Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

In 1975, New York City was bailed out by President Gerald Ford.  Ford committed $2,300,000,000.00 in loans to the troubled city, an amount that today would be worth around $10,600,000,000.00.

In 1978, President Carter signed the New York City Loan Guarantee Act adding an additional $1,650,000,000.00 of funding (approximately $5,940,000,000.00 in 2013 dollars) to help New York recover.

In 2013, the city of Detroit goes bankrupt and President Obama offers nothing.

Can we call him a failure now?

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Sad State of The Academy

Neoliberalism is destroying the value of our public universities.
Central to this neoliberal view of higher education in the United States and United Kingdom is a market-driven paradigm that seeks to eliminate tenure, turn the humanities into a job preparation service, and transform most faculty into an army of temporary subaltern labor. For instance, in the United States out of 1.5 million faculty members, 1 million are “adjuncts who are earning, on average, $20,000 a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work.”[11]  The indentured service status of such faculty is put on full display as some colleges have resorted to using “temporary service agencies to do their formal hiring.”[12]
...[M]any of the problems in higher education can be linked to diminished funding, the domination of universities by market mechanisms, the rise of for-profit colleges, the intrusion of the national security state, and the diminished role of faculty in governing the university, all of which both contradict the culture and democratic value of higher education and makes a mockery of the very meaning and mission of the university as a democratic public sphere. 
The picture seems quite bleak.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Behaving Like a Grown-Up

Pundits don't like being wrong, they often don't want to admit being wrong.  Niall Ferguson is a classic case of a public figure unable to admit his analytical errors.  But Niall's arch-nemesis, Paul Krugman, is a great example of what a grown-up does when they're wrong: He admits it and explains how he arrived at his erroneous conclusions.
After all, if you write about current affairs and you’re never wrong, you just aren’t sticking your neck out enough. Stuff happens, and sometimes it’s not the stuff you thought would happen. 
So what do you do then? Do you claim that you never said what you said? Do you lash out at your critics and play victim? Or do you try to figure out what you got wrong and why, and revise your thinking accordingly? 
I’ve been wrong many times over the years, usually on minor things but sometimes on big ones. Before 1998 I didn’t think the liquidity trap was a serious concern; the example of Japan suggested that I was wrong, and I eventually concluded that it was a big concern indeed. In 2003 I thought the US was potentially vulnerable to an Asian-crisis-style loss of confidence; when it didn’t happen I rethought my models, realized that foreign-currency debt was crucial, and changed my view. 
The case of the euro is a bit different: I was very pessimistic about the strategy of austerity and internal devaluation, which I thought would have a terrible cost — and I was completely right about that. I also guessed that this cost would prove politically unsustainable, leading to a crisis for the euro itself; so far, at least, I have been wrong. My economic model worked fine, my implicit political model didn’t; OK, so it goes.

Wise Words from a Wise Man

Those of you who know me know I am not only not religious, I'm rather anti-religious in my views.  That goes doubly for Christianity since, during my lifetime, Christianity in America has morphed from something benign into a tumor that has metastasized onto our civic life.  Worst of all, Christianity's adherents use their faith as a cudgel to beat perceived outsiders (minorities, LGBT citizens, people of minority faiths like muslims) and as a device to enforce the racist white patriarchy.

But now comes a Pope who is saying all the right things and is presenting an original version of Christianity that is all about love, compassion and care for the less fortunate.  I only hope this Papal vaccine can reverse the cancerous Christian tumor that has infested the body politic in America.  These are excerpts of an interview the Pope did with an Italian paper that the Vatican press office is attempting to censor.
The most serious evils currently afflicting the world are unemployment among the young and the solitude in which the elderly are left. The elderly need care and companionship; the young need work and hope. However, they have neither the one nor the other, and the trouble is that they are no longer seeking for them. They have been crushed by the present.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

BOOKS TO READ: The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice

Adding this one to the stack of books to read: The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice by Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel.  The book was reviewed in 2002 in the New York Times Book Review by David Cay Johnston.

Johnston writes,
[Murphy & Nagel] assert that a naïve philosophy of ''everyday libertarianism'' infects American politics with a ''robust and compelling fantasy that we earn our income and the government takes some of it away from us.'' This popular myth ''results in widespread hostility to taxes, and a political advantage to those who campaign against them and attack the I.R.S.'' 
This fantasy grows from the acceptance by all sides in the tax debate that gross, or pretax, incomes are presumptively just and therefore the proper moral base line to begin debate. The authors say pretax incomes are morally insignificant, an idea they confess is hard to sell. They argue that ''individual citizens don't own anything except through laws that are enacted and enforced by the state,'' because without government there would be anarchy, an endless war of all-against-one that would diminish incomes and wealth, not to mention life itself. Thus it is after-tax incomes that people are entitled to own. These ideas will encounter a hostile reception from partisans in the debate of the past quarter-century, in which the prevailing political rhetoric characterizes taxes as sheer waste, an unfair drag on the most productive people and an evil.
Sounds about right.  If not for the state, there would be no enforcement of property rights except through the barrel of a gun.  Anarchy would indeed be the only "rule of law" left.

Would you prefer red or white wine with your subsidized meal?

Supported by your supplemental nutrition tax dollars?
In the face of a hunger crisis in the US exacerbated by Republican cruelty in the form of supplemental nutrition funding cuts, it's important to realize that not all supplemental nutrition funding is being cut.
Let’s remember that the government already subsidizes lots of food. When wealthy executives dine at fancy French restaurants, part of the bill is likely to be deducted from taxes, which amounts to a subsidy from taxpayers. How is it that food subsidies to anemic children are more controversial than food subsidies to executives enjoying coq au vin?

Stacey Keach FTW!

Words Fail Me

And yet I'm still surprised by the hypocrisy of this woman.  Speaking in Canada, vocal opponent of any form of government-sponsored healthcare for Americans, Palin admitted her reliance on Canada's single-payer healthcare system.
The vocal opponent of health-care reform in the U.S. steered largely clear of the topic except to reveal a tidbit about her life growing up not far from Whitehorse. 
"We used to hustle over the border for health care we received in Canada," she said. "And I think now, isn't that ironic?"
Yes, Sarah, it's the very definition of ironic.  Oh, and hypocrisy.  That too.

If anyone deserved to be punched in the throat, it's got to be Sarah Palin.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Obamacare's Upstairs / Downstairs Problem

The BBC program "Upstairs / Downstairs" was a look at ossified class society in Edwardian England.  America's healthcare system recapitulates this "insider / outsider" dichotomy by pitting those with healthcare against those without (or with inadequate).  A recent post at the Economist spells this out nicely.
Obamacare was always going to be a hard sell because it is an attempt to fix an insider-outsider problem. At root, its supporters do not think it right for a country as rich as America to be home to tens of millions of people who do not have health cover, or who have such skimpy insurance that they risk financial ruin if they fall gravely ill. 
But ... Republicans have focused on appeals to today’s insiders: warning them that they will be worse off once Obamacare is in force. Those appeals work, because there is something to them. The future of health care in America inevitably involves more rationing and less consumer choice. Indeed it has to. Whether or not you believe Obamacare has a decent chance of putting health care on a more sustainable footing, something has to give. But it is going to hurt. If Obamacare is going to offer affordable coverage to sicker, poorer people without bankrupting the private insurers, then it will have to stick others with the bill. Some will pay more, some will get less, and lots of young, healthy Americans will have to buy insurance for the first time.
The fear of triage, of "rationing," is a winning argument in the Constituency of Fear.  Rather than couching the argument in the framework of "care for all" a la Medicare, the Obama administration has created the ultimate muddle, mixing insiders and outsiders and pissing everybody off.

A better solution, single-payer, Medicare-for-all, would provide a foundation upon which private insurers could build enhanced coverage akin to the enhancements provided through Medicare Advantage.  Instead we have this ridiculous farce.

Know Your Rights!

These are your rights under the legal framework of conservatism as represented by the Roberts court:
Speech that might well be protected under the First Amendment can now be included in criminal charges and submitted to the jury alongside other evidence of material support [for terrorism]. That is a serious blow to traditional principles of free speech. Although the 1st Circuit did not say so, arguably, coordination could now be inferred just from the nature of the speech and the fact that it was posted online in a forum visited by terrorist-friendly users. 
The real culprit here is not the 1st Circuit but the Supreme Court in the Holder decision. By allowing Congress to outlaw nonviolent speech made within the U.S. by U.S. citizens, it drastically reduced the scope of free speech from the traditional Brandenburg standard.
Once again, conservatism leads the charge in fear over reason, control over freedom and irrationality over rationality.

We'll let The Clash sort this out for us.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What Rhymes With Derp?

CNBC, that font of misinformation, would like you to know that “Anyone who ran a company with a balance sheet that looked like the U.S. probably wouldn’t have a company anymore.” 
Of course, nobody can run a company with a balance sheet like the US, which is why it’s always a mistake to compare the US government to a corporation, much less a household. The government can pass taxes and print money. You and I can’t.
But wait... it gets better...
Perhaps worse even than CNBC’s balance-sheet boo-boo is this whopper: 
The declining national deficit this year due primarily to sequestration budget cuts has provided some optimism that the problem is becoming more manageable. 
That’s flat false. 
Higher tax receipts accounted for nearly 80 percent of the decline in the deficit. Government spending declined by $84 billion in fiscal year 2013, and sequestration was responsible for about $42 billion of that. 
Tax receipts, meantime, rose $325 billion, accounting for the vast majority of the decline in the deficit. 
CNBC is challenging Fox News for the title of derpiest media outlet.

Obamacare: Wheels within Wheels in a Spiral Array (of EPIC FAIL)

I've written before of the catastrophic awfulness of the Affordable Care Act.  It's the ultimate Rube Goldberg device designed to keep the parasitic private health insurance companies in champagne and caviar.  Now comes yet another "unintended consequence" of this awful law.  

Many poor Americans rely on a network of "safety-net" hospitals.  They are likely to lose access to critical health services as a direct result of Obamacare.  The hospitals which make up this safety-net are losing important funding which reimburses them for uninsured care.
Now, in a perverse twist, many of the poor people who rely on safety-net hospitals like Memorial will be doubly unlucky. A government subsidy, little known outside health policy circles but critical to the hospitals’ survival, is being sharply reduced under the new health law. 
The subsidy, which for years has helped defray the cost of uncompensated and undercompensated care, was cut substantially on the assumption that the hospitals would replace much of the lost income with payments for patients newly covered by Medicaid or private insurance. But now the hospitals in states like Georgia will get neither the new Medicaid patients nor most of the old subsidies, which many say are crucial to the mission of care for the poor. 
“We were so thrilled when the law passed, but it has backfired,” said Lindsay Caulfield, senior vice president for planning and marketing at Grady Health in Atlanta, the largest safety-net hospital in Georgia. 
It is now facing the loss of nearly half of its roughly $100 million in annual subsidies known as disproportionate share hospital payments.
"Perverse twist" indeed.  These safety net hospitals are a necessary piece of healthcare delivery in a country which can't seem to get its healthcare head out of the Republican's ass.  And, because of Obama and the Affordable Care Act these hospitals will be unable to to provide care for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Let's be clear, though.  This isn't entirely Obama's fault.  One of the pieces of this excessively complex legislation was left in the hands of the states: Medicaid expansion.  Various dickweed Republican Governors (including our very own Scott Walker) refused to accept Medicaid expansion dollars and this has compounded the problem of these safety-net hospitals.

But the ultimate responsibility for this lies with Obama who decided, rather than pursue a Democratic healthcare path, decided to adopt a plan put forth by the vile Heritage Foundation in 1989.

So why are we surprised Obamacare is an EPIC FAIL, again?  It came from the fucking Heritage Foundation, the source of EPIC FAIL ideas for over 30 years.

So instead of Medicare for All or some other single-payer scheme, we have this.  A death-spiral of EPIC FAIL.

When you lie down with Heritage dogs, you get Republican fleas.  Well done, Obummer, well done.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Poverty and Health Care Rationing

Because we can't manage to provide adequate healthcare to our own citizens, the less fortunate get to be rationed down to using EMTs for primary care.  At least that's a scheme being proposed by some doctors.
[T]hose who ... practice general medicine are rarely drawn to work in the rural and inner-city areas where people most lack access to medical treatment. 
What’s needed is a strategy to lure people who already live in underserved communities to practice health care there. One clever way of doing that, just proposed by a group of authors writing in the November issue of Health Affairs, is inspired by the successful model of emergency medicine -- that is, give people the level of training that emergency medical technicians and paramedics receive, but aimed at primary rather than emergency care. 
After all, what do EMTs and paramedics do but bring medical skills and equipment to places where doctors and nurses aren’t readily available? In their case, the places are wherever car crashes, heart attacks or other sudden medical catastrophes happen. EMTs and paramedics are also trained relatively quickly and paid relatively modestly, with a mean annual salary of less than $35,000.
The big difference, of course, is that emergent medicine is not the same as primary care.  And at the end of that ambulance ride is an ER stocked with doctors, nurses and technology to help you recover.

Sure, you could train a few EMTs to deal with some chronic primary care issues, but in the end, what do these people do when they need a real doctor?  Go to the ER?

A scheme like this, in the context of a comprehensive socialized healthcare system would be great, but using it as another band-aid to patch up our horribly broken healthcare delivery system is shameful.

Left-Wing Racism: Anti-GMO Liberals and Malthusian Consequences

Thomas Malthus
The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.
—Malthus T.R. 1798. An essay on the principle of population. Chapter VII, p61
Opposition to Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foods represents a new form of racism, one that is subtle and very likely unintentional, but racism nonetheless.  And it's a racism that the left-wing seems blind to as they campaign against GMO.

It's a passive racism, predicated on a premise that the Earth's ability to feed people is limited and technologies like GMOs are an immoral answer to the question of starvation.  I suspect if you were to ask this child,

if GMO food is immoral, you might not get the same answer.  And that's not hyperbole.  Children like her, millions of them, are going to rely on GMO foods to improve nutrition and the ability of their poor nations to produce food.  Cut them off, and those millions of children are likely to suffer and many will die.

Golden Rice (on the right) has a distinctly yellow color which comes from the introduction of genes which produce β-carotene 

Take, for instance, The Golden Rice Project.  Golden rice is a genetically modified rice crop to improve the nutrition in people in rice cultures, mostly in Asia.  This variety of rice provide beta-carrotine, an important nutrient often lacking in the diets of impoverished Asians.

Dietary micronutrient deficiencies, such as the lack of vitamin A, iodine, iron or zinc, are a major source of morbidity (increased susceptibility to disease) and mortality worldwide. These deficiencies affect particularly children, impairing their immune system and normal development, causing disease and ultimately death. The best way to avoid micronutrient deficiencies is by way of a varied diet, rich in vegetables, fruits and animal products. 
The second best approach, especially for those who cannot afford a balanced diet, is by way of nutrient-dense staple crops. Sweet potatoes, for example, are available as varieties that are either rich or poor in provitamin A. Those producing and accumulating provitamin A (orange-fleshed sweet potatoes) are called biofortified,* as opposed to the white-fleshed sweet potatoes, which do not accumulate provitamin A. In this case, what needs to be done is to introduce the biofortified varieties to people used to the white-fleshed varieties, as is happening at present in southern Africa by introducing South American varieties of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. 
Unfortunately, there are no natural provitamin A-containing rice varieties. In rice-based societies, the absence of β-carotene in rice grains manifests itself in a marked incidence of blindness and susceptibility to disease, leading to an increased incidence of premature death of small children, the weakest link in the chain.

Golden rice solves this problem.
Rice produces β-carotene in the leaves but not in the grain, where the biosynthetic pathway is turned off during plant development. In Golden Rice two genes have been inserted into the rice genome by genetic engineering, to restart the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway leading to the production and accumulation of β-carotene in the grains. Both genes are naturally involved in carotene biosynthesis. The difference here is that the reconstructed pathway is not subject to downregulation, as usually happens in the grain.
Since a prototype of Golden Rice was developed in the year 2000, new lines with higher β-carotene content have been generated. The intensity of the golden colour is a visual indicator of the concentration of β-carotene in the endosperm.Our goal is to make sure that people living in rice-based societies get a full complement of provitamin A from their traditional diets. This would apply to countries such as India, Vietnam, Bangladesh. the Philippines, and Indonesia. Golden Rice could still be a valuable complement to children's diets in many countries by contributing to the reduction of clinical and sub-clinical vitamin A deficiency-related diseases.
Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness but there can be many more consequences as well.
According to the World Health Organization, dietary vitamin A deficiency (VAD) compromises the immune systems of approximately 40 percent of children under the age of five in the developing world, greatly increasing the risk of severe illnesses from common childhood infections, thus causing hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths among them.
White people in white nations (Americans and Europeans mostly) reject GMO food out of some misguided sense of "impurity".  The genetic cross-breeding of species to produce new foodstuffs is "unnatural" or "frankenstein-like."  But when asked for alternatives to managing crop yields in the face of irreversible global warming, they have no real solutions.  When challenged with the ongoing crisis not just in starvation deaths but in rampant malnutrition and the consequent health challenges faced by those without access to a well-stocked local Co-Op, they remain silent.  It disgusts me.

They all seem to share a belief in a magic, organic future where global climate change and the inability of developing nations to feed themselves will be remedied by an ill-defined concept of "sustainable agriculture."  That future will never exist.  It is a white man's fantasy based on the myth that organic food is morally superior to non-organic food.

Let me tell you, to someone starving in Africa or Asia, the only immoral food is the food you don't have access to because some first-world racist white person thinks you shouldn't.

Left-wingers who oppose GMO as a technology are frequently driven by their hatred of Monsanto, the largest GMO producer, and their business practices.  But their conflation of Monsanto with GMO is what's really immoral.  They seek first-world solution to third world problems and they reject science as an appropriate vehicle to drive Matlthus back into the shadows where he belongs.

It's a surrender to the forces of global warming.

It's an irrational fear.

It's the hubris of the wealthy and well-fed.

People on the left, people who, in most cases, recognize the need to support the poor and oppressed have let their hatred of a single corporation, Monsanto, to cloud their better judgement.  They have stumbled into a position of abject racism and Malthusian cruelty in their desire to unseat a bad corporate actor.  Shame on them.

Hate Monsanto if you must, but a rejection of GMO technology condemns millions to starvation, disease and premature death.  That's the real immorality.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Anthropogenic Climate Change Will Drive World Food Shortage

Although I'm sure The Soylent Corporation will figure something out... After all, the "free market" always does.
In a departure from an earlier assessment, the scientists concluded that rising temperatures will have some beneficial effects on crops in some places, but that globally they will make it harder for crops to thrive — perhaps reducing production over all by as much as 2 percent each decade for the rest of this century, compared with what it would be without climate change.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Apropos of Nothing but my Own Interest: Sticky Risk

Economists are already familiar with the idea of sticky wages and prices, both of which adjust slowly to changes in the market environment. 
For instance, home owners resist cutting their asking price in the face of a slump, preferring to withdraw and not trade. Existing wages tend not to be cut, instead eroding via inflation while unemployment remains high. 
With sticky risk, its the assessment of risk that displays stickiness: individuals refuse to change their view of danger until the evidence becomes overwhelming. 
There is sound logic to acting in this way. In 2011, when the simmering European crisis and a US debt downgrade produced three months with wild swings in markets, the best response was simply to do nothing and wait it out. 
Like a ball sat in a bowl, a shove will send it spinning back and forth, but eventually gravity restores the ball to equilibrium.
We think this helps to explain the current environment of what seems to be widespread but low-conviction optimism. To overgeneralise, the attitude is that while the central bankers are keeping interest rates down, take yield where you can find it. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

CNN: Good or Bad?

Hilarious (and depressing)

On the Unrealistic Expectations of Capital and the Rentier Class

The professor makes a(nother) good point.
This kind of behavior — ever-shifting rationales for an unchanging policy (see: Bush tax cuts, invasion of Iraq, etc.) — is a “tell”. It says that something else is really motivating the policy advocacy. So what is going on here? When I read Gross and others, what I think is lurking underneath is a belief that capitalists are entitled to good returns on their capital, even if it’s just parked in safe assets. It’s about defending the privileges of the rentiers, who are assumed to be central to everything; the specific stories are just attempts to rationalize the unchanging goal.
Defending the privileges of the rentiers has become the raison d'être of our entire governmental system.  The people who seek to "extract value" from others, the capitalists and their enablers, are responsible for the crash and the ongoing failed recovery under Obama who, despite his pseudo-liberal bona fides is as much an enabler of their greed as any Teabagging Republican.
What is the role of interest in this world? Interest, classically (and I do mean classically, as in Mr. Keynes and the), is the reward for waiting: there’s supposedly a social function to interest because it rewards people for saving rather than spending. But right now we’re awash in excess savings with nowhere to go, and the marginal social value of a dollar of savings is negative. So real interest rates should be negative too, if they’re supposed to reflect social payoffs.
But the baggers of tea and their economic enablers don't see it that way.  They want their money for nothing and their chicks for free...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Glenn Greenwald FTW

In a well-publicized online exchange with New York Times columnist and former editor Bill Keller, Glenn had this to say.
A journalist who is petrified of appearing to express any opinions will often steer clear of declarative sentences about what is true, opting instead for a cowardly and unhelpful 'here's-what-both-sides-say-and-I-won't-resolve-the-conflicts' formulation. 
That rewards dishonesty on the part of political and corporate officials who know they can rely on 'objective' reporters to amplify their falsehoods without challenge 
Worse still, this suffocating constraint on how reporters are permitted to express themselves produces a self-neutering form of journalism that becomes as ineffectual as it is boring 
Worst of all, this model rests on a false conceit. Human beings are not objectivity-driven machines. We all intrinsically perceive and process the world through subjective prisms. What is the value in pretending otherwise?
...honestly disclosing rather than hiding one's subjective values makes for more honest and trustworthy journalism. But no journalism – from the most stylistically 'objective' to the most brazenly opinionated – has any real value unless it is grounded in facts, evidence, and verifiable data.

Well said, Mr. Greenwald.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dead Cow Derp

Amazing levels of derp detected in South Dakota...
"We're just a bunch of ranchers from South Dakota — it's hard for our voices to be heard," he said, sitting at the kitchen table at dawn Friday, drinking coffee, fielding calls from fellow cattlemen. "You see crises across the country, the hurricanes and tornadoes, and officials are right on top of it. But something of this magnitude, that has just about leveled this part of the country, and there's nothing." 
Many residents in this conservative region had supported the government shutdown as a way to make Washington more fiscally responsible. "But one appropriate role for these guys is to lend a hand after disasters like this," Christen said, "and they're not here."
No, they're not.  Try to work out why.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Living on "Basic"

In the SF novel Leviathan Wakes, author  James S. A. Corey (pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) describes a world where there simply aren't enough jobs to go around (sound familiar?) and that holding a job is a privilege and not a right (or even a requirement for survival).  Manufacturing is fully automated so there is no shortage of goods available.  Those who cannot secure employment live on what's called basic.  Essentially the government (in this case the U.N.) provides food, shelter, clothing and healthcare for every person on Earth.  People who hold jobs are paid above and beyond basic but they still receive the equivalent of basic from the government.  Everyone does.

Star Trek also described a world where money no longer served any meaningful purpose.

So what if we were to try this today?  Well, we might just find out.  Switzerland is voting on whether or not to provide every Swiss citizen $2,800/month.  The main reason the Swiss are embarking on this discussion is develop a leveling mechanism that should help alleviate the growing inequality they see as socially detrimental.
...[T]he basic idea is, no matter what you do, if you’re a resident — or in some cases, a citizen — you get a certain amount of money each month. And it’s completely unconditional: If you’re rich you get it, if you’re poor you get. If you’re a good person you get it, if you’re a bad person you get it. And it does not depend on you doing anything other than making whatever effort is involved to collect the money. It’s been a topic of discussion for several decades. Why is it happening right now? I think it’s obvious that it’s a reaction to the high level of economic inequality that we’ve seen. Most European countries haven’t had big increases in inequality at the same scale that we [in the U.S.] have, [but] some of them have had much more than they’re used to.
Nations with fiat currencies could all embark on this path with little or no risk of inflation.  There is more than enough to go around.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Why the Solidarity Singalong is Wrong and Doomed to Failure

Arrests at the Wisconsin State Capitol

There has been quite the brouhaha at the Wisconsin State Capitol recently with arrests and citations flying as the Solidarity Singers are hauled away in handcuffs for violating the administrative rule requiring permits for groups of more than 20 people.

And the police are within the law to do it and to keep doing it.

What the Singers seem to collectively ignore is that the right to assemble is no more absolute than any other right.  If there is compelling state interest to manage that right for reasons that are applied evenly and fairly, the state can do so.

The freedom of assembly is not unlimited. The government may limit the freedom if the instance under consideration satisfies three conditions. First, the limitation must serve an important governmental interest. For example, a law preventing people from gathering to start a violent revolution is valid. 
Second, the limitation must be content neutral. This means it must not control assemblies based on the kinds of people who gather, their reason for gathering, or their beliefs. A law preventing people from gathering to support flag burning, for example, would violate the freedom of assembly. 
Third, the limitation must restrict the freedom of assembly as little as possible to serve the important governmental interest. In Cox v. New Hampshire (1941), for instance, the Supreme Court decided that the government may require permits for parading on public streets. As long as it issues the permits without discrimination (treating different groups unequally), the government may control the time, place, and manner of assemblies for the sake of public safety and convenience.

While I applaud the Singers in their efforts to keep pressure on the Walker administration and the Wisconsin State Legislature, their efforts are ultimately doomed to failure.

Now one could make the case that this is a long-running act of civil disobedience and that the SSA are knowingly violating the law to make a point.  But that's not what I hear.  What I hear is a constant appeal to the First Amendment.

For instance...


But continuing to appeal to some absolutist interpretation of the First Amendment is akin to denying global warming: it's foolish in the face of the reality.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The German New Left

A fascinating article at Dissent on the history of the German left and the ghosts of the Nazi past.
All these unresolved anxieties and desperate claims about the all-too-present Nazi past endowed the German student movement with an almost unique fierceness (though the Left in the other defeated Axis countries, Italy and Japan, would also turn to terrorism), and lent it what Kundnani calls its “strange mixture of guilt and moral superiority.” Whereas the French new Left was inspired by the heroism of the Resistance, and the American new Left by the brave dignity of the Civil Rights Movement, the German new Left was haunted by visions of the gas chambers: it believed that the only two alternatives for Germany were, quite literally, the creation of a utopia or the recreation of Auschwitz. Shame, guilt, fury, and fear, rather than pride or hope, were far more common in the communes and classrooms of Berlin than in those of Berkeley or Paris. 
Well worth a full read!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Revolution for One, Please!

From the ever irreverent Baffler comes this gem:
It does often seem that, whenever there is a choice between one option that makes capitalism seem the only possible economic system, and another that would actually make capitalism a more viable economic system, neoliberalism means always choosing the former. The combined result is a relentless campaign against the human imagination. Or, to be more precise: imagination, desire, individual creativity, all those things that were to be liberated in the last great world revolution, were to be contained strictly in the domain of consumerism, or perhaps in the virtual realities of the Internet. In all other realms they were to be strictly banished. We are talking about the murdering of dreams, the imposition of an apparatus of hopelessness, designed to squelch any sense of an alternative future. Yet as a result of putting virtually all their efforts in one political basket, we are left in the bizarre situation of watching the capitalist system crumbling before our very eyes, at just the moment everyone had finally concluded no other system would be possible.
We live in an age when there do not seem to be any viable economic alternatives.  Perhaps this is a good sign?  Like the Battle of the Bulge, a last gasp effort by a morally and economically bankrupt neoliberal order is in process and we just need to hang on while it blows itself up.

I can only hope that we figure out an alternative in time...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blogging Again?

I've often felt this song is a perfect metaphor for American politics and society...

We are all so Comfortably Numb.  I know I've become comfortably numb over the past two years after our failure to unseat the hyper-ambitious sociopath in the Governor's Mansion, a psychopathic glad-hander if ever there was one.  But wave after wave of regressive, hateful and destructive legislation has pushed me, once again, over the edge.  Time to sharpen the quill and put pen to paper...

Time for Revolution.

Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone home?

Come on
I hear you're feeling down
I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again

I'll need some information first
Just the basic facts
Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move
But I can't hear what you're saying

When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like
Two balloons
Now I've got that feeling once again
I can't explain
You would not understand
This is not how I am

I... Have become comfortably numb

Just a little pin prick
There'll be no more aaaaaaaah!
But you may feel a little sick

Can you stand up?
I do believe it's working
That'll keep you going through the show
Come on
It's time to go

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move
But I can't hear what you're saying

When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye

I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
I... Have become comfortably numb