Monday Reads

bohemiaGood Morning!

Last week, I wrote about the debacle behind the study that was used to promote fiscal austerity in a time when just the opposite policy is prescribed by economic theory.  One of the big questions I had was if the results of study’s hypothesis was now insignificant–which in scientific method  means the conclusions were not proven–would we see a stop to these crazy austerity policy pushers. We’ve learned the answer is no.  Dumber and Dumber–heads of the so-called cat food commission–who couldn’t lead their committee to a written conclusion are on the road touting their call to deficit hysteria based on the always controversial and now highly flawed study.

On April 19, just after I had written about how the key academic research used to bolster austerity policies was exposed by a 28-year-old grad student at U Mass-Amherst, I got a surprise in my email inbox: Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson giddily announced their new deficit-reduction plan, which includes, among other things, a recommendation to increase the eligibility age for Medicare. Their plan would reduce debt as a share of GDP below 70 percent by 2023, and as the Washington Post reports, “seeks far less in new taxes than the original, and it seeks far more in savings from federal health programs for the elderly.”

What’s incredible is that over the last week, the study by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff that famously warned of the dangers of government debt has been proven to be riddled with errors and questionable methodology. To recap: R&R’s paper purported to show that countries with public debt in excess of 90 percent of gross domestic product suffered negative economic growth. Austerity hawks everywhere used it to justify cuts that have cost people jobs and vital services. The original spreadsheet used by R&R was obtained by a U Mass grad student, who found that in addition to the mistakes already noted by several economists, there was a coding error in their Excel spreadsheet that significantly changed the results of their study.

As New York magazine’s Jon Chait has pointed out, that same discredited research has been used by Bowles and Simpson to formulate their deficit-reducing austerity plans.

You simply cannot get these tools of the plutocracy to come clean.  They’re going to go down with the stupidity and are trying to bring the rest of the country with them.

I promised myself to make sure we pointed to injustice and suffering around the world as well as our own home towns.  Today I want to provide information about Myanmar–a country I’ve spent time studying and a country trying to change–with a history of brutal ethnic cleansing of its Muslim minority population.

Ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have been committed against Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya people, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based nongovernmental organisation.

According to the report released on Monday, entitled All You Can Do is Pray, more than 125,000 ethnic Rohingya have been forcibly displaced since two waves of violence in May and October 2012.

Satellite images show almost 5,000 structures on land mostly owned by Muslim Rohingya have been destroyed, says the report.

The October attacks, the report states, were coordinated by Myanmar government officials, an ethnic Rakhine nationalist party and Buddhist monks. The deadliest attack took place on October 23, in which witnesses say at least 70 Rohingya – including 28 children – were massacred in Mrauk-U township.

The UN has described the Rohingya as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

Most Rohingya who live in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state are denied citizenship by the Myanmar government, which claims they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and often refers to them as “Bengali”.

The Myanmar government has done nothing to prevent the violence, alleges the report, and at times government forces have joined in the attacks on the Rohingya.

“The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said.

“The government needs to put an immediate stop to the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable or it will be responsible for further violence against ethnic and religious minorities in the country.”

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I am so ashamed to read that Buddhist monks may have been participants. They have been targets themselves and this behavior violates the most important teaching of the Buddha which is the vow of non harming. No real Buddhist would participate in such horrors.

I also wanted to mention the return of CISPA and its impact on internet users in this country.  This was slipped back into Congress while we were all watching Boston.

Described as “misguided” and “fatally flawed” by the two largest US privacy groups, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) threatens the online privacy of ordinary US residents more so than any other Bill since Congress amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008.

Its sole purpose is to allow private sector firms to search personal and sensitive user data of ordinary US residents to identify this so-called “threat information”, and to then share that information with each other and the US government — without the need for a warrant.

By citing “cybersecurity”, it allows private firms to hand over private user data while circumventing existing privacy laws, such as the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. This means that CISPA can permit private firms to share your data, such as emails, text messages, and cloud-stored documents and files, with the US government.

It also gives these firms legal protection to hand over such data. There is no judicial oversight.

To make matters worse, because there is little transparency and individual accountability, those who have had their data handed to the US government may not even know about it or be given a chance to challenge it.

Norway’s ruling party is pushing for drilling around environmentally sensitive areas in the Arctic Circle.  Could this impact a return to attempts to drill the area by US Oil companies?  I hope this doesn’t lead to a race to destroy ANWR

Norway took a major step towards opening up an environmentally sensitive Arctic area to oil and gas exploration when the ruling Labour Party gave the go-ahead on Sunday for an impact study.

Exploration in the waters around the Lofoten islands just above the Arctic circle is becoming one of the most contentious issues for parliamentary elections in September.

The picturesque area had been off limits because it is home to the world’s richest cod stocks, with environmental groups and the tourism industry opposed to any development.

The Labour party voted for the study, a precursor to any exploration, but also said it would take another vote in 2015, before actual drilling could begin.

Oil is the Norwegian economy’s lifeblood – the nation is the world’s seventh-biggest oil exporter and western Europe’s biggest gas supplier.

Its sprawling offshore energy sector continuously needs new areas to explore to halt the decline in production and energy firms have argued that they should be allowed to investigate the Lofoten islands.

Norway’s oil production will fall to a 25-year low this year as North Sea fields mature. Even a series of recent big finds, like the giant Johan Sverdrup field, which could hold over 3 billion barrels of oil, will only arrest the decline.

Waters off Lofoten are estimated to hold 8 percent of Norway’s undiscovered oil and gas resources with seismic tests identifying 50 prospects that could hold recoverable reserves or around 1.27 billion barrels of oil equivalent, the petroleum directorate said earlier.

With Labour’s support, Norway’s top three parties now favor exploration in the area, raising the chance that the next government would begin the process.

15-japan-mag024So, here’s what Boston’s “union thugs” will be doing this morning: Boston Teamsters vs. Westboro Baptist Church: Teamsters to form a human shield at Bombing victim’s funeral,  Look out BB and our Boston friends!  These Westboro folks have come to disrupt funerals there.  Down here, our Bikers block them.

Teamsters from Local 25 in Boston will protect the family of bombing victim Krystle Campbell during her funeral tomorrow morning. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church are expected to protest.

The Associated Press reports,

Family and friends are saying final good-byes to Krystle Campbell, one of the three people who lost their lives in the bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line.

A wake for Campbell is being held Sunday at a funeral home in Medford, where the 29-year-old restaurant manager was raised and graduated from high school in 2001. A private funeral is scheduled for Monday at St. Joseph Church.Local 25 was contacted by some concerned citizens of Medford asking for help to keep members of the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting the funeral of Krystle Campbell, scheduled for tomorrow morning at 10 AM in Medford.

Local 25 President Sean O’Brien asked all off-duty Teamsters to participate:

Teamsters Local 25 will be out in full force tomorrow morning at St. Joseph’s Church in Medford to form a human shield and block the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting the funeral of Krystle Campbell. The Campbell family and friends have already endured immeasurable amounts of heartache and tragedy this week, and deserve a peaceful funeral with time to grieve privately.

Westboro Baptist Church should understand that we will go to great lengths to make sure they don’t protest any funerals of the victims of the past week’s tragedies, and that those we lost receive a proper burial.

Teamsters Local 25 represents 11,000 hardworking men and women from the Boston area.

There are three dead from the bombing.  Westboro is also connected to a law firm that makes money from the antics of these folks.  They usually claim their first amendment rights were violated and then collect government money defending their case.

And just because I’ve quit watching CNN around a year ago after watching the station for years, I thought I’d end with this: “Last Week, CNN Itself Became the Poop Cruise”. Frankly, I’ve thought they were full of it and lacking substance for some time.

As reactions to the media’s handling (or rather, mishandling) of breaking news during a busy week continue to flow in, perhaps none is more condemning than David Carr’s latest column in The New York Times. The media critic came down hard on correspondent John King, newly appointed chief Jeff Zucker and the rest of the CNN news team that famously fumbled during the aftermath of the Boston bombing and hunt for the suspects. Most notably, the network erroneously reported the arrest of a suspect on Wednesday, when everybody now knows that a suspect wasn’t arrested until Friday when police found Dzokhar Tsarnaev hiding in the back of a boat.

Carr has an analogy for that. In discussing the mistake, one that more than one person described as “devastating,” Carr reminded us of the most recent moment that CNN’s stolen the limelight — perhaps not in a good way:

It was not the worst mistake of the week — The New York Post all but fingered two innocent men in a front-page picture — but it was a signature error for a live news channel. … Until now, the defining story in the Zucker era had been a doomed cruise ship that lost power and was towed to port, where its beleaguered passengers dispersed. This week, CNN seemed a lot like that ship.

Zing. Inevitably, Carr’s piece comes off almost as apologetic. In his parting words, the veteran journalist points out how even the president “wants CNN to be good.” So when it’s bad, it’s hard to watch.

I’m just praying for a better week and that we can get some attention on the small town of West Texas that really needs our help.

What’s you your reading and blogging list today?


32 Comments on “Monday Reads”

  1. Pat Johnson says:

    I’ll probably take a “wallop” for saying so, but has it ever occurred to anyone else that most of the chaos, whether here or abroad, is vastly motivated by twisted religious beliefs that drive the fanatics to this level?

    There is very little going on in this world, whether it be opposition to global warming or the rights of women that is not in someway tied into the ideology of “nutjobs” who have more in common with the Westboro lunatics than they realize.

    As long as there are those who take their “worshipping” of an inauthentic deity to such extremes what happened over the last 12 years is becoming the norm.

    “My god is better than your god and he is pissed off!” is the slogan of these crazies who come to accept they are “acting” on behalf of some strange ghost who is issuing orders to destroy everything and everyone deemed “the enemy”.

    One example of irrational thinking occurred over the weekend when a person who was close to the Boston bombing “thanked god” for watching over her and sparing her life. Forget that 3 others, including a child, were killed while others saw their limbs flying through the streets of Boston then tell me “god” was showing “benevolence” in displaying this horror.

    Finding “rationality” in the irrational by claiming “god” spared some while others suffered is beyond comprehension.

    This stuff springs from the minds of mankind who have left their humanity aside to “appease” something that already resides from within not some fantastical being who calls for death and destruction as a tribute to his “will”.

    • I have a cartoon that I was saving, but it fits with your comment Pat:

      http://editorialcartoonists.com/cartoon/display.cfm/121713/

      • Pat Johnson says:

        The fact is that no one has the desire to look more closely into the supposition that there is no “supreme being” watching over us and dictating these atrocities for reasons other than explaining “his will”.

        During the course of this horrific week some broadcasts brought on the clergy from different faiths to “explain” the meaning behind these events and the best they could offer was “we have no idea what god is planning for us”. Translation: I have no clue what I am talking about but if I throw in “god” I will be excused.

        I am still waiting for an explanation that would have the “almighty” stand aside while innocents are murdered but is “praised” for sparing others. Senseless. Attribute the word “blessing” upon a rape victim as another meaningless excuse to “honor” his will and it sums up our propensity for sweeping these events aside as “divine retribution”.

        It doesn’t take much to turn a believer into a fanatic if employing these beliefs offer you the right to go out and create chaos while the rest of us look on with horror. What prompts the Westboro gang is the same trigger that prompts those of any other faith to seek “vengence” in the name of “god” which is just a cover.

        Some people are just plain evil.

    • Delphyne says:

      I agree with both of your comments, Pat. Since I personally do not believe in “god,” viewing this kind of behavior and reading statements like the woman’s make me think that it’s mental illness driving the violence. Religious cultures have become more important than actual Life – it’s the same thing as corporations being viewed as a person. Same insanity. We’re expected to normalize the abnormal and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

      Our species’ disconnect from actual life on Earth – not the idea of life on Earth – is a one way street to more madness and eventual extinction.

      • Beata says:

        I often say, “Thank God”. I must be crazy.

      • RalphB says:

        Me 2 Beata. Sometimes it’s an epithet though. May as well embrace the crazy, everyone else has.

      • dakinikat says:

        I agree with both if you … religion has historically done way more evil than good and modern times are no different. The abrahamic religions are basically war enablers … all three of them.

    • ecocatwoman says:

      Standing ovation from me & a hearty Hell yeah, Pat.

      There was a rebroadcast on Intelligence Squared yesterday on my local PBS station of Does Science Refute God?. One of panelists arguing For the topic said something like: “you want me to believe your god sent his son to Earth to die for our sins, sins we didn’t commit. His son, who was in fact god, killed himself to prevent us from being punished by him?” He actually phrased it much more eloquently, but I thought it was a great summation of a ridiculous premise that so many people believe “on faith.” I was surprised that Dinesh D’Souza was a panelist considering his public fall from grace last year.

  2. ecocatwoman says:

    OT, but I thought ya’ll might find this interesting or maybe I’m the only one who wasn’t familiar with The Manhattan Institute. While on the Intelligence Squared website I looked at an upcoming debate. One of the panelists is Peter Huber, a senior fellow at the institute & the person who coined the phrase “junk science.” This institute has ties to ALEC & the ever charming Koch Bros – http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Manhattan_Institute Source Watch is the website that has the ALEC Exposed site.

  3. dm says:

    Religion is used as a rationalization/excuse for behavior that ultimately leads to power. The god I believe in doesn’t necessarily spare one over another. Man is the one who makes the choices. Man is the one to blame – not God.

    Good to hear the teamsters are helping out with the Westboro nutjobs…who apparently have nothing better to do than attack ordinary people at their most vulnerable moments.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    Five Dead in Apartment Shooting Near Seattle

    Quick, someone call Lindsey Graham so he can demand that the shooter be named an “enemy combatant.”

    Oh, wait. OTOH, Graham will probably defend the shooter’s right to own a firearm with the largest clip available.

    • roofingbird says:

      Wrong link BB. It went to a CNN article.

    • Fannie says:

      I hear ya BB……..these Homeland Security Lawyers are complicating the hell out of those who have the responsiblity for investigating and interogating, and presecuting all the terrorism, They are grabbing power from the federal, state, and law departments over the acts that have been committed by these brothers. It shows their ignorance. For once I wish they would get out of the way, let the FBI, law enforcement, and Justice departments do their job.

  5. roofingbird says:

    If you like the shiny toy, then I say go for it. Your tithing is a way to keep it in you life. Keep in mind however, that your tithe is the generator for all things to come, because money and assets are the power of religion, not God.

    Religion is not God.

    The door-to-door gawdseller and the Sunday show hawker on the quest to improve their chance at Heaven is not saved by this act. The works of humans in the cause of religion is not God. It is the opportunity for religion to gather money and assets.

    When you feed religion money and assets unfettered you build an oligarchy, not God.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    I didn’t realize that the Reinhart Rogoff paper was not peer reviewed. Jared Bernstein says that’s not a problem and reviewers wouldn’t have noticed the errors.

    • dakinikat says:

      You only see their tables and not their data so the mistake would not be caught. The problem with the reverse causality would be which is a big problem IMHO. The theory and models say slow economy causes high debt and not the other way around. This is due to automatic stabilizers and policy like unemployment insurance. They would have been asked to do additional tests for robustness like Granger causality or different model specification perhaps.

      • bostonboomer says:

        For one journal article I worked on, the reviewers requested the data before asking us to make some changes; but in this case I assume the effort involved to find the error would be extensive.

    • roofingbird says:

      That’s an awful post. I get his point, about the delay inherent in peer review. We struggle with it all the time in even small construction reports. We do peer reviews anyway because we want to publish something honest. I really hate that mentality that the computer app world has foisted off on us; ie. it’s okay to send a product out at 80% completion and let the public fix it for us.

      What does a reviewer review if not the foundation of a report?

      It’s a problem, Jared.

      • bostonboomer says:

        The critique from U. Mass was not peer reviewed either. Peer review takes a really long time, and when something is this newsworthy, I can see why it should be published right away so it can get responses in public.

    • ecocatwoman says:

      I thought dak brought up the fact that the study wasn’t peer reviewed in her post, The Math Error Heard ‘Round the World (I hope I got the title correct). However, my brain/memory isn’t as good as it once was.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I did a search of the post for “peer” before I linked to the Bernstein story to check that, but if I missed something, sorry.

        It was just a comment, not a criticism. Not sure why it would have been relevant to Dak’s post anyway…

  7. bostonboomer says:

    This piece by the grad student (Thomas Herndon) who found the Reinhart Rogoff spreadsheet errors is excellent. This kid has a bright future.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Unfortunately, the spreadsheet error actually extends to this table as well, which makes it impossible to ascertain their method from the table. In terms of my own research process, early on in the project I actually asked the very question of whether they had averaged country mean GDP growth rates instead of including each year’s growth experience for each country equally. In a meeting with one of my co-authors, we investigated this very possibility by simply averaging the means provided in the table (in Excel). The computed average GDP growth rate is 2.1, and the median is 2.3, which does not match the average reported by R&R of 1.7 percent, and a median growth figure of 1.9 percent. At the time we thought that this implied that they did not use the country-averaging method. But it is now clear that the figures they reported resulted from their spreadsheet error.

      Moreover, their spreadsheet error also extends to the entire rest of the summary page of their spreadsheet. Specifically, the error extends to both 1946-2009 and 1800-2009 time periods, mean and median growth, and mean and median inflation. For the entire 1946-2009 sample, rows 30-44 were used, and for the 1800-2009 sample, the rows 5-19 were used. The same countries, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Canada, are removed in both samples. R&R write that Table 1, “does not have the same issues,” but this is not accurate. Moreover, these computational errors also compromise other calculations on their spreadsheet.

      R&R state that the results of our paper are consistent with, or confirm their finding—that, even with our criticisms of their work, we nevertheless observe economic growth declining significantly when public debt relative to GDP rises above the 90 percent threshold. This is not our interpretation of our work, and indeed the purpose of the second half of our paper is to argue this point. In Table 4 we show that differences in average GDP growth in the categories 30-60 percent, 60-90 percent, and 90-120 percent cannot be statistically distinguished.

      Whoa! That’s bad! Princeton U. Press should withdraw the book and make corrections.

  8. Fannie says:

    Per Nathaniel Popper at NYT – “A growing number of corporations, operating in businesses as diverse as private prisons, billboards, and casinos, are making a move to reduce, or even eliminate their federal tax bills”…………….These are land owning corporations here.

    Makes me sick.

  9. RalphB says:

    After Boston: Don’t Get Fooled Again by the ‘War on Terror’ Hawks

    Conor Friedersdorf has a very good post in The Atlantic.

  10. dakinikat says:

    FDR told us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. But when future historians look back at our monstrously failed response to economic depression, they probably won’t blame fear, per se. Instead, they’ll castigate our leaders for fearing the wrong things. …While debt fears were and are misguided, there’s a real danger we’ve ignored: the corrosive effect, social and economic, of persistent high unemployment. And even as the case for debt [alarmism] is collapsing, our worst fears about the damage from long-term unemployment are being confirmed. …We are indeed creating a permanent class of jobless Americans. And let’s be clear: this is a policy decision.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/22/opinion/krugman-the-jobless-trap.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    look what happens when you kill the economies of others for your greedy bankers?

    Germany Joins Low-Speed Europe http://dlvr.it/3Gb3ZW

  11. Love All the graphics. Totally saving them on my iPhone 🙂