of 2000 when the Supreme Court fixed the selection, not election, of the stupidest man in the country, Mr Bush.”

So, Bette is voting on a revolution, Gore, a presidential assassination and more and if all that wasn’t enough, there’s this little thing called a military coup suggested by Newsmax’s John L. Perry. I’ve linked to the piece via Media Matters.

There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America’s military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the “Obama problem.” Don’t dismiss it as unrealistic.

America isn’t the Third World. If a military coup does occur here it will be civilized. That it has never happened doesn’t mean it wont. Describing what may be afoot is not to advocate it.

[…]

Will the day come when patriotic general and flag officers sit down with the president, or with those who control him, and work out the national equivalent of a “family intervention,” with some form of limited, shared responsibility?

Imagine a bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation. Skilled, military-trained, nation-builders would replace accountability-challenged, radical-left commissars. Having bonded with his twin teleprompters, the president would be detailed for ceremonial speech-making.

Military intervention is what Obama’s exponentially accelerating agenda for “fundamental change” toward a Marxist state is inviting upon America. A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama’s radical ideal is not acceptable or reversible.

Unthinkable? Then think up an alternative, non-violent solution to the Obama problem. Just don’t shrug and say, “We can always worry about that later.”

In the 2008 election, that was the wistful, self-indulgent, indifferent reliance on abnegation of personal responsibility that has sunk the nation into this morass.

As Cannonfire reminds us, the newsource is whacky but the writer was on the staff of LBJ and Jimmy Carter. That’s hardly the sort’ve person that should be suggesting a military coup against Obama. Cannonfire also shows us some of the most recent unreasonable things said by Republicans against our sitting president.

I’m not sure if I want to buy a security blanket or a gun at this point, but frankly, all this talk is a little whacky and it’s creeping me out!


A Dismal Labor Market

The Big Picture c/o FRED

The Big Picture c/o FRED

I started the big lecture in macroeconomics on unemployment with a very out of date textbook. It isn’t even that old in terms of textbook cycles. It’s just the world economy has changed; really changed. The last unemployment data I was looking at came from 2007 and a world of hurt and CHANGE (TM) stands between that year and today.

One of my students noticed that the overall pattern of unemployment (and you can see it in the FRED graph above) showed a drift up of the central tendency or mean from a lower looking central tendency in the 1950s and 1960s to a higher one in the 1970s and 1980s. I did the happy dance because I really like it when students actually notice these things. It makes my life a lot easier when I don’t have to point every little thing like that out. The deal is if you look around the 1990s it seems to drift a little downwards again before that last gray bar representing this last recession dated by the NBER. That would be our current Great Recession. Notice how the downward drift in the series could potentially have stopped and it appears there could be a slight updrift? Again, that’s in the central tendency or what you might call the mean, the median, or the mode depending on how you want to measure the statistic.

That momentum and drift around that central tendency in the unemployment series represents flows above and around what we call the Natural Rate of Unemployment. People used to set up all kinds of policy goals after the Great Depression to get to a zero unemployment rate. Actually, they did it with the Humphrey Hawkins Full Employment bill in the 1970s too because the wish was to get every one unemployed into a job. We’ve learned quite a bit more about what is and isn’t possible now.

In the 1960s, Milton Friedman and Edmund Phelps begun to study the unemployment rate carefully to see if there was any structural or natural rate of unemployment that was related to what was going on with an economy and more important, if the goal of 0% unemployment was ever going to be more than a great wish. They also wanted to study the relationship between inflation and unemployment. Well, it turns out that there is a hypothetical rate of unemployment associated with certain things going on in the economy, like inflation, recession, or a slow economic recovery. This natural rate corresponds to the best case scenario given the set of circumstances going on in the larger economy and we’ve found that the level can go up or down, depending on that set of circumstances.

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Bloggers Under the Bus and Over the Rainbow

Bitter knitter sino peruvian lesbian blogger in between hot flashes

Bitter knitter Sino Peruvian lesbian blogger in between hot flashes

I was going to do a nice staid article about the Fed and regulation but frankly it’s a nice sunny, tropical Sunday down here and it just doesn’t seem kind to overwhelm my brain or yours with Barky Frankisms and tales from the crypt of A(ll)yn Greenspan. I scoured my usual sites for inspiration over coffee and landed on Memeorandum. The source didn’t thrill me but the headline was superb.

There it was on The Other McCain screaming ‘You’d be surprised what some of those Morons write on the Internet.’ Then there was The Public Editor over at the NY Times discussing how the Gray Lady handled the Acorn case versus Fox News. What grabbed me on The Other McCain was this bit which sent me off to Andrew Sullivan’s blog. You know, there is certainly a lotta crap out there under the catchall term of political blog.

Just think about Andrew Sullivan sitting there in Pathum, ThailandI’m not kiddinglecturing Michelle Malkin (!) on conservatism:

By the way, there is nothing conservative about Southern populism.

We talked–after the election–about the direction the Blogosphere might take during 2009. I think we can already see the role of Twitter and the role of live blogging things like the Honduran Revolution or the Iranian protests over the Election. As an ‘institution’, if you will, we forced CNN out of its weekend complacency cocoon to cover real news stories instead of running pablum over and over with a few Youtubes and talking heads thrown in. That is probably the thing that will turn into case studies in Journalism schools around the country. My take is that this is a good thing.

There is also the increased patronage on wonky finance and econ blogs because more than the nation’s PhD students in Financial economics now have an interest in Financial Derivatives and the Federal Reserve Bank. There has been an increasing link between the worlds ‘scholars’ and the blogosphere. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been watching the the dissection of the financial crisis and macroeconomics play out in a public forum outside of the peer review process and I find it fascinating. I knew I always had trouble with Lucas, Fama, Cochrane et al when I was studying the efficient markets hypothesis and forced into recreating the results of various ‘seminal’ works but was basically hushed into silence by awed lecturers on the Gods of Finance. It’s been nothing but entertaining for me to see the wonkier macroeconomists point out basic errors in their arguments such as mixing up endogenous and exogenous variables. This is so basic that it would probably cause you to flunk a qualifying exam. I can only imagine that similar things are going on in the wonkier science blogs on issues ranging from climate change to RNA transcription. Again, my take is this is a good thing. It turns every one’s lap top into a lecture hall and specialist meeting. I’m all for this.

However, I front page at The Confluence which specializes in examining everything from the vantage point of politics. This is where I’ve noticed some distinct morphing over the year since the election. The political blogosphere seems to have split into three distinct camps now. Those that just exist to promote whatever firebrand idea of so-called conservatism they burnish who pick up and run on any tidbit that seems to support the ideology; factual or fishy. Those that support the current administration and apologize and rationalize every misstep and pick and run with any tidbit that seems to support their view of the world; factual or fishy. Then there’s a third group that either follow a group of issues or are just trying to figure out how best to get the issues brought into the discussion and action realm on top of all the ideological or partisan screaming. I think I can say as a member of the front page editing team that we really really try to fall into the latter group.

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Our Dysfunctional Government

It was the levees stupid!

It was the levees stupid!

I used to tell my students down here in New Orleans how smoothly things ran in Minneapolis compared to here until that Interstate Bridge fell into the river. Then I realized we were just the canary in the coal mine.

Still, it’s really hard to describe the degree of dysfunction surrounding all levels of government down here in Louisiana to any one that’s never actually lived here. It easily takes 15 – 20 minutes to get some one to respond to your 911 call. The New Orleans Parish Prison just got cited by the Justice Department has having such basic problems that they routinely violate prisoner’s civil rights. The roads are beyond terrible. What’s worse is the parade of people with government contracts and positions–many connected with ex Congressman Jefferson–who routinely skim money from nonprofits meant to help the city’s tremendous number of poor. Some of the worst scandals have involved the New Orleans Public School District where vendors, school board members, and a long time former school superintendent embezzled millions of dollars meant to educate our most vulnerable citizens. Thankfully, we have a justice department that is intent on cleaning out this hornet’s nest (with apologies to our basketball team). People down here have just gotten used to the situation so much that it makes you want to cry.

So, like I said, since I’d lived in Minneapolis which is a high tax but fairly functional part of the country, imagine my surprise when a portion of the of the interstate just dropped into the river. I thought they had only underfunded and underbuilt the levees down here. It turned out the problem is much bigger than that.

If you haven’t seen this month’s issue of Scientific American, then head to their website and read this piece called “The Failing U.S. Government–The Crisis of Public Management”. It’s a fairly short article but enough of a jaw dropper to make me ask repeatedly: what is wrong with this country? We used to take pride in our nation’s infrastructure. Projects like The Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the nation’s interstate system were as much sources of pride as our nation’s romp on the Moon. They were symbols of American can-doism. I remember that as a kid, the parents would throw us into a brand new Ford LTD stationwagon that dad would order into the dealership that year especially for that purpose each year. We’d go search down a few national gems each summer until we had a new check marks on a list of every major American accomplishment and National Park. It was something to wave your little flag about then. What has happened to the shining beacon of progress we chased in the 1960s?

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It just keeps on keeping on …

professorFrom the time I was an undergrad to the time I was left at the ripe old age of 42 by a molecular biology professor significant other for a 20 year old undergraduate who just adored the presentation I helped him write, this shit has rolled on around me. As some one who has spent plenty of time in academia, I think the time is now to purge these perverts from higher education. This headliner at the UK Guardian just makes me want to drive to my daughter’s dorm room and adorn her in a burkha. I’m not kidding.

Are female students ‘a perk of the job’?

A vice-chancellor is encouraging lecturers to enjoy gazing at, even fantasising about, attractive female students

In an article for the Times Higher Education magazine on lust, part of a feature on the seven deadly sins of universities, Kealey wrote: “Normal girls – more interested in abs than in labs, more interested in pecs than specs, more interested in triceps than tripos – will abjure their lecturers for the company of their peers, but nonetheless, most male lecturers know that, most years, there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays. What to do?

“Enjoy her! She’s a perk.”

Flashing a few literary allusions, he continued: “She doesn’t yet know that you are only Casaubon to her Dorothea, Howard Kirk to her Felicity Phee, and she will flaunt you her curves. Which you should admire daily to spice up your sex, nightly, with the wife.”

Displaying a more surprising familiarity with the etiquette at lapdancing clubs, Kealey added: “As in Stringfellows, you should look but not touch.”

I would just like to say that me, my mother, my grandmother, and my two daughters sat in those chairs at university for an education, not to spice the sex life of some nasty old, over-educated and undersexed Humbert. Even as I write, I can name at least one colleague engaging in a grad student in the PhD. program from which I came.

Kealey, who has been vice-chancellor at Buckingham, the country’s only independent university, for eight years, said it was a myth that an affair between student and lecturer was an abuse of power, saying accountability has meant that “the days are gone when a scholar could trade sex for upgrades”.

But he added that some female students still fantasised about their lecturers.

Kealey’s comments were attacked by Olivia Bailey, women’s officer at the National Union of Students.

She told the Telegraph: “I am appalled that a university vice-chancellor should display such an astounding lack of respect for women.

“Regardless of whether this was an attempt at humour, it is completely unacceptable for someone in Terence Kealey’s position to compare a lecture theatre to a lapdancing club, and I expect that many women studying at Buckingham University will be feeling extremely angry and insulted at these comments.”

My daughters are not the perks of jerks. This guy should be fired post haste along with any one that agrees with him.

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Perspective

dices_optical_illusionOne of the first things to go when people get morally outraged is their perspective. Not only do they frequently lose perspective, they also lose sight of bigger issues. A sense of outrage simply overwhelms one’s sense of perspective. The enraged heart overtakes the circumspect mind.

I’ve talked about The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) before when I brought up a defense contract maintained by the Federal Government with a company called ArmorGroup. This is the group that basically used Lord of the Flies-like hazing parties for their private security forces guarding embassies in places like Afghanistan. Whistle blowers, POGO, and government audits turned up a lot of fraud and abuse. There were even congressional hearings and questions, however, the contract was continued. Some press coverage reopened the issue earlier this year but the company basically was paid lots of federal dollars before any one took some real notice of it. Other mercenary-like groups–hired by our Defense Department–have had similar issues. Blackwater, while operating in Iraq, was said to be responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians and has been barred from doing business in the country by the Iraqi government. These are just some of the more egregious examples.

Then, there are the defense contractors building bombs and buildings. Remember the solider in Iraq was killed due to faulty wiring by KBR?

American electricians who worked for KBR, the Houston-based defense contractor that is responsible for maintaining American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, said they repeatedly warned company managers and military officials about unsafe electrical work, which was often performed by poorly trained Iraqis and Afghans paid just a few dollars a day.

One electrician warned his KBR bosses in his 2005 letter of resignation that unsafe electrical work was “a disaster waiting to happen.” Another said he witnessed an American soldier in Afghanistan receiving a potentially lethal shock. A third provided e-mail messages and other documents showing that he had complained to KBR and the government that logs were created to make it appear that nonexistent electrical safety systems were properly functioning.

KBR itself told the Pentagon in early 2007 about unsafe electrical wiring at a base near the Baghdad airport, but no repairs were made. Less than a year later, a soldier was electrocuted in a shower there.

The process of seeking out contractor abuse is nothing new to this government or any other in this country. You may remember that during FDR’s campaign for the presidency, wife Eleanor rode around in car with a steaming teapot on the roof to remind folks of the Teapot Dome Scandal. Folks taking advantage of federal money go from the small fry to the country’s largest multinationals. Lincoln warned of it. So, did Eisenhower.

I remember during the Hurricane Katrina diaspora, many folks were said to use debit cards given to them as largess of the taxpayer on strippers, alcohol and guns. I can say that the money the U.S. government gave to me went to things like driving to Omaha, food, and pajamas. But people are stupid and then stupid things happen. But who do you focus upon? The one idiot the spent the money in the strip joint or the company of a friend of Jeb Bush that sold faulty pumps to the Corps of Engineers? You know the ones that would be necessary to get water out of the city should anything like Hurricane Katrina happen again? You remember Hurricane Katrina? People died? Incredibly costly damage? That sort of thing? I think there was more outrage over the few thousands of dollars they went to Houston strip joints than to any of the fraud that went on with the levee building, installation of the new pumps, and who knows what else will eventually be uncovered by the time these projects are audited by the GAO?

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On Overlooked Battles and Unsung Heroes

PG07-4995In the midst of so much policy disarray, it is easy to overlook many issues that deserve our attention. I’m beginning to think all the chaos may be angle of hat trick magician relying on slight of hand and misdirection. So, just as I continue to hammer at boring things like bank reform, I continue to follow things related to the Patriot Act, FISA, and other potential intrusions that are in conflict with constitutional rights.

Today, the NY Times predicted “A Looming Battle Over the Patriot Act”. Remember, the most sensitive portions and controversial are those that involve surveillance. House and Senate committees are discussing re-authorization of three key sections that are set to expire at the end of this year. In a continuation of the Bush-Cheney encroachment on civil liberties, the Obama-Biden administration seeks re-authorization.

The provisions expanded the power of the F.B.I. to seize records and to eavesdrop on phone calls in the course of a counterterrorism investigation.

Laying down a marker ahead of those hearings, a group of senators who support greater privacy protections filed a bill on Thursday that would impose new safeguards on the Patriot Act while tightening restrictions on other surveillance policies. The measure is co-sponsored by nine Democrats and an independent.

Days before, the Obama administration called on Congress to reauthorize the three expiring Patriot Act provisions in a letter from Ronald Weich, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs. At the same time, he expressed a cautious open mind about imposing new surveillance restrictions as part of the legislative package.

“We are aware that members of Congress may propose modifications to provide additional protection for the privacy of law abiding Americans,” Mr. Weich wrote, adding that “the administration is willing to consider such ideas, provided that they do not undermine the effectiveness of these important authorities.”

At the moment, there appears to be very little evidence that the FBI has abused its current power. Is that the salient point over which to argue for or against re-authorization? Sadly, we liberals have so much on our plate now with pressuring an administration and congress that should be our ally on things like truly universal health care, involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continuation of Bush financial market bailouts, that we could potentially miss this important battle over one of our most basic rights. That right to go missing would be security from government invasion into our person and homes without due process.

The first such provision allows investigators to get “roving wiretap” court orders authorizing them to follow a target who switches phone numbers or phone companies, rather than having to apply for a new warrant each time.

From 2004 to 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation applied for such an order about 140 times, Robert S. Mueller, the F.B.I. director, said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week.

The second such provision allows the F.B.I. to get a court order to seize “any tangible things” deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation — like a business’s customer records, a diary or a computer.

From 2004 to 2009, the bureau used that authority more than 250 times, Mr. Mueller said.

The final provision set to expire is called the “lone wolf” provision. It allows the F.B.I. to get a court order to wiretap a terrorism suspect who is not connected to any foreign terrorist group or foreign government.

Mr. Mueller said this authority had never been used, but the bureau still wanted Congress to extend it.

Several other lawmakers are expected to file their own bills addressing the Patriot Act and related surveillance issues in the next several weeks.

Many of the proposals under discussion involve small wording shifts whose impact can be difficult to understand, in part because the statutes are extremely technical and some govern technology that is classified.

But in general, civil libertarians and some Democrats have called for changes that would require stronger evidence of meaningful links between a terrorism suspect and the person whom investigators are targeting.

In the same way, some are proposing to use any Patriot Act extension bill to tighten when the F.B.I. may use “national security letters” — administrative subpoenas that allow counterterrorism agents to seize business records without obtaining permission from a judge. Agents use the device tens of thousands of times each year.

I know you have a lot of issues and life challenges on your plate right now, but I think it might be worth your time to follow this issue as it makes its way through committee to the President’s desk. Our technological capability to intrude far surpasses our ability to ferret out potential abuse. I think it best we ensure the FBI can do its job, but not at the expense of our our basic civil rights. Just a reminder of who is on what side on one facet of this act. That would be the provision granting immunity from prosecution from telecoms.

As a senator, Mr. Obama voted for that bill, infuriating civil libertarians.

The bill filed Sept. 17 — which is championed in particular by two Democratic senators, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois — would repeal the immunity provision.

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