Lazy Saturday Reads

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Good Morning!!

Maybe it’s just me, but I think today must be the slowest news day yet in 2014. I’ve gathered a hodge-podge of reads for you, some that look back over the past year and some current news stories that I found interesting or humorous. So here goes . . .

Looking back, I think the biggest story of this year has been the many events that have revealed how racist the United States still is nearly a century-and-a-half after the end of the Civil War and more than a half century after the Civil Rights Movement.

In the news yesterday: Driver Destroys Mike Brown Memorial, Community Rebuilds By Morning. From Think Progress:

A memorial set up in the middle of Canfield Drive where teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer in August was partially destroyed Christmas evening when a car drove through it. Neighbors and friends of Brown quickly came together to clean up the damage, rebuild the site, and call for support on social media….

Activists on the ground also reacted angrily to the Ferguson Police Department’s public relations officer, who told the Washington Post, “I don’t know that a crime has occurred,” and called Brown’s memorial “a pile of trash in the middle of the street.”

Since Brown’s death, the memorial has been a key gathering place for protests and prayers, and a receiving station for those that poured in from across the country to pay their respects and demonstrate against police brutality. Supporters also had to rebuild the memorial in September after it burned to the ground.

Also from Think Progress, photos of the some of the people who were killed by police in 2014.

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As you can see, most of them have black or brown skin.

Sadly, we know Brown and Garner were just one [sic] of many people who died at the hands of police this year. But a dearth of national data on fatalities caused by police makes it difficult to pinpoint the exact number of deaths. One site put the total at 1,039.

What we do know is that police-related deaths follow certain patterns. A 2012 study found that about half of those killed by the police each year are mentally ill, a problem that the Supreme Court will consider 2015. Young black men are also 21 times more likely to be killed by cops than young white men, according to one ProPublica analysis of the data we have. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also compiled data which shows that people of color are most likely to be killed by cops overall. In short, people who belong to marginalized communities are at a higher risk of being shot than those who are not.

Go to the link to see a table showing which groups are most likely to be shot by police.

Mother Jones has released its yearly list of top long reads of 2014. First on the list is The Science of Why Cops Shoot Young Black Men, by Chris Mooney. It’s about the unconscious prejudices that plague all of us. A brief excerpt:

On the one hand, overt expressions of prejudice have grown markedly less common than they were in the Archie Bunker era. We elected, and reelected, a black president. In many parts of the country, hardly anyone bats an eye at interracial relationships. Most people do not consider racial hostility acceptable. That’s why it was so shocking when Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught telling his girlfriend not to bring black people to games—and why those comments led the NBA to ban Sterling for life. And yet, the killings of Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, and so many others remind us that we are far from a prejudice-free society.

Science offers an explanation for this paradox—albeit a very uncomfortable one. An impressive body of psychological research suggests that the men who killed Brown and Martin need not have been conscious, overt racists to do what they did (though they may have been). The same goes for the crowds that flock to support the shooter each time these tragedies become public, or the birthers whose racially tinged conspiracy theories paint President Obama as a usurper. These people who voice mind-boggling opinions while swearing they’re not racist at all—they make sense to science, because the paradigm for understanding prejudice has evolved. There “doesn’t need to be intent, doesn’t need to be desire; there could even be desire in the opposite direction,” explains University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek ….

We’re not born with racial prejudices. We may never even have been “taught” them. Rather, explains Nosek, prejudice draws on “many of the same tools that help our minds figure out what’s good and what’s bad.” In evolutionary terms, it’s efficient to quickly classify a grizzly bear as “dangerous.” The trouble comes when the brain uses similar processes to form negative views about groups of people.

But here’s the good news: Research suggests that once we understand the psychological pathways that lead to prejudice, we just might be able to train our brains to go in the opposite direction.

Read much more at the second link above. Go to the previous link to see the 13 other stories on MoJo’s list of the magazine’s best 2014 long reads.

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Also from Mother Jones, a list of “the stupidest anti-science bullshit of 2014.” Check it out at the link.

Another “worst of” list from The Daily Beast: 2014: Revenge of the Creationists, by Carl W. Giberson.

Science denialism is alive in the United States and 2014 was yet another blockbuster year for preposterous claims from America’s flakerrati.  To celebrate the year, here are the top 10 anti-science salvos of 2014.

1) America’s leading science denialist is Ken Ham, head of the Answers in Genesis organization that built the infamous $30 million Creation Museum in Kentucky. He also put up a billboard in Times Square to raise funds for an even more ambitious Noah’s Ark Theme Park. Ham’s wacky ideas went primetime in February when he debated Bill Nye. An estimated three million viewers watched Ham claim that the earth is 10,000 years old, the Big Bang never happened, and Darwinian evolution is a hoax. His greatest howler, however—and my top anti-science salvo of 2014—would have to be his wholesale dismissal of the entire scientific enterprise as an atheistic missionary effort: “Science has been hijacked by secularists,” he claimed, who seek to indoctrinate us with “the religion of naturalism.”

2) Second only to Answers in Genesis, the Seattle based Discovery Institute continued its well-funded assault on science, most visibly through Stephen Meyer’s barnstorming tour promoting his book Darwin’s Doubt. I was a part of this tour, debating Meyer in Richmond, Virginia in April. Meyer’s bestselling book is yet another articulate repackaging of the venerable but discredited “god of the gaps” argument that goes like this: Here is something so cleverly designed that nature could not do on her own; but God could. So God must have designed this. Meyer insists, however, that his argument is not “god of the gaps” since he says only that the anonymous designer was “a designing intelligence—a conscious rational agency or a mind—of some kind” and not the familiar God of the monotheistic religious traditions. For his tireless assault on evolutionary biology and downsizing the deity to fit within science, I give Meyer second place.

Go over to TDB to read the rest of the list.

Donald Sterling and Ray Rice

Donald Sterling and Ray Rice

Also in this vein, Talking Points Memo offers a list of worst sports stories: From Donald Sterling To Ray Rice: 2014 Brought Out The Worst In Pro Sports.

The past year brought out the worst in professional sports players, owners, and fans alike, from domestic violence scandals in the NFL to the removal of racist team executives in the NBA.

Of course, shockingly bad behavior wasn’t limited to major league football and basketball alone. The most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, was just sentenced to probation for drunken driving. FIFA was enough of a mess to inspire a 13-minute Jon Oliver segment ahead of the World Cup this summer.

But even the most casual sports observer understands what’s at the center of the Washington Redskins naming controversy, or can form an opinion on whether Ray Rice should be allowed to play football again. The NFL frequently surfaced in the headlines this year for all the wrong reasons, and its domination on this list suggests the league needs to get its act together on a couple fronts.

Check out the list at the TPM link above.

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Recently, I posted some links about the 75th anniversary of the movie Gone With The Wind and the racist attitudes it portrayed. Today Newsweek published a piece about the efforts to curtail the racism in the movie before it was filmed and released: Fixing Gone With The Wind’s ‘Negro Problem’

In the spring of 1938, Rabbi Robert Jacobs of Hoboken wrote to Rabbi Barnett Brickner, chairman of the Social Justice Commission of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, “Soon the David O. Selznick Studios of Hollywood will begin production of the play ‘Gone With The Wind.’ The book, a thrilling romance of the South, was shot through with an anti-Negro prejudice, and while it undoubtedly furnished almost half a million people in this country with many glowing hours of entertainment, it also in a measure aroused whatever anti-Negro antipathy was latent in them.”

Rabbi Brickner in turn wrote to Selznick. “In view of the situation,” he wrote, “I am taking the liberty of suggesting that you exercise the greatest care in the treatment of this theme in the production of the picture. Surely, at this time you would want to do nothing that might tend even in the slightest way to arouse anti-racial feeling. I feel confident that you will use extreme caution in the matter.”

Brickner wrote a similar letter to Walter White, Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. White also wrote to Selznick, suggesting Selznick “employ in an advisory capacity a person, preferably a Negro, who is qualified to check on possible errors of fact or interpretation.”

In his reply to White, Selznick wrote, “I hasten to assure you that as a member of a race that is suffering very keenly from persecution these days, I am most sensitive to the feelings of minority peoples.” He added, “It is definitely our intention to engage a Negro of high standing to watch the entire treatment of the Negroes, the casting of the actors for these roles, the dialect that they use, etcetera, throughout the picture.

Read the rest at the link.

At Daily Kos, David Akadjian offered a list of 21 Ayn Rand Christmas Cards–a satire, of course, but Akadjian learned that Rand actually did send out Christmas cards, despite her atheism. Here are some of her odes to a selfish Christmas.

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I’ll wrap this post up with some current news stories:

USA Today: Thousands gather to honor slain officer in New York.

The Guardian: North Korea calls Obama a ‘monkey’ as it blames US for internet shutdown.

USA Today: North Korea suffers another Internet shutdown.

Seattle PI: Woman who bared breasts in Vatican square is freed.

Washington Post: Baby gorilla shunned by other gorillas to switch zoos.

Washington Post: Pakistani forces kill alleged organizer of school massacre.

The Telegraph: More than 160,000 evacuated in Malaysia’s worst ever floods.

Special for New Englanders from the Boston Globe: Will The Rest Of Winter Have Lower Than Average Snowfall?

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a stupendous Saturday!


Tuesday Reads: Liberals, Libertarians, and Concern Trolls

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Good Morning!!

Between the Red Sox being in the World Series and having to have a root canal on Saturday, I’ve been a little bit disconnected from politics. The Sox won again last night in St. Louis, and they’ll be coming back home to Fenway Park leading the series 3 games to 2; so they could end it tomorrow night. If this post is a little late, my aching jaw and baseball are the reasons why.

We’ve been talking a lot about libertarians lately, because so-called progressives have been aligning with those Ayn Rand fans since libertarian Edward Snowden began leaking top secret documents about the NSA and libertarian Glenn Greenwald began lecturing the world about what a great hero Snowden is for defecting to Russia and revealing the most secret counterintelligence methods of the U.S. and U.K.

The latest shameful episode was Saturday’s “Stop Watching Us” rally in Washington, at which supposedly “progressive” groups joined with anti-woman right-wingers like Justin Amash and neo-confederates like Ron and Rand Paul to protest the NSA doing its job of collecting foreign intelligence.

Before the rally took place, Tom Watson wrote a heartfelt column warning “progressives” that libertarians don’t make good bedfellows. Watson wrote that while he dislikes mass surveillance,

I cannot support this coalition or the rally. It is fatally compromised by the prominent leadership and participation of the Libertarian Party and other libertarian student groups; their hardcore ideology stands in direct opposition to almost everything I believe in as a social democrat.

The Libertarian Party itself — inaccurately described by Stop Watching Us as a “public advocacy organization” — is a right-wing political party that opposes all gun control lawsand public healthcaresupported the government shutdowndismisses public education,opposes organized labor, favors the end of Social Security as we know it, and argues in its formal political manifesto that “we should eliminate the entire social welfare system” while supporting “unrestricted competition among banks and depository institutions of all types.”

Yet my progressive friends would take the stage with the representatives of this political movement? Why? The loss is much greater than the gain. Organizers trade their own good names and reputations to stand alongside — and convey legitimacy to — a party that opposes communitarian participation in liberal society, and rejects the very role of government itself. And their own argument for privacy is weakened by the pollution of an ideology that uses its few positive civil liberties positions as a predator uses candy with a child.

This is an abandonment of core principles, in my view, out of anger over Edward Snowden’s still-recent revelations about the National Security Agency and its spying activity, particularly domestic access to telephone and online networks and metadata. It represents trading long-held beliefs in social and economic justice for a current hot-button issue that — while clearly of concern to all Americans — doesn’t come close to trumping a host of other issues areas that require “the long game” of electoral politics and organizing. Going “all in” with the libertarian purists is a fatal and unnecessary compromise; reform is clearly needed, but the presence of anti-government laissez-faire wingers at the beating heart of the privacy movement will surely sour the very political actors that movement desperately needs to make actual — and not symbolic, link bait — progress in its fight.

But it was to no avail. Watson was attacked for his argument that the anti-surveillance fever is distracting from other important issues. People like Greenwald and Snowden couldn’t possibly care less about alleviating poverty, protecting women’s rights or the right to vote. They’d have no problem with Social Security and Medicare being eliminated, and as for voting, they’re anti-government anyway. Glenn Greenwald–whom some uninformed people believe is a “progressive,” saves his worst attacks for Democrats and in the past has supported Ron Paul and Gary Johnson for president. To Greenwald, sacrificing the entire legacy of FDR and the civil rights and women’s movements is no big deal. Here’s how he characterized the values of liberals who reject Ron Paul in 2011:

Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.

Of course, Greenwald is admitting that he’d sacrifice the social safety net and the rights of millions of Americans in a hopeless effort to defeat the military-industrial complex and its technologies. If you can stand to read the whole piece, you’ll also learn that Greenwald thinks Matt Stoller is a “brilliant” writer. Greenwald is a libertarian purist, with no understanding of how politics actually works. This is the pied piper that many “progressives” are following these days.

I guess I’m getting a little carried away here, so I’ll stop ranting and offer some pertinent links.

Read the rest of this entry »


Friday Reads

sean conneryGood Morning!

I am enjoying the cooling effects of the new AC condenser.  The last days of summer heat will be with us here in New Orleans for awhile so I am glad I could replace it.  There are a bunch of other things that I will now go without but the AC is one thing you cannot forgo down here any more.

It’s difficult to find some things that aren’t about Syria, but I did find a few things just to give us a break. I am going to start one with item that broke late last night.

The WSJ has says the US has intercepted a message that states that Iran will attack Iraq if the US attacks Syria.

The U.S. has intercepted an order from Iran to Shiite militants in Iraq to attack the U.S. Embassy and other American interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike on Syria, officials said, amid an expanding array of reprisal threats across the region.

Military officials have been trying to predict the range of possible responses from Syria, Iran and their allies. U.S. officials said they are on alert for Iran’s fleet of small, fast boats in the Persian Gulf, where American warships are positioned. U.S. officials also fear Hezbollah could attack the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

While the U.S. has positioned military resources in the region for a possible strike, it has other assets in the area that would be ready to respond to any reprisals by Syria, Iran or its allies.

Those deployments include a strike group of an aircraft carrier and three destroyers in the Red Sea, and an amphibious ship, the USS San Antonio, in the Eastern Mediterranean, which would help with any evacuations.

The U.S. military has also readied Marines and other assets to aid evacuation of diplomatic compounds if needed, and the State Department began making preparations last week for potential retaliation against U.S. embassies and other interests in the Middle East and North Africa.

I think we all can agree on the level of skepticism felt here–both writers and discussants–on the weird cult of libertarians.  Here’s an interesting thought.  Are Libertarians the New Communists?

Most people would consider radical libertarianism and communism polar opposites: The first glorifies personal freedom. The second would obliterate it. Yet the ideologies are simply mirror images. Both attempt to answer the same questions, and fail to do so in similar ways. Where communism was adopted, the result was misery, poverty and tyranny. If extremist libertarians ever translated their beliefs into policy, it would lead to the same kinds of catastrophe.

Let’s start with some definitions. By radical libertarianism, we mean the ideology that holds that individual liberty trumps all other values. By communism, we mean the ideology of extreme state domination of private and economic life.

Some of the radical libertarians are Ayn Rand fans who divide their fellow citizens into makers, in the mold of John Galt, and takers, in the mold of katherine Hepburnanyone not John Galt.

Some, such as the Koch brothers, are economic royalists who repackage trickle-down economics as “libertarian populism.” Some are followers of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose highest aspiration is to shut down government. Some resemble the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who has made a career out of trying to drown, stifle or strangle government.

Yes, liberty is a core American value, and an overweening state can be unhealthy. And there are plenty of self-described libertarians who have adopted the label mainly because they support same-sex marriage or decry government surveillance. These social libertarians aren’t the problem. It is the nihilist anti-state libertarians of the Koch-Cruz-Norquist-Paul (Ron and Rand alike) school who should worry us.

Economics Policy Wonk Jared Bernstein has a great narrative on how fiscal policy gets so mixed up.  He attempts to explain how our economic knowledge in theory has warped into something unrecognizable in the beltway.

I identify three reasons why fiscal policy became so backwards in recent years.  First, a strategy by Democrats to block the GW Bush tax cuts morphed from strategy to ideology.  Second, a misunderstanding of the Clinton surpluses in ways explained below.  And third, the use of deficit fear-mongering to achieve the goal of significantly shrinking the government sector.

During the early years of the GW Bush administration, the President proposed and Congress passed two tax-cut packages that quite sharply lowered the revenues flowing to the Treasury.  During those debates, opponents of the cuts raised their negative impact on deficits and debt as a major concern.  Such concerns proved to be justified.  As Ruffing and Friedman show (2013), instead of its actual slowly rising path, the debt ratio would have been falling in the latter 2000s but for the Bush tax cuts (war spending played a much smaller role).  In my terminology, GW Bush fiscal policy was that of an SD (structural dove), adding to the debt ratio throughout the expansion of the 2000s.

Many who were making those anti-tax-cut arguments cited the Clinton years as an instructive counter-example.  The lesson of those years, they argued, was that by increasing taxes and restraining spending, the Clinton budgets both led to surpluses and assuaged bond markets leading to lowering borrowing costs, more investment, and faster growth. In fact, while fiscal policy in Clinton’s first budget did lower projected deficits, as discussed above [earlier in the paper I point out that if you track the swing from deficit to surplus from 1993-2000, Clinton fiscal policies explain one-third of the change; even once these changes were in the baseline, in 1996, CBO still projected deficits a few years later, when in fact the budget went into surplus, so Clinton fiscal policy cannot get credit for that part of the swing], economic growth was far the larger factor (the fact that much of this growth was a function of a dot.com bubble is a separate issue).

Together, this line of attack against the Bush tax cuts in tandem with the over-emphasis on Clinton fiscal policy as the factor that led to surpluses, raised the budget deficit to a new level in the national debate.  Deficit hawkish pundits, editorial pages, and policy makers knew two things: Clinton raised taxes, cut spending, and balanced the budget; Bush cut taxes, failed to restrain spending, and added to the debt ratio.

Again, reality was more complex.  Economic growth was the major factor behind the Clinton surpluses, and while GW Bush’s tax cuts clearly added to the deficit and debt, even under his quite profligate fiscal policy, the deficit-to-GDP ratio fell to about 1% in 2007 (below primary balance).  To be clear, this is no endorsement of his structural dovishness.  That was the last year of that business cycle expansion, and as I argue later in the paper, it’s important to get the debt ratio on a downward path much sooner than that.  But the collision of these two different approaches to fiscal policy in two back-to-back decades helped to construct a conventional wisdom about budget deficits as a national scourge that had more to do with cursory observation than economic analysis.

Another important factor, perhaps the most consequential, in the evolution of these wrong-headed ideas was the partisan ideology that government should be much smaller as a share of the economy.  For conservatives who shared this vision, elevating the issue of the budget deficit as a major national problem was and remains a highly effective strategy.  If they could convince the public and their representatives that deficits had to be reduced no matter what, than cutting the federal budget should be a short step away.

I’ve studied game theory as part of my graduate program and taught game theory as part of my classes.  This study shows why author Julie Beck of The Atlantic Magazine says it’s the gift that keeps on giving.  A new study shows that generosity is more advantageous than selfishness.

Results: In the long term, extorting, selfish strategies did not work as well as more generous strategies. Players who defected instead of cooperating suffered more over time than players who recognized the value of cooperation–though extortion might provide an advantage in a single head-to-head matchup, in the context of a whole population, over time, it pays to be generous. Sometimes cooperative players would even forgive those who defected and cooperate with them again.

The researchers created a mathematical proof that shows, as study co-author Joshua B. Plotkin said in an email, “why generosity abounds in nature, despite the fact that it may appear self-detrimental in the short-term.”

Implications: Now we have some mathematical evidence that there is an evolutionary advantage to generosity, other than just good karma. With Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” ingrained in our brains, it often seems like every man for himself is the best strategy, and kindness is just an anomaly. But it’s an uplifting surprise to see a study that says that’s not the case, that we evolve best when we help each other.

This seems like an argument for the feminine and against the masculine to me.

Anyway, that’s my offerings today.  What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Saturday Morning Open Thread: Libertarians Are Not Our Friends

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Good Morning!!

Sorry I’m posting this so late today. I’ve been pondering some issues that have been troubling me for a long time, and I keep getting stuck about how to write about them.

I’m beginning to see the libertarian influence on so-called “progressives” as a very serious problem for the future of our country. Here’s a somewhat incoherent beginning to a discussion of this problem. I’m putting this out there in the hope that I’ll get some feedback from you that will help me sort this out. So here goes…

Partial transcript:

“I’m a big admirer of Ron Paul and Rand Paul for their very principled positions in the U.S. Congress on a number of issues. They have been the strongest supporters of the fight against the U.S. attacks on Wikileaks and on me in the U.S. Congress. Similarly, they have been the strongest opponents of drone warfare and extrajudicial executions.

And so, that’s quite an interesting phenomenon in the United States. The position of the libertarian Republican–or a better description [right?]–coming from a principle of nonviolence, the American libertarian, that produces interesting results.

So, nonviolence, not going to invade a foreign country. Nonviolence, don’t force people at the barrel of a gun to serve in the U.S. Army [?? The U.S. doesn’t have a draft]. Nonviolence, don’t extort taxes from people to the Federal government, with a [policeman?]….

Similarly, other acts of nonviolence in relation to abortion that they hold. I think that some of these positions that are held by Ron Paul…I can see how they come from the same underlying libertarian principle. I think the world is often more complex. By taking a laid out principle but sometimes simplistic position, you end up undermining the principle. In the short term, visions of the principle are one thing, visions of the principle…it’s quite hard to know [inaudible].

A few comments…

It’s not clear to me whether Assange supports the Paul’s position on abortion, but clearly it’s a side issue for him–not nearly as important as the Paul’s support of Wikileaks and Assange himself, since he later said that both political parties have been compromised and the only hope for the future comes from the libertarian portion of the Republican Party. HuffPo:

He then put forth an argument against both established political parties in Washington, claiming that nearly all Democrats had been “co-opted” by President Barack Obama’s administration, while Republicans were almost entirely “in bed with the war industry.”

The current libertarian strain of political thought in the Republican Party was the “the only hope” for American electoral politics, Assange concluded.

Assange sees federal taxes as “extortion.” I assume that includes the payroll taxes that support Social Security and Medicare. He never mentions social programs at all; as a libertarian he probably opposes them. This is in line with other libertarians who are leading the fight against the U.S. government keeping any secrets whatsoever, e.g., Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, Conor Frierdersdorf, and David Sirota (I’ll have more about this in a later post).

Not only does Assange not know that the U.S. doesn’t have a military draft, he’s pretty mixed up about recent U.S. history. In praising right wing racist news aggregator Matt Drudge, Assange said, via Raw Story:

“Matt Drudge is a news media innovator. And he took off about eight years ago in response to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.”

(Eight years ago was 2005, the first year of George W. Bush’s second term, when President Bill Clinton had been out of office for five years and the Lewinsky scandal and subsequent failed impeachment attempt were a matter of history.)

Assange claimed that Drudge made his name by “publishing information that the establishment media would not. It is as a result of the self-censorship of the establishment press in the United States that gave Matt Drudge such a platform and so of course he should be applauded for breaking a lot of that censorship.”

Assange says he supports non-violence. I’d like to point out that in U.S. history, one of the leading advocates of nonviolence and civil disobedience was a man named Martin Luther King. Fifty years ago King led a “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” But Assange favors the Pauls’ notion of “nonviolence.” (Assange doesn’t appear to know that Ron and Rand Paul are the recipients of vast corporate donations from the defense industry.) I wonder if Assange knows that Ron and Rand Paul oppose Civil Rights laws? I wonder if he cares?

Julian Assange–along with Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald–is currently the idol of the “emoprogs” who have become so distracted by the NSA leaks story that they don’t even notice that Republicans have a very good chance of retaking the Senate next year. These supposed “leftists” have forgotten all about jobs, protecting social programs, women’s rights, civil rights, economic inequality, and our crumbling infrastructure in order to follow a handful of privileged, young white male libertarian pied pipers who are focused only on their own personal “liberties.”


Late Night: A Few Good Smackdowns

Barney Frank explains to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell why he couldn’t vote for the Obama-McConnell-Boehner bill. Barney comes on at about the 5:27 mark. The first five minutes are interesting too, but you can skip over them if you want to. I couldn’t find a video with just the Barney interview.

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Barney really lives up to his surname, doesn’t he? He just lays it all out with no bullsh&t. Iraq and Afghanistan exempted from budget cuts? No guarantee of equal cuts in Defense and Medicare/Medicaid? Medicare cuts will keep seniors from getting medical care and result in hospital jobs being lost. He also makes a good point about the possibility of invoking the 14th amendment. And there’s more. Please watch it.

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Another good guy, Bernie Sanders, angrily explains why he won’t vote for the “grotesque” bill either. Please, Bernie, run for President!

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Via Gawker, here’s a great video of Matt Damon, with his mom standing next to him, explaining to a libertarian “MBA type” from Reason Magazine that some people don’t work just to get money. Some people are actually dedicated to their work despite shitty salaries and long hours. Like teachers. Damon and his mom, who is a teacher, were participating in the Save Our Schools Million Teacher March this past weekend.

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Please discuss, or use this as an open thread.


The Libertarian Dysfunction

Ron Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest the other night at the Republican Debate in South Carolina.

Every time I have any dealings with libertarians, I always wind up saying something to myself to the effect of what is wrong with this people?  Are they the products of a dysfunctional family with parents who don’t show emotion? Did they have problems bonding or with the attachment process as infants?  Libertarians seem like they were all bred in some kind of petrie dish rather than born of flesh and blood people.  They seem so oddly unaware of human nature and empathy. I’ve recently started wondering if it’s not really a symptom of some kind of autism  because there seems to be so much emphasis on a seemingly detached self-identity and a desire for a reality that seems straight of a bad science fiction novella where the main plot is alienation rather than aliens.

So, this WAPO op-ed by “conservative” Michael Gerson got me thinking about Ron Paul’s truly strange statements in that Republican Presidential-wanna be debate the other day. Gerson was using Ron Paul’s thoughts on legal heroin as the basis of the argument that the Republican Party shouldn’t treat Ron Paul seriously because he’s truly not a serious candidate. Advocating legalized heroin–instead of punishing it as bad boy behavior–evidently gives one a lack of gravitas.  I thought this strange.

I have to admit that Ron Paul says things that just makes me think he was hatched from an orphaned egg left in a cuckoo’s nest.  It frightens me that some one with such serious misunderstandings of economics heads a subcommittee over the nation’s monetary policymaker.  It’s like putting a flat earther in charge of NASA.  Paul was so surrounded by other odd birds at that Republican debate however, that he didn’t stand out more than any one else to me.  However, the legalize heroin comment stood out to many of us  including Michael Gerson.  For me however, it stood out because it’s part of the symptoms of denial of social costs and spillovers that you hear coming from libertarians.  Paul really doesn’t appear to know what it’s like to be around the chaos vortex that is an addict.  He has a really odd take on human nature.  Gerson started out with a pretty good description of that before he fell back on hellfire and brimstone.

Paul was the only candidate at the debate to make news, calling for the repeal of laws against prostitution, cocaine and heroin. The freedom to use drugs, he argued, is equivalent to the freedom of people to “practice their religion and say their prayers.” Liberty must be defended “across the board.” “It is amazing that we want freedom to pick our future in a spiritual way,” he said, “but not when it comes to our personal habits.”

Now, I’m of the personal opinion that other people’s religion and practices, can in fact, trample on other people’s rights.  I will only remind you of the time I went out on Sunday in Nebraska to buy creme de menthe to make grasshopper pie and couldn’t.  Also, you have no idea what it’s like to deal with Christmas hoopla when you’re never in the mood.  However, when you are near people, they do have a habit of getting in your way all the time.  What they do impacts you to varying degrees.  So, I didn’t think Paul could possibly have much experience with addicts because it’s hard to avoid the fallout from the disease even if you’re not all that intimately involved with them.  If you work with them or live near them, their addiction and its costs will be felt.

Or, as Gerson puts it:

This argument is strangely framed: If you tolerate Zoroastrianism, you must be able to buy heroin at the quickie mart. But it is an authentic application of libertarianism, which reduces the whole of political philosophy to a single slogan: Do what you will — pray or inject or turn a trick — as long as no one else gets hurt.

Even by this permissive standard, drug legalization fails. The de facto decriminalization of drugs in some neighborhoods — say, in Washington, D.C. — has encouraged widespread addiction. Children, freed from the care of their addicted parents, have the liberty to play in parks decorated by used needles. Addicts are liberated into lives of prostitution and homelessness. Welcome to Paulsville, where people are free to take soul-destroying substances and debase their bodies to support their “personal habits.”

But Paul had an answer to this criticism. “How many people here would use heroin if it were legal? I bet nobody would,” he said to applause and laughter. Paul was claiming that good people — people like the Republicans in the room — would not abuse their freedom, unlike those others who don’t deserve our sympathy.

The idea that there are actions that don’t impact people on any large scale is a weird one to me.  Gerson talks about Paul’s attitude of  “I don’t need laws against heroin because I won’t use heroin” as a form of arrogance.   What really made me think, however, was this paragraph.  This is where Gerson dove off the deep end.

The conservative alternative to libertarianism is necessarily more complex. It is the teaching of classical political philosophy and the Jewish and Christian traditions that true liberty must be appropriate to human nature. The freedom to enslave oneself with drugs is the freedom of the fish to live on land or the freedom of birds to inhabit the ocean — which is to say, it is not freedom at all. Responsible, self-governing citizens do not grow wild like blackberries. They are cultivated in institutions — families, religious communities and decent, orderly neighborhoods. And government has a limited but important role in reinforcing social norms and expectations — including laws against drugs and against the exploitation of men and women in the sex trade.

This is where he lost me completely. The government doesn’t need to reinforce Judeo-Christian norms and expectations.  To me, that’s not the role of government.   The government should recognize that the behavior of individuals and businesses impact others.  Some times, the impact is quite negative.  It doesn’t need to replace some absentee parent as an angry, punishing daddy.  It needs to be more like a judge, a referee, and a prevention coach. Let me explain that.

No one in Love Canal asked to be sold a home sitting on a lot saturated with toxic chemicals.  People actively withheld information to make those business deals and a group of innocents were hurt mightily; both financially and physically. You can read studies dealing with communities that have gambling facilities to determine the social costs of those things.  You get pawn shops and paycheck advance loan shops. There are tons of predatory businesses that pop up out of no where. Communities also get crime because once gamblers run out of things to hock and ways to borrow, they will steal.  Communities will attract prostitutes with accompanying costly public health problems.  Communities eventually wind up with destitute people.  As a result, many businesses and homeowners leave and the city is left with only problems and no revenues.

Just like I can’t imagine drinking day-in-and-day-out, I can’t imagine playing any other gambling games where I don’t know the rules, the odds, and have a strategy to know when to hold them and fold them.  The deal is that I don’t have the addiction gene.  Problem is, that there are a lot of people that can’t either make good decisions or stop.  They become chaos vortexes.  They drain resources from families that eventually need public help. They emotionally and some times physically abuse people which infers the cost of  the criminal justice system.  Relatives of addicts may or may not be able to recover without public assistance or spreading issues further across society.

These behaviors are not just personally destructive, they have social costs.  We frequently have to pay to clean up these messes after these folks have spun out of control.  I also didn’t need the government enforcing ‘Judeo-Christian’ values for me to recognize destructive behaviors and many of these folks with issues had plenty of it.  That’s no solution either.  Frankly, plentiful and good information on statistics and public health should give most people knowledge to make good decisions about prostitution, substance abuse, and gambling.  Neither Gerson or Ron Paul want these provisions either.  They prefer that be left to chance, happenstance, or some imaginary Father Knows Best.

This is what bothers me about both the libertarian and the conservative narrative described above.  You can’t just say let them self destruct and not witness that the fall out from destruction frequently is spread wide and costs a lot of money to a lot of people.  You can’t just say that if some one sits in a pew and hears some kind of moral spew attached to an angry sky god that they’re going to just get in control of themselves.  There’s a genetic component to substance abuse.   Certainly, a faceless corporation that only exists for the purpose of creating profit but yet, is treated as an individual legally,  is not capable of full considering the costs of its actions on others.  Addicts definitely don’t consider the costs of their actions on any one.   Gerson and Paul’s overly simplistic view of people and reality has to come from some blocked pathway in a brain that doesn’t recognize the interconnectedness of people and their actions.

Maybe that’s why they both have fairly useless views of economics too because, at its essence, economics is about human behavior and choices.

It’s not about becoming a national mommy, or daddy, or nanny or whatever.  It’s about trying to prevent the problems, first off, by providing adequate information to people. Then, it’s about judiciously assessing the fall out and compensating society and others for the cost of the chaos. Then, something should be done to try to stop recurrence.

We keep trying permissiveness and punishment.  What we frequently get is recidivism and more spillover costs.  Somewhere in between the models of permissiveness and punishment is a more pragmatic mindset. Laws, regulations, and government are necessary because humans and their corporate counterparts don’t exist in a vacuum and all of them are not good decisionmakers.  Their actions aren’t always a reflection of either enlightened self-control or fear of retribution by an angry sky god or parent.   Of course, government can’t do everything for us.  But, it should be able to prevent the fall out from the behaviors and actions of others and the spillover costs they entail.  That’s the real purpose of regulations. Libertarians seem to disregard a bevy of actions where there are victim’s of people’s individual decisions.  Conservatives appear to think that enforcing some kind of moral code via punishment  is all that’s necessary.  Frankly, I’d rather we use less straight-jacket ideology and use our knowledge to figure out what best prevents a problem.


About 99 percent of us have that sinking feeling

You know me and my wonky graphs.  You also know I blog a lot about rising income inequality and that I think it’s a huge problem.  So, this MOJO Power graph and the article it came with piqued my curiosity.  It’s from an article by Kevin Drum writing on a Timothy B Lee blogpost on the preemption of ‘genuine left wing voices’ by libertarians.   I’m not sure how libertarians could be confused for moderates, liberals or lefties but given that establishment conservatives have an orthodoxy so tight that few fit, I suppose everything else gets to wear the liberal label. But, maybe there’s more to it than that.

We talked about this a little on a thread yesterday.  Both Ariana Huffington and Kos used to be Republicans.  They left the party when the religious right took over and because, frankly, I don’t think they like the fact that so many blue collar Reagan Democrats had just up and joined their old country club.  There’s also the odd phenomenon of tea party populists that don’t seem to know where they are or where they belong either.  We’ve seen how a  lot of these folks have made their way into policy circles through their support or their horror of the current administration so I think it’s worth viewing three blog writers on that topic.  Why are so many people confused about their political identity any more?

Libertarian ‘insight’ used to the butt of jokes at academic cocktail parties where you discussed Utopian moonbattery and even worse fiction.  Now there seems to be an industry around producing what they call journals, institutions, and philosophy that is some how running loose in mainstream conversations demanding to be taken seriously.    It’s hard to do that because they don’t associate with data and they seem to thrive on passing memes that have no basis in reality.  (The ones on the FED just kill me.) They’re in the tea party, they’re all for Rand and Ron Paul, and yet, some of them have made their way to the liberal blogosphere.  What’s going on? Plus, what’s the deal with all these solid working class–in some cases UNION folks–heading to tea party rallies?  Haven’t they ever heard of Dick Armey?

Drum shows how the worst of the libertarian assumptions they hold up as facts just don’t hold up to the light of day.  He starts with a shared assumption from the right wing and libertarians as described by Will Wilkinson. This meme is the mild form libertarianism from the Hayek-Friedman sect.

It’s best to just maximize growth rates, pre-tax distribution be damned, and then fund wicked-good social insurance with huge revenues from an optimal tax scheme.

We’ve got scads of data that show this meme to be a completely false assumption.  We’d have a better economy right now if that were true.  In fact, the only time we had a decent economy in recent history was when that particular assumption was rolled back during the Clinton years.   But, don’t take it from me, read what Kevin Drum has to say.  Those assumptions are very wrong.

First, it contains an implicit conviction that libertarian notions of tax and regulatory structures will maximize growth rates. This is practically an article of faith on the right, but there’s virtually no empirical evidence to support it. As it happens, I’d argue that my preferred brand of the modern mixed economy is, on the whole, probably more efficient than a stripped down libertarian state, even one that includes lots of centrally-directed income redistribution. But not by much. Personally, I’d be pretty happy if both sides accepted the notion that within a fairly wide range of modern capitalist systems — from Sweden to the U.S., say — overall growth rates change very little. For the most part, we’re really arguing about other things.

Second, I suspect there’s no feasible path to Will’s state of the world. The problem is that a system that generates enormous income inequality also generates enormous power inequality — and if corporations and the rich are allowed to amass huge amounts of economic power, they’ll always use that power to keep their own tax rates low. It’s nearly impossible to create a high-tax/high-service state if your starting point is a near oligarchy where the rich control the levers of political power.

Third, look at the graph. We’ve had this trickle up to the one percent form of economic nonsense since the Reagan years and all it’s done is made things radically worse.   It’s led to this situation where the supply side of the curve completely craps all over the demand side of the curve in product markets.  The outright hostility to unions and the abuse and disempowerment of human beings–not human “capital”–have completely shifted  income levels and underlying market power to some place where you truly think you’d see some kind of general revolt, strike, or overthrow.

It should be patently obvious now that Wall Street has recovered, bonuses have recovered, and corporate profits have recovered while  any one not up at the top of that racket can hardly survive these days.  The unemployment rate, the numbers of foreclosures, and the numbers of bankruptcies are tips of the icebergs.  We’re not going to see growth rates of GDP that will clear that up too.  More frightening is that the powers that be don’t seem to even fake caring.

When you point all these things out to libertarians, they’ll shift the ground on you and say point me where it says in the constitution and mutter something about Wilson and the imperial presidency.  This is the place where they firmly intersect the right wing. Look, Wilson is dead.  The Bush legacy lives and the Obama legacy is still being written.  Still, some of them have crept over and become neoliberals and identified with the left.  Why?

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