Monday, October 31, 2011

Interview Regarding OWS

Charlie Rose interviews Amy Goodman and Chris Hedges. Watch here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Income Mobility

Chad says here here that only 18% of the people among the bottom 20% of income earners are still there 10 years later. I asked for a source and haven't gotten it yet. It could be true. Thomas Sowell says here that most in the bottom in 1975 had at some point also been in the top by 1991. Mark Perry claims that after 6 years only 56% of the people in the bottom 20% remained there.

But these are short term trends. What would be more interesting to me is how fathers and sons compare. If you are born in a poor family, what is the likelihood that you will be poor as an adult? If you are born to a rich family, then it's not a big deal being poor. Maybe you're poor while you're going to medical school or law school. Then your income takes off. The poor would have a harder time going to law school.

Brookings has the generational comparison here and they do it across various countries. Comparing how fathers compare to sons the US is among the worst. You are more likely to be poor if your father is poor in America than in most other countries surveyed. What's interesting about this is that the perceptions of Americans are precisely the opposite. They think that America is the best place to be if you'd want to pull yourself up from poverty and become rich. Yet fewer in America are actually able to do that as compared to the more socialist European countries, with the exception of England.

Why do Americans have this erroneous perception? Mark Perry is relying on studies from James Pethokoukis from the American Enterprise Institute. Paul Krugman is familiar with it. He calls the work "flat out lies". That's an unusually harsh statement from Krugman. But we are inundated with lies from the AEI. It's their job to convince us that we have it best. That serves the interest of their corporate and wealthy backers. They do it even when the arguments contradict each other. Global warming isn't happening. Or yes it is happening and nobody denies it, but humans aren't the cause. Or wait, yes it is happening and humans are the cause, but that doesn't mean we should do anything about it. Here's how Krugman put it.
You might ask, how is it possible to take such mutually contradictory positions? And the answer is, it’s very easy if confusing the debate is your job.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mann's Hockey Stick Verified by Climate Skeptics

Apparently Robert Mueller, a quasi-critic of the climate science community, attempted to independently confirm average global temperature history. He did so with the backing of well known climate science deniers. His results were published recently and to the chagrin of the denialists his findings confirmed what the non-conspiracy theorists have long known. A rapid increase in global temperature since 1950. A video overview below.

So the focus of science denial really needs to move at this point. There's now really no denying that the change is occurring and it is relatively rapid. I suppose they'll need to emphasize other claims. Either it's not man made or it's just not a big deal.

Occupy Wall St with Bob Dutko

It's been a while since I bugged Dutko, so I gave him a call Friday. I listen to him a bit and it's the same nonsense you hear all the time regarding OWS. These people are just jealous of the success of others. Why don't they protest Hollywood celebrities? Why don't they get mad at Obama? Here's the downloadable link or listen below.

It was a fun call. It was kind of spur of the moment once again, so I didn't prepare a lot. I was hoping I wouldn't be the first caller so I could think about what I wanted to say during commercial, but I was the first, so I just had to go. So there's a bit of hesitation from me at some points. But it went well anyway.

Here's an annoying part. Bob says "Why don't they protest in Washington? That's the real problem." I said that they are in Washington. He says "But not at the White House." I say who cares. They are there. That's the point. So he chuckles like that's absurd. Turns out, there at McPherson Square and Liberty Plaza, which is just about as close to the White House as you can get with a crowd like that situated permanently. What the heck does he want? I really think he just makes it up as he goes along and really has no idea what the facts are. And since I didn't happen to know where they were located while I was on the phone nobody is the wiser.

Fortunately we at least have the internet where a record of the lies can be stored. It's not much, but better than nothing.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Why They Protest

You have to wonder sometimes of these right wingers actually believe what they say or if in fact they are cynics telling what they know to be lies in service to power and privilege. For Mark Perry by OWS logic protestors should object because the average Texas Ranger salary is a mere $3 million and should be more. They should be mad at Michael Moore because he's rich. They should protest in Washington DC because it has the highest per capita income.

I think the real objections should be obvious, but if you don't think so read Taibbi and/or Greenwald for a description. The problem is not that some are rich. It's that some get rich by cheating and breaking the law and yet the law doesn't apply to them because they buy influence in Washington. What lawbreaking? Read this article from Taibbi.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ted Talk on the Effects of Inequality

Milton Friedman believed that his form of economic freedom would lead to greater prosperity, and if it lead to greater inequality he would regard that as acceptable. Watch this fascinating Ted talk on the effects of inequality. Not only is it bad for the poor in the unequal societies. Even the rich within those unequal societies suffer. Rich in unequal societies suffer more as measured by these social indicators than less rich people in more equal societies.

Northern Lights in Michigan

As luck would have it I was in wide open farm country, and happened to walk outside about 9:30 or 10, only to look up in the sky and see what was below. I've watched the northern lights once in the past, but never saw the red. It was brighter then I had seen it before. The whole family was with me so we all got to enjoy. Take a look.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Some Links on Anarchism

It may sound bizarre, but it's interesting to note that many of the world's top intellectuals are anarchists. These include Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn (see here). This has prompted me to look into it a tiny bit. I watched a series of YouTube clips called Anarchism 101 that is here. It introduces the concept and addresses common objections. Seems very reasonable to me. There are different strands, including anarcho capitalism and anarcho syndicalism. The former is regarded as a contradiction in terms by it's critics (see here) and is criticized in the Anarchism 101 series. Chomsky and Zinn regard themselves as anarcho syndicalists.

Which societies have adopted anarchism? According to my first wiki link some Native American societies would qualify, if imperfectly. David Friedman asks whether the Amish are anarchists here and concludes that they are. For a brief period Spain was anarchic (see here). Monty Python's annoying peasant was an anarcho syndicalist (see here). A city in Hong Kong was regarded by some as anarcho capitalist and there's a German documentary on it starting here. It has since been demolished. Noam Chomsky criticizes anarcho capitalism and discusses liberterianism here.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Is Arson a Good Economic Policy?

Alan Greenspan says that what the government should have done in response to the housing bubble is buy up a bunch of houses and burn them to the ground. Watch him here.

Greenspan was among Ayn Rand's inner circle. Here's a photo of the two of them along with Gerald Ford. But what he's advocating sounds more like Keynsian stimulus. It sounds like something you might here from a liberal. In this YouTube clip Paul Krugman makes the claim that from an economic perspective the attacks on the World Trade Centers were actually good for the economy. The video describes what is known as the Broken Window Fallacy. Sure, breaking stuff puts people to work. But now the owner of the window can't spend his money on other things. He might have bought a suit. Now he can't afford it. Buying a suit puts people to work too. And if the window hadn't been broken people would have been put to work AND he'd have a suit. That would have been better.

Fair enough. But what if the owner was so rich that he could afford both to buy a suit and to fix the window. Does breaking the window mean we actually get to enjoy more economic growth? It seems to me that we do.

Conservatives are generally very much prone to ridiculing this view. Recently University of Maryland economist Peter Morici said something similar regarding hurricane Irene. In reply Mark Perry points to Don Boudreaux, economist at George Mason University in what he calls a brilliant economic smackdown. Here's Boudreaux:
I hereby offer my services to you, at a modest wage, to destroy your house and your car. Act now, and I’ll throw in at no extra charge destruction of all of your clothing, furniture, computer hardware and software, and large and small household appliances.
Hardy har har. Seems Morici's point is kind of silly. I guess he wants us to destroy stuff.

Morici says that destruction does produce economic growth. That is it does lead to an increase in GDP. It comes at the cost of wealth. Wealth is destroyed. Economic growth occurs. Isn't that true? Seems it is. Then comes Boudreaux's fallacy. I guess Morici wants to destroy things.

No, he doesn't. But that doesn't change the facts. Destruction can lead to economic growth. Particularly when present resources are underutilized, as they obviously are in our economy today.

Isn't it true that WWII ended the Great Depression? The government created the demand for tanks, bombs, and planes. So everyone went to work creating them. Unemployment fell through the floor. GDP went up. And the stuff that was created was just destroyed. It does produce economic growth.

That doesn't make it wise. Why not rather create demand for things that are useful and won't be destroyed? Build bridges and schools. Fund research that can lead to improvements for all, like renewable energy and medical research. Rather than send people to war, why not send them off to provide medical care for the poor? That can stimulate the economy as much as war and destruction can.

Better still why not contrive an economic arrangement that doesn't demand escalating consumption, as ours does? Our system does in fact incentivize destruction. Hardware engineers and SW developers will tell you that really phones don't have to be designed such that they are obsolete so quickly. I-pod accessories don't have to be designed so that they are incompatible with future models. But they are. Computers really could be designed so they are easily upgradable instead of discarded. But that's not in the interest of short term profit.

But back to the system we have. We're not in favor of destruction. We prefer a better use of resources. But in an economy where wealth is concentrated in the hands of few and resources are underutilized, would breaking the windows in mansions produce economic growth? It seems to me that it would would.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Milton Friedman on Donahue

As much as I would disagree with Milton Friedman, you have to be impressed with his ability to argue and his fun demeanor. He completely stymies the liberal Phil Donahue in this 1979 interview. His influence is probably partly due to the fact that his arguments are very useful to business and concentrated power, but also due to the fact that he is quite persuasive. It seems to me looking at the audience that he is reaching them.

Krugman in 2006 on Housing Bubble

I think it's useful to just go back in time and see what one side was saying and what the other side was saying prior to the economic downturn. Who understands things and who doesn't? I've talked about Mark Perry from the right wing American Enterprise Institute. Take a look at what Krugman had to say in 2006. Who knows their stuff and who doesn't?

Krugman has been criticized because in 2002 he recommended policies that would create a housing bubble in order to get us out of that recession. Basically it was some Keynsian stimulus for a slumping economy. It worked temporarily and blew up in our faces in 2008. But sometimes people don't know that in 2005 Krugman saw that as well. He said sure, the bubble was necessary. It was implemented and it worked. But at this point it's gone on too long and must be scaled back. So he seems to have understood what was going on.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Far We've Come

I was at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry a couple of years back and my kids enjoyed climbing into a big tractor. There was a scene before them that made it appear they were farming their field. Some buttons to push. Interactive sounds. It was fun. In fact the whole museum was great.

Had my kids gone in 1968 they might have found a different interactive exhibit. Read an article from Time about it here. It's a Huey helicopter aimed at Vietnamese huts. The kids would fire the machine gun at the huts and enjoy the sound of machine gun fire. When they hit the huts light bulbs would glow to let you know you've scored a direct hit.

When JFK sent B-52's to carpet bomb South Vietnam in 1962 most Americans really didn't mind. Contrary to perceptions today in fact Walter Cronkite was as much of a cheerleader as the rest of the mainstream media. To protest was to take your life in your hands. That's the kind of backdrop that produced this exhibit. But what the Pentagon hadn't yet realized is that the activism and protests of the 60's had changed public perceptions. By 1968 things were starting to change. Groups such as Vietnam Veterans for Peace angrily resisted and the museum was forced to close the exhibit.

It seems to me that it used to be much easier to inflict massive death. JFK's massive bombing campaigns were not only tolerated, they could be celebrated. Games for children could be created to glorify them. That seems unimaginable today. It is unfortunate that our government still is killing a lot of people. But they can't do it quite as openly. It can't be celebrated publicly. So the young people that go off to war haven't been indoctrinated to the same degree, which means likely they will be less indifferent to gratuitous violence. That means less death. Violence is pervasive, but it could have been worse. It isn't thanks to 60's activism.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Too Smart For The Job

You may have heard how Bill O'Reilly thought that the tides proved the existence of God because they cannot be explained. What you may not know is that when his listeners wrote in and explained that the tides are caused by the moon, not God, O'Reilly, rather than admitting he was perhaps out of line, instead compounded his error by just moving on to what he thought was the next unexplainable thing. "So how'd the moon get there? How'd the sun get there." Pretty wild. Watch here.

This guy has the top rated cable news show in America. One might think that this is strange. You might expect that the top rated cable news show would be headed by someone that isn't so ignorant. But I don't think we should be surprised.

Corporate sponsored media is naturally going to prefer that certain stories, even if they are important and even if the public would want to hear about them, will not be discussed. You'd have to be a real cynic to know of the stories and intentionally focus on irrelevant tripe in order to distract the masses. That's not easy. It's also not going to work to have producers tell hosts what stories they can cover. You can't go up to O'Reilly and say "Don't tell viewers that the Taliban repeatedly offered to hand over Osama bin Laden. That would make war less likely and we want war." O'Reilly would be indignant and would probably talk about the Taliban's offers under those conditions. O'Reilly sits where he does because he demonstrated that he's the kind of person that doesn't talk about the wrong kinds of stories. He has the critical blind spots. People like that are more likely to have other, non-critical blind spots. Sometimes those can be embarrassing, but it's worth it.

I call Bob Dutko and it's constantly a matter of making him aware of critical things. He has a real problem with terrorism, especially the 9-11 terrorism that killed 3,000 people. What about the terrorism in Nicaragua that killed 40,000? He's vaguely familiar with it. What about the fact that single payer health care has been supported by the public by overwhelming majorities for decades? Can't be true. He's never heard of OBL's letter to America where he spells out the motivations for his attack.

I think the same is often true of major corporate sponsored media. Terrorism against Cuba? Never heard of it. Afghan convoy of death? Never heard of it. COINTELPRO? Never heard of it. Oil spills in Nigeria or the Amazon? Never heard of it. Nurse Nasiriyah? Never heard of her. Saddam's peaceful withdrawal offers in 1990? Never heard of them. Iran's full cooperation on nuclear weapons offer? Never heard of it. Well yeah you've never heard of it. If you had your chances of working here wouldn't be so good.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Real Unemployment Rate

A often see the claim that the unemployment rate is misleading for a few reasons. First, it doesn't count people as unemployed if they are discouraged and quit looking for a job. Second, it doesn't count those that are just entering the work force but are unable to find employment as unemployed. If you graduate from high school and are just living with your parents unable to find work I don't think you are regarded as unemployed.

For that reason it may be better to consider the Employee Population ratio. You can get the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics here. I'm contrasting that with the unemployment rate, which is available here.

These generally should be expected to move in opposite directions, as they usually do. The decline in the ratio leveled off in mid 2009 and is mostly flat since then. Possibly a slightly further decline. The unemployment rate has just slightly declined as well since then. So these are now moving in the same direction, which is unexpected if the unemployment rate accurately reflects real unemployment (and by real I mean the actual number of people that really would like to be able to work but can't find work).

Here's another point to consider. When you have a large collapse in stock market values you expect that more of the elderly put off retirement and continue to work. Under those conditions just to keep unemployment rates level the employee/population ratio should rise. It's not rising. Yet more elderly are continuing to work. This means that the economy is not creating the number of jobs needed to employee the young people entering the work force. And yet we don't see the unemployment rate rising.

That says to me that the grim realities are being masked. Unemployment is worse than what the official rate indicates.

Friday, October 7, 2011

In Praise of Flip Flopping

Being wrong is one thing. I can't begrudge people of that. I've been colossally wrong. In fact I don't agree with everything I've written on this blog.

Suppose you advocated the invasion of Iraq based on fear of WMD and claims that the process would be easy. Also it would be welcomed by Iraqis. Suppose you advocated tax cuts and deregulated finance thinking that this was the best way to manage economic risk and improve the economic situation generally. How can people not look at the catastrophic failure that was our invasion of Iraq, or the catastrophic failure that was the 2008 economic collapse, and not at least modify some of their opinions? And how can they treat the very people that lead us to these catastrophes as if they continue to be good sources of insight? Take a look at some of Bill Kristol's economic insights prior to the economic collapse:
After the bursting of the dot-com bubble, followed by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we've had more than five years of steady growth, low unemployment and a stock market recovery. Did this just happen? No. Bush pushed through the tax cuts of 2001 and especially 2003 by arguing that they would produce growth. His opponents predicted dire consequences. But the president was overwhelmingly right. Even the budget deficit, the most universally criticized consequence of the tax cuts, is coming down and is lower than it was when the 2003 supply-side tax cuts were passed.
His insights on foreign policy are similarly absurd in hindsight. But he's still treated with respect despite advocating policies, which were implemented thanks to his persuasive power, that have undoubtedly been so destructive.

I shared his views on the war and on Bush's tax policies. Following the collapse it was clear to me that I had been mistaken to trust people like Kristol, so I worked to try and make better sense of the data. Maybe Ron Paul understood the situation. I thought that for a while. Ron Paul expects things like runaway inflation. Seemed plausible.

Well, that's now also been put to the test. And as Paul Krugman explains here it seems pretty clear that Ron Paul is wrong. Maybe Krugman is right. Maybe the Keynsians are better at explaining things. That's what I tend to think now.

I might be wrong. I'm doing the best I can. I've been criticized for flip flopping. OK, maybe I do. But better to be a flip flopper than to be a person who's opinions are never shaken no matter what the evidence.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Looming Retirement Crisis

I'm certainly sympathetic to right wing claims about personal responsibility. So much of the difficulties people have in this life are a product of their own bad choices. At least in America. You do have the opportunities here that people in most other countries don't get. So supposing you don't take advantage of those. Should others be obligated to bail you out?

Let's take an issue like pensions vs 401k plans. When 401k's were introduced right wingers loved them because they allow people more freedom. A pension is in effect a forced savings plan. Part of your compensation is saved on your behalf. With a 401k you can decide to save that money or not. Suppose you have a financial need in your younger years and you choose to forego savings for some period of time. A 401k allows you the freedom to make that choice. Also the pension funds are invested for you. You don't have the freedom to choose the investments you prefer. In a 401k you do.

Freedom is great. But sometimes the freedom of others affects you. You might not think that the bad choices of others in this sphere would matter to you. But it seems to me that there's a good chance they will.

What have people done with this freedom they now have to save for their own retirement? What they've done is failed to save. To me the paltry savings of Americans is shocking. According to one poll 36% of Americans don't contribute to a savings plan of any kind. 43% have less than $10K saved for retirement, including 29% of those over the age of 55.

And just anecdotal in my world it seems obvious that retirement for people near my age is going to be a catastrophe. I know people that have been laid off. Their savings, which in some cases was not huge to begin with, has taken a massive hit. When you have been forced to contribute to a pension it doesn't matter if you've peen laid off. You can't touch the pension money. People with 401k's can and do. And they of course must pay the corresponding tax penalties.

I hear this again and again. "We're not planning to retire." You can plan to work all you want. But this doesn't mean an employer plans to hire you. I happen to know a guy that recruits technical people, like engineers. He tells me straight out that age discrimination may be illegal, but it is an indisputable part of the corporate world. He can hardly place people in their upper 50's. It's not that elderly people are incapable of doing the job. It's more that elderly people are more expensive. They have health problems. Why hire a 55 year old when you can hire a 25 year old? So you can want to work all you want, but you can't count on working at a job that has any interest in providing health coverage.

Screw 'em, says the right winger. They made the choice to spend their savings or they failed to invest. That's their problem. Well, it may be yours. Again, take a look at what people have. People between the ages of 55 and 65 have an AVERAGE accumulated savings of $69K. And remember that averages are skewed by the few wealthy on the very upper echelons of society. The median (which is the value that reflects the amount at which there is as many above as below) will be lower than $69K, possibly much lower. You'd have to stretch $69K to even provide 2 years of retirement.

With an extremely paltry amount saved, do you not think there will be consequences for you even if you did save? We're talking not just about a LOT of people without adequate funds in their old age. We're talking about the VAST MAJORITY of people. You could have streets packed with elderly homeless people, all clamoring for jobs that offer no benefits, like at Wal-Mart. Whether you like it or not this extreme level of inequality is going to produce social upheaval. And if you've saved your whole life it may not matter. You'll lose much of what you've saved as society crumbles.

The plus side is that we do have Social Security. As I've mentioned before, as a savings plan it's not good. But thinking it through I think it's important to focus on the fact that this is not what it is intended to be. It is intended to prevent the many multitudes that have made those poor choices from starving at the very least. So that's our saving grace. If Republicans don't destroy it.

To me though this whole thing is a catastrophe. Today's elderly probably mostly have pensions. It's not terrible right now. But as the years pass and more and more retire that lack a pension we could start to see a lot more crushing poverty. That's bad for the poor and the rich.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The So Called Liberal Media - Tom Braden

We all know the CNN show "Crossfire". You got one guy from the right and another from the left. When the show started the person on the right was Pat Buchanan. We all know Pat Buchanan and there's little debate about his right wing credentials. Take a look at this guy they put in to stand for the left. Tom Braden. Who was Tom Braden? Not a very well known guy. What were his left wing credentials?

Tom Braden was apparently an ex-CIA operative. He cut his teeth during the Cold War infiltrating trade unions in efforts to undermine Soviet influence. He worked to undermine strike efforts in Italy, using CIA money to pay people to work as scabs. He was involved in a series of CIA front groups and bribes involving journalists.

The left wing journal "Ramparts" was set to publish some of the details of these CIA activities attempting to undermine democracy in Europe and so the CIA unleashed a series of dirty tricks in order to prevent publication. "Ramparts" published anyway, and in response Tom Braden wrote an article for "The Saturday Evening Post". It was called I'm Glad the CIA is Immoral.

With credentials like that he qualifies as a so called liberal in mainstream media.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Due Process Free Kill Orders

Some thoughts from the ACLU on the due process free execution of an American citizen in a non-battle zone.