Friday, December 30, 2011

How Iceland Recovered

An interview with the President of Iceland on CBC is here. The interview starts at about the 9 minute mark. Iceland did precisely the opposite of what prevailing economic orthodoxy recommends. They allowed the banks to fail, allowed their currency to devalue, rejected austerity, expanded social services, didn't concern themselves with balancing the budget. Basically anti-Republicanism. Where Republican policies remain in force in Europe economic downturn remains.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Four Key Gulf War I Stories

I was talking with a colleague about Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and I realized that there are certain critical facts that are just unknown to most Americans about this war. I talk with people all the time and almost nobody knows anything about this until I tell them.

1-Just prior to the invasion the US Ambassador to Iraq gave Saddam an effective green light to invade. April Glaspie (shown meeting Saddam to the right) questioned Saddam regarding the troops he was amassing at the border. It was well known that Saddam regarded the border as illegetimate. It blocks his access to the sea and deprives him of certain oil rich regions. It was intended to prevent one state from having too much power in his view. Following the Iran/Iraq War, which Saddam probably entered at the behest of the US, the treasury was drained and he thought he could resolve this by eliminating the border and conquering Kuwait. After questioning Saddam about the troops Glaspie informed him that the US has no position on Arab-Arab conflicts and Secretary Baker asked her to emphasize this instruction. This was probably taken by Saddam as tacit permission to invade.

2-Public opinion in the US was not strongly in favor of US involvement in a war. The President was seeking Congressional approval and it wasn't obvious that he would get it. Then came testimony from a Kuwaiti girl that claimed Iraqi soldiers were removing sick babies from their incubators at Kuwaiti hospitals and the result was the death of these babies. George Bush would repeat this story multiple times to achieve maximum exposure in the media. Seven Senators cited this testimony in their speeches explaining their ultimate support for the war effort, which passed by a mere 5 votes. After the war was over some facts started to emerge. The girl was the daughter of the Kuwait ambassador to the US. She had been coached in her presentation and possibly in her testimony by the PR firm Hill & Knowlton, a group that in the past had worked for the tobacco industry attempting to convince people that there were no verfiable links between smoking and lung cancer. The story is a concocted fraud.

3-Prior to the initiation of hostilities with the US, Iraq repeatedly offered peaceful withdrawal proposals. Those offers were ignored, both by the US government and the major media.

4-In an effort to help remove Saddam from Kuwait President Bush called on the Shiites in Iraq to rise up and rebel against the dictator. So they did. And when Saddam withdrew from Kuwait Bush then assisted Saddam's efforts to crush the rebellion because he preferred that Saddam remain in power. The result was the death of 300,000 people. The mass graves were discovered after the 2003 invasion.

I believe these are 4 of the key facts everyone that wants to understand this war should know. And in the US most Americans know of none of them. It's the kind of event that left these Chinese students perplexed when they visited the US in 1979. What they really wanted to understand was how the party secretary of New York controls the NY Times. When they are told that no party controls the NY Times they were incredulous and confused.

Propaganda in the US is much more sophisticated than control by force or on command. And quite a bit more effective.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is Peter Schiff a Parasite?

Peter Schiff is one of Ron Paul's economic advisers, and I've been listening to his radio show lately. On his December 22 show he talked about an appearance he'd made on Cenk Uygur's show. He was ultimately cut off by Cenk. On his radio show he explains that he was having trouble with his ear piece, so he didn't realize Cenk was trying to break in. Cenk probably thought Peter was ignoring him so he cut him off. More of a misunderstanding than anything.

On the show Peter was essentially defending the 1%. They create the jobs, they write the checks, they pay the taxes. He read an email from someone that saw him on Cenk's show and the email called him a parasite. Peter laughs and says no, the writer has it backwards. He's the host. He's paying all the taxes. Do the poor want him to leave? If so who's going to pay for the welfare that all the poor people want? Who's going to employ everyone? You are sucking off his tit. He's not sucking off yours.

I was thinking about how I would react to Peter as I listened and I was a bit stymied. I had to think about it. This is the value of listening to those I disagree with. Something's not right about what he's saying, but formulating that into words takes effort. Putting myself through that effort is a good thing because I think it prepares me to explain it to those that might want to know.

In a capitalist system there are two ways to make money. You can work and get paid a salary. Or you can own a business. If you are paid a salary you aren't a parasite. You are compensated for what you are doing. And if you own a business you aren't necessarily a parasite. Suppose you work really hard to create a business that provides a product people value. Let's just use a janitorial service as an example. Someone is willing to pay you to clean their home or building. That's not parasitic.

Let's suppose your business expands and you can employee one person. You delegate this person to do 75% of the cleaning. You are the owner and you do 25% of the cleaning and also run the books, try to find new business, etc. Your employee is better off having the job opportunity. And you are providing a service to consumers. That's all fine. But there is just a tiny bit of a parasitical relationship here. Your employee is obviously doing something productive and your company gets a check for it. You take a portion of that check and pay him a salary. You keep the rest. That's fine. There's nothing wrong with it. You took a risk and started a business, made an employee better off, provided a service for your customers. I don't think anybody has a big problem with this arrangement. But the work he does provides more value then the amount of compensation he is given. If it didn't he wouldn't have been hired.

As this arrangement continues and the business expands that parasitical arrangement becomes more and more pronounced. Maybe a right winger would still not object if the owner had expanded to 1000 employees, including management that permits the owner to do nothing at all, including dealing with books, advertising, and marketing. The owner just stays home, pays salaries with revenue generated, and then retains the surplus revenue. You can call that good or bad. Maybe that's his just reward for taking that initial risk. But it is parasitical. Right now the productive efforts are entirely the work of others and he collects the money.

And let's take it a step further. Let's suppose we're not dealing with a person that worked hard in starting a business. Let's suppose a man has $1 million for whatever reason. Maybe he inherited it. Maybe he won a lottery. Maybe he stole it. He decides one day he's going to start a janitorial service, but he isn't going to do any work. He's going to pay someone a salary to initiate it. This person needs to hire workers, manage the books, and perhaps do some cleaning if necessary. Let's suppose this service succeeds. The owner doesn't do anything productive. He wrote an initial check, and that was it. Now he sits back. The service employs 350 people. It generates $1 million/month in revenue. With that revenue he pays his employees an average of $1500/month, or $18K/yr. The balance is $475K/mo. He spends $100K/mo on materials/tools, etc. He retains $375K/mo. He never breaks a sweat. He does pretty much nothing except writing checks (most check writing is delegated to someone else, but he writes the one check to the manager). He is in fact generating his revenue based on the sweat of others. He is a parasite.

This is really close to what Peter Schiff is. Peter Schiff runs an investment firm. He makes money from owning things. Suppose he just buys all the stock in this janitorial service. His income could be in the form of dividends. Payouts based on the profit of the company. If he owns all the stock he gets the $375K/mo.

If you think Schiff is contributing to the service, consider what would happen if the employees were to decide that they simply weren't going to respect the ownership title that he waves in their face. Suppose they said sure, you own the brand and you own the mops. But we don't care. We're going to use them to clean buildings, and we're going to take the revenue and distribute it amongst the workers as well as keep the business running. Would the work cease? Would it no longer be possible to clean the buildings? No. Work would go on as before. We don't need Peter Schiff to clean the buildings and make a good living. He's doing nothing but collecting the revenue that is generated due to the work we do.

Where I work the janitorial service has been outsourced, perhaps with a company like Peter would own. They drive up in their rickety cars. They try to hide their smiles so we don't see their crooked teeth. I've befriended one lady. Her name is Kathy. She goes to work at her first job at the shock absorber plant and works about 10 hours. Then she comes in to our office building and puts in another 3 or 4. She works in our office 5 days a week and at the plant 6 or 7. But that's not enough for her to afford a home, so she lives with her brother. Yeah, she drinks and smokes. Not wise. But it's a tough life and it's hard to cope. She really could use some health care coverage. She obviously can't afford it.

Peter Schiff says we should be grateful to him because he pays all the taxes. He takes his $350K/mo or whatever it is he makes which comes from the productive efforts of people like Kathy and he's outraged that he's expected to pay taxes. "Do you want all us rich people to leave?" he asks.

I say sure, let him go, but with a caveat. If he doesn't stay we aren't going to send him the surplus revenue generated by the janitorial service. We aren't going to respect the piece of paper that says he owns it. He doesn't do anything that is needed for productive output. He doesn't really contribute. He wouldn't even be paid in the first place if people didn't respect his property rights.

This is of course not how all the rich became rich. Many of the rich did it the way the hypothetical man that started the janitorial service in my example did. Everyone respects that. Everybody knows that in cases like this, where a person is taking a lot of risk and working really hard, harder then most others, that this guy should be rich. That is just and good for the economy. But that's just not what has been going on in the US over the last 30 years. Those that are getting rich these days are overwhelmingly hedge fund managers and CEO's. The belief that people like this are actually compensated due to their productive value is highly dubious, and certainly not necessarily true.

The janitors, factory workers, tomato pickers, and garbage men aren't parasites, leeching off the benevolent capitalist that owns Waste Management and gave the garbage man a job as a gift. The garbage man is keeping only a portion of his productive effort and giving the rest to the stock holder, who for all we know is sitting in a mansion doing absolutely nothing. Schiff says the worker is the parasite and the rich man sipping piƱa coladas by the pool is the host. That's twisted and wrong.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Massacre in Kazakhstan

It's a full on war on unions in Kazakhstan. An overview at Naked Capitalism here. It's mostly ignored in the US as is our own bloody labor history. Some Johnny Cash in memory of the murdered Kazakhs.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Immorality and Failure of Austerity

There's nothing new about austerity. It's a program of lower deficit spending, reduced government expenditure, and debt reduction. This is a part of a program that goes by another name. Neoliberalism. Neoliberalism came to be associated with policies dubbed the Washington Consensus.

It's been tried in many places. In the 80's countries in Latin America attempted to install governments that expanded social spending, income redistribution and the like. Basically the opposite of austerity. The response was a terrorist war and imposition of thuggish governments that did in fact impose the Washington Consensus. In Haiti the people attempted to install Aristide. Once again he advocated progressive economic policies. He was ousted and replaced by a World Bank official that retained the austerity type programs. The failure of these methods is obvious.

But let's suppose you're not a history buff and you're unaware of this. That's fine. Take a look at the places where austerity has been implemented since the turn of the century in Europe. It's places like Ireland, Spain, Italy, and Greece. How have they performed since their austerity measures? About as bad as could possibly be conceived.

Not every country has gone that path. Take Iceland. The movie "Inside Job" used Iceland as it's initial focal point. The reason is because it was just that bad. The failure was so big that a bank bail out wasn't even an option. So they had no choice but to tell creditors to take a hike. They in fact expanded the social safety net. Once again the opposite of austerity. They're one of the few European nations doing rather well.

Precisely the same thing happened in Argentina. In 2001 they defaulted on debt. Rather than bailing out the banks (rewarding the rich) and repaying that by punishing the poor (implementing cuts in social services) they did the opposite. Screw the creditors. Expand the welfare state. The result? An economy that is growing like gangbusters.

What else would you expect? Impose Haitian and Latin American economic models on countries and those countries go straight down the crapper just like Haiti and countries in Latin America did. It doesn't work. We've known it doesn't work for decades. We're learning again as we watch even 1st world nations now falter.

But it's not just that it doesn't work. It's unjust. It's a reward to the rich for their abuse paid for by the poor. Mark Blyth, professor at Brown University explains why.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Why I Abandoned Ron Paul

You have to respect Ron Paul in that he is principled. A key moral principle is that if an action is wrong for others it's wrong for us. Ron Paul understands that and so he recognizes that various US invasions on the basis of perceived threats are wrong. He talks about the enormous human costs of our invasions. He asks us to think about how we'd feel if it was done to us.

I had a big Ron Paul sign in my yard in 2008. Still have the sign in fact. But I won't be putting it up this time. As much as I respect him and agree with him on many issues, he's just wrong economically.

Paul Krugman has been noting this recently. Paul's models have simply failed. People of the Austrian school of economics made some really bold predictions. They've just been dead wrong. That matters.

Today Paul Krugman has some similar erroneous claims from Peter Schiff from back in 2009. Schiff is a huge Ron Paul fan. I was likewise a fan of Schiff. I knew about how he was predicting a crash and being called a moron for it. Watch how accurate he is compared to Ben Stein. So yeah, he looked to be someone that understood what was going on. But even in that popular video you can see hints of how he's wrong. He's expecting a dollar crash. That hasn't happened.

On the other hand when you look to Krugman you see that he likewise saw the downturn coming due to the housing bubble and additionally let it be known that he expected the dollar to be strong. He also expected the downturn to be prolonged because there was on net no stimulus (you hear that Obama passed stimulus, but this wasn't enough to offset reductions in state revenue, hence no stimulus on net).

On a similar note, here's an interesting article regarding Friedrich Hayek. Similarly wrong about the Great Depression like Paul and Schiff are now.

Goodbye Fifth Ammendment

Congressional approval levels are at record lows. 9% approval. Lower than porn, polygamy, and the BP oil spill. That's still enough clout to pass through an outrageous dismantling of our Constitution. It used to be that if our government wanted to put you in prison for a long time they had to charge you with a crime and convict you. Then sentence you. You had the opportunity to prove that you were innocent. Bush violated that and so did Obama, but at least we knew that they were breaking the law. Sure, the law doesn't apply to them because they are rich and powerful, but perhaps they hesitate a bit to break the law.

No longer. Soon it will be legal for them to act in this way. A discussion with Cenk Uygur and Glenn Greenwald below.

Was Fox News Always This Bad?

I used to watch and like Fox News, but don't like or watch much anymore. I get news online. But when you're at the gym on the tread mill and there are 10 screens I usually decide that Fox is the most interesting, so I watch it sometimes. I can hardly believe how deceptive they are or that I used to watch them unaware of this.

A while back I watched Hannity interview Dick Cheney. The transcript is here. Here's Hannity supposedly doing an interview and they are talking about the Plame/Wilson affair. Plame's identity was leaked and this was possibly a crime. Hannity first points out that the prosecutor knew at the beginning that the source of the leak for Novak was Amitage. And yet the prosecutor went after Libby anyway. That's supposedly outrageous. Why does he go after so many other innocent people, like Libby? "Doesn't this make you mad?" Hannity asks?

Hannity betrays that he knows certain details about this event that suggest he must know that this is grossly misleading. I explained the details here, but in summary yes, Armitage was Novak's source. But Plame's name was leaked to multiple reporters by multiple people, including Libby and Rove, and that would be just as much of a crime as what Armitage did. It doesn't matter that only Novak published the information. This info was leaked in a coordinated effort coming from the Vice President's office. Fitzgerald was attempting to determine the facts and decide if a crime had occurred as part of a coordinated leak. Libby concocted a story to throw Fitzgerald off the trail. That's a crime for which he was properly convicted. Come on, Sean. You must know this stuff.

Then last night was the Fox Republican Presidential debates. Gingrich apparently took $1.6 million from Fannie and Freddie as a "paid consultant." Yeah right. He's selling influence. According to Bachmann it's doubly bad because Freddie and Fannie were at the center of the financial collapse.

Gingrich should respond by saying no they aren't. Every independent study has shown that they are not responsible. In fact if anything they relieved some pressure because they did have higher mortgage standards due to government oversight, so they issued fewer loans that defaulted. Gingrich must know that. But his response assumes the Bachmann caricature is right and everybody else played along. He has to sustain right wing caricatures because that's what his financial backers demand. And presumably tea party Republicans believe these lies. So they all have to pretend that up is down in order to pander.

Bachmann also claimed that Iran was months away from getting a nuke "according to the IAEA." No. That's just not what the IAEA report said. Nor do we really have good reason to think he wants to wipe Israel off the map. This is out of this world nonsense which passes unchallenged or is defended by the Fox moderators. Fortunately Ron Paul corrected Bachmann in this case, but later Hannity would interview Paul and peddle the same nonsense. They are so aggressively misleading it's strange that they are taken as seriously as they are.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stephen Schneider: Science and Distortion

A really well done video on climate change and disinformation. Via Peter Sinclair.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How Much is Spent on Welfare?

Reading some right wingers one might think that the source of all economic problems is black welfare queens having baby after baby in an effort to extract tons of federal welfare dollars so they can live in mansions and drive Cadillacs. OK, maybe that's a bit of an exaggerated description of right wing thinking, but it captures the sentiment.

The actual poor are nothing but the whipping boy. The total amount spent on welfare for the poor is not large. There's a nice break down here. People conflate welfare for the poor with other forms of welfare, like Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment. The latter are in fact programs that you must pay into in order to receive generally speaking. They aren't targeted to poor people. When you set all that aside and actually look at outlays to the kind of people the right wing have in mind it's not much. 6.4% of the federal budget.

How much is defense? There are different ways of measuring it, but the standard claim is that it's about 20% of the federal budget. And what kind of value does this bring? It's kind of a bad joke. Is there an entity that actually represents a threat to our nation's security? Even with 9-11 the fact is that the threat of terrorism is miniscule, as this interesting report from Cato makes clear.

This kind of expenditure is pure corporate welfare. Our military endeavors certainly enhance the threat of terrorism in this country. Our wars are counterproductive. We knew they would be before we embarked on them and we now know that in fact they have enhanced the threat of terrorism. We'd be better off giving defense contractors the money, but just dropping bombs in our own deserts. Our military adventures overseas are the root cause of Islamic terrorism.

So if you want to blame our economic problems on welfare why not first blame the much larger and much more counter productive corporate welfare that is our military industrial complex. Instead the right wants to blame the much smaller amount of welfare that actually helps poor single mothers.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bill Ayers was a Vandal, not a Terrorist

For some reason the right wing is ratcheting up the Bill Ayers rhetoric lately. During 2008 Sarah Palin accused Obama of "paling around with terrorists". The right wing is restating the charge now. I saw Sean Hannity going nuts on it again last night. Dutko's talking about it. I wonder if these people really know what Bill Ayers did.

There's a decent documentary available at Netflix on the Weather Underground. It gives the details of what they did and why. I'd like to record a brief summary. First some historical context.

In 1962 JFK sent the Air Force to bomb South Vietnam. When you carpet bomb a country in this way (tens of thousands of bombing runs occurred in 1962) you recognize that civilians will pay a heavy price. This is pretty unambiguously terrorism and an extreme moral outrage if there ever was one.

Opposition movements in the US were slow to emerge. In fact the anti-war movement in the US was tiny and faced enormous hostility. Noam Chomsky says that prior to 1966 if he were giving a talk against the war even in a liberal city like Boston he'd be taking his life in his hands. Later the protest movement was larger. But the incredible death and destruction imposed didn't seem to be slowing.

This is what lead to the Weather Underground, which formed in 1969. By now the enormous US backed terror campaign was rising to the fore of the American consciousness. The My Lai massacre had occurred. It wasn't particularly unique, except in two respects. A Life Magazine photographer happened to be there. And after the Tet Offensive the business community started to turn against the war, which made it more likely for events like this to be discussed in the major media. Various pictures were taken, including the one to the left. In this case the photographer asked the soldiers to pause just a sec so he could get this shot. They obliged. They gave him a moment so he could get his picture. Then they immediately gunned them all down.

This is an enormous evil and it's occurring on a large scale. Don't think the image to the left reflects an isolated incident.

Members of the Weather Underground decided that the war needed to be brought home to bring pressure to end this. But here's the key. They DID NOT want to kill anybody. They initially planned an event that would have killed people, but in the process of creating the bombs there was an accident. The only people killed were members of the WU. After that they realized that trying to kill people was a mistake. They decided instead to destroy some property.

There modus operandi was as follows. Plant a bomb in a federal building. Time it to go off at midnight when nobody was present. Phone it in to the police so everyone would know it was coming. This would minimize the chances that anybody would be injured or killed. Hope that the prospect of property damage helped end the war or other acts of violence perpetuated by the US government.

They engaged in property damage in reaction to other acts of US violence besides Vietnam. For instance in 1973 the Nixon administration helped bring about a coup in Chile that installed a military dictator and terror state. Concentration camps were built to torture and murder thousands of people. The WU responded with some property destruction.

One can object to Bill Ayers methods, but unless I'm unaware of what the WU did I don't see how it can be called terrorism. And what he was reacting to is unambiguously terrorism. Yet that terrorism is not just ignored. It's actually celebrated by a lot of the same people that now criticize Obama for "paling around with terrorists."

Bill Ayers engaged in property destruction. JFK, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan engaged in a level of terrorism that Osama bin Laden could only dream of. Shouldn't we first object to the hero worship of Reagan before complaining that Obama had a fundraiser in the home of Bill Ayers?

[Edited mention of B-52's in 1962. These may not have been initiated until the post 1965 escalation under Johnson.]

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Family Guy Writer's Occupy Experience

Patrick Meighan describes what it was like to get arrested by the LAPD for peacefully protesting. Read it here. H/T Greenwald. Frank Zappa put it as follows:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Some People Knew

I just stumbled across this Youtube clip with Janeane Garofalo on Fox News. It was apparently prior to the invasion of Iraq. She says Collin Powell's speech was a joke. She takes the view that the inspectors effectively disarmed Iraq and there wasn't good reason to think they had WMD, and that the costs of an occupation were a large unknown and potentially very high. In response Brian Kilmeade of Fox News is talking about the link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. They are so wrong and she is very right. The contrast is stark.

The wars and economic downturn have been immensely damaging. If nothing else those of us that were on the wrong side of the debate at the time must acknowledge our mistakes and learn from them. How many of us were dismissive of Garofalo as a know nothing Hollywood celebrity? She knew her stuff. The Bill Kristols, Fred Barnes, and Charles Krauthammers seemed so impressive. They were clueless.

Some Links on Tax Policy

What is the optimal upper marginal tax rate? Should it be much higher than it is now as it was in previous more prosperous and more egalitarian times? Or if you do raise rates in that way will you stop innovation and see all the job creators "going Galt"? Krugman discusses an interesting study by Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez here. This study evaluates the effect of high taxes as a disincentive so as to arrive at an optimal rate. The result? 70%. Much like it was back in more prosperous times. Maybe the study is wrong, but it's important for people on the right to remember that just because it sounds plausible that higher taxes do more harm than good that doesn't necessarily make it true. The data and facts matter.

Also a couple of links from Bruce Bartlett. In the first he talks about how Republican solutions to our economic problems are precisely the opposite of what CBO and other data indicate would work. In the second he talks about how the tax hikes of 1990 and 1993 clearly were causal in deficit reduction and they were of course likewise opposed by most Republicans. There are workable solutions to our current fiscal problems. Republicans just won't allow them.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Do People Listen to James Delingpole?

I get newsletters via email from conservative publications sometimes. One is Human Events. There's a book by a guy named James Delingpole called "365 Ways to Drive a Liberal Crazy". Human Events sends them out one at a time, maybe once a week, kind of as a teaser to buy the book. I read them. They're kind of juvenile. One day he suggests you refer to the media as the "Old Left Media." Talk about how great Columbus was. Talk about how the reason God made liberals with whiny voices is so even the blind could hate them. We shouldn't celebrate MLK day. Just stupid things.

I follow another blog called Climate Denial Crock of the Week. Peter Sinclair does some good videos covering the climate science denial community. Apparently Delingpole was on the BBC and interviewed by a prestigious scientists. I was a little surprised by that. Is it worth interviewing a guy like this? I mean sure, you'll find obnoxious trolls in comment sections for blogs. People do act in this way. But these are obscure people, right? I would expect that even conservatives don't want to give a guy like this a platform. So why is he being interviewed? Watch below. It's kind of interesting.

I thought that could be an aberration, but apparently not. Now he's written a column and it has been published by the Wall Street Journal. He's pushing another batch of so called Climate Gate hacked emails. In the Wall Street Journal? You give a guy like this that kind of forum and real scientists like Michael Mann apparently feel compelled to reply. (HT to Peter Sinclair)

I guess I'm a bit surprised. I've been getting these emails from Human Events for a long time. I just assumed this guy was a crank and not taken very seriously. In fact it appears he's taken quite seriously. If I were a conservative I'd be embarrassed.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bryan Caplan - High Priest of Wealth

I thought it was put well by someone that goes by the name of "t" over and Pink Scare (thanks Sheldon). Throughout history those with wealth sustain their grip on power not just by controlling means of violence. They do it also by attempting to legitimize their wealth. The kings of old were justly endowed with their riches by divine right. The role of the scribes and priests was to justify the king's position to the masses.

Economist at George Mason University Bryan Caplan gave a lecture that you can watch here. In it he talks about his new book. New at the time. It was 2007. It's "The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies". In this talk Caplan tells us that economics departments have been beating into the heads of students the glories of neoliberalism for 30 years, but the public stubbornly refuses to accept it. It's baffling. Why won't the public go along with expert opinion? It's hard to say.

Take NAFTA. Like this NY Times article explained, it's going to be really great. Corporate lawyers, PR firms, the financials. They are going to really benefit from this. Of course (read the end of the article) there will be some losers. Women, blacks, Hispanics. You know, like 70% of the population. It will be tough for them. But all in all it's really great. Why is the public opposed?

Or take immigration. The public seems opposed to large scale immigration. They seem to think that it would depress wages. What are they, racist or something? Large scale immigration is really good for the economy, says Caplan.

Which it is. If by the economy you mean it's really good for the short term profit of wealth. Productive outputs require labor and equipment. On capitalism the equipment is owned by the capitalist and he hires labor to operate the equipment. He pays labor with the revenue generated by production and keeps the remainder for himself. If you can get a lot of unskilled labor to come into the country the capitalist of course can pay the labor less and keep more for himself. So this is unquestionably a better scenario for wealth, at least in the short term. If you're more poor and don't generate income from ownership but rather you live by the income gained from labor, this is a tougher situation. Prices could come down, but does this compensate for your depressed wages? That's not clear. Clearly though capital and wealth stand to gain. So this is really great for capital and not clearly so great for the bulk of the population. Caplan can't understand why the bulk of the population doesn't want to go along.

So what can be done? Here's Caplan's solution. And I'm not joking. People are so stupid that we need to undermine democracy. We need to force everyone to accept economic arrangements that they think are harmful to themselves. An independent panel of priests for wealth. That's the trick. Lower tariffs, free trade, financial deregulation. Look how great things are thanks to the independent Fed (remember, this is in 2007). The masses are asses.

Not that there's anything new here. The kings have always paid the priests in order to prevent the common man from having a voice. The cathedrals are now the economics departments at our universities.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Media - Seeking Profits, Not Truth

I was having some car repairs done yesterday and they had Good Morning America on. Apparently there's another pretty blonde girl that's gone missing in Aruba. Seems like this happens occasionally. It's the kind of story that Greta van Susteren and Nancy Grace really like. I don't know how people can watch these shows, but to each his own.

I know absolutely nothing about it. GMA was the first I'd heard of it. They first did an intro piece. They basically laid out the case for why they think her companion was responsible. He was detained for a rather long period in Aruba, but was never charged. Still it sounded pretty nefarious. He says she went missing while they were scuba diving. He took out a large life insurance policy on her though he didn't know her very well. There are reports that he excitedly called the insurance company to collect very soon after the events. Video footage shows him seeking help after he says they went missing, but he doesn't look too excited.

After the intro it turns out Robin Roberts, the GMA host says "And Gary Giordano (the accused) joins me now in his first interview since being released." Wow. A tough intro and now he's facing tough questions. Should be interesting.

Gary seems annoyed and you figure out why very quickly. In my judgment the intro was a hit piece. Watch all segments of the GMA segment here. He's got very reasonable explanations for every accusation. Yeah, he took out a life insurance policy. He does it for himself every time he travels. He has 3 kids and a large mortgage payment. He added his companion. He maximized insurance for himself. He's not able to select one insurance coverage amount for himself and another amount for others that are listed along with him, so her coverage went along for the ride with his. Yeah, he called his insurance company after she went missing. His lawyer advised him to. Search and rescue operations were going on and his lawyer told him he might get an invoice for it, so he'd better call. And it turns out government agencies do recommend that you first call authorities, then call your insurance company after someone you know goes missing. This is standard behavior. They say he doesn't look excited in video footage as he's trying to notify someone. He says he was exhausted and he shows up at an establishment but apparently everyone has gone home. He's banging on the windows. What is he supposed to do? Scream at nobody and flop around on the floor? It's ridiculous. Robin Roberts says he's not wet. He says of course he's wet. The video isn't clear enough. Why is she saying he's not wet? There are other pictures of him that show in fact he clearly was wet, so he came directly from the beach to find help.

I thought GMA looked pretty bad at this point. Their intro portrayed him as if he was guilty. But his answers sound very plausible. Roberts should have been aware of them before hand. Knowing these details would have led to a less nefarious intro. There's no actual evidence against him. Nothing I see from the piece would lead me to suspect that this guy is guilty.

So last night I go to the gym and catch Shepard Smith on Fox News. They're covering the GMA interview. I thought it would be interesting to watch how they covered it. It was a bit bizarre. They were very dismissive and portrayed Giordano as if he was guilty. They sliced and diced his replies to give the appearance that he was dancing and unwilling to answer questions. They pretend his lawyer had to jump in and save him. It was crazy. I can't see any reason to treat this guy like he's a murderer. But that is what they did. They should have been talking about how GMA embarrassed themselves.

It made me think immediately of how ABC treated this poor guy from the Bachelor. They basically made a guy a villain because that makes for an interesting story. Why would they do that? Because it gets people to watch.

People like the lost pretty blond girl in Aruba story. Nancy Grace and Greta probably get a big boost. But it's much better if she was murdered. If there was an accident and she was lost that's boring. If the murder accusation is a lie, so what? It's more profitable.

They're just shaping it and crafting it so as to make for a profitable story. We know it's true of seeming reality shows like the Bachelor, the Real World, Hogan, Kardashian, and whatever else. Is the news much different?