January 2013 Archives

Politicus USA demolishes the austerity cultists of the GOP:

After Republican economic policies created a world-wide recession, many European nations imposed harsh austerity measures that have proven to be abject failures, leading Republicans to champion austerity as if results would be different because America is exceptional. If nothing else, one can say with confidence that when Republicans find an economic policy that fails, they are duty-bound to repeat it regardless the consequences. [...]

Republicans promise to decimate GDP growth by enacting sequestration cuts experts warn will reduce GDP growth by 0.7 percent in 2013 and destroy as many as one million jobs.

"In fact," the piece continues, "under the President's stingy economic policy, the federal deficit has fallen faster over the past three years than it has in any such stretch since demobilization from World War II,"

House Republicans still have not even considered passing the President's American Jobs Act because they know it will grow the economy and put Americans to work, and with no chance of making President Obama a one-term President any longer, their remaining goal is killing jobs, the economy, and imposing real economic hardship on the American people; a feat they are incredibly proficient at.

At The Atlantic, Matthew O'Brien observes that the "new normal" for recoveries is weaker job growth:

It's not hard for central bankers to get what they want without doing anything, as long as what they want is less inflation (and that's almost always what central bankers want). They just have to wait for a recession to come along ... and then keep waiting until inflation falls to where they want it. [...] The Fed has to raise rates faster than it otherwise would during the subsequent recovery to keep inflation from going back to where it was before the recession.

"In short," he says, "Recoveries have been jobless, because that's how the Fed likes them:"

But it gets worse. Pushing inflation progressively lower means recoveries get progressively weaker, since the Fed has to choke off inflation, and hence the recovery, at lower and lower levels.

ThinkProgress also comments on productivity and wages:

Wages last year plummeted to an all-time low as a percentage of the economy, even as corporate profits rocketed to new highs. This means that corporations have been able to squeeze more and more productivity out of workers, without rewarding them for their efforts.

When one looks at the economy in popular media, it's not quite an issue of Paul Krugman vs the world, although it might seem so:

Economist and columnist Paul Krugman appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" last week with show co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, as well as Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) to discuss the deficit. The five of them spent more than 20 minutes on the issue--quite an achievement for a cable news program--and Krugman found himself quadruple-teamed the entire time.

It's not that Krugman opposed efforts to reduce the debt per se. Rather, he explained, "I'd like to see us paying down the debt but not at the cost depressing the economy right now."

TruthDig presents the conclusion of Leo Panitch & Sam Gindin's book The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire, which sees "a resurgence of pronouncements that US hegemony was coming to an end:"

The liberalization and expansion of finance, as this book has shown, was essential to the making of global capitalism, yet it came with a degree of volatility that threatened economic stability.

"Treasury bonds represent," they continue, "the role of the American state as the ultimate guarantor of global capitalist interests:"

Whether called socialism or not, today's revived demands for social justice and genuine democracy could only be realized through such a fundamental shift of political power, entailing fundamental changes in state as well as class structures. This would at a minimum require turning the financial institutions that are the life-blood of global capitalism into public utilities that would facilitate, within each state, the democratization of the decisions that govern investment and employment. But this will first require building very different movements and parties from those that carried the socialist impulse in the previous century.

AlterNet wants someone to tell Paul Ryan and the GOP that austerity is dead:

At this point, it's safe to say that Europe's response to the financial crisis of 2008 and its ensuing recession has failed. Austerity packages that were meant to jumpstart business investment and reduce what were viewed as unsustainable debt loads have instead crippled growth and caused untold amounts of human misery.

America, meanwhile, eschewed austerity for stimulus in the wake of the '08 crisis. The result has been a return to slow, steady, if not overwhelming growth. But for Republicans in Congress, who constantly warn about the menace of the European social safety net, European austerity is a model to be emulated. And their insistence on cutting government spending no matter its effect on growth is bad news for the fragile economic recovery.

"Europe's debt is rising," the piece observes, "despite all of its austerity efforts:"

"The cause behind the slight increase is no longer a growing debt pile, but a shrinking gross domestic product," Ulrich Kater, an economist with Germany's DekaBank, told the Associated Press.

At Mother Jones, Chris Mooney also points out that austerity is not the answer:

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Krugman about precisely this for 30 minutes on the Point of Inquiry podcast, which I co-host. Because we focus on science, I framed the discussion around what counts as science in economics--and conversely, what counts as pseudoscience. For example, I asked, how about the idea that cutting taxes increases revenue to the government? Krugman's response: "That's pure crank....nobody believes that, except the entire Republican party."

Mooney then asked, "if Keynesianism thinking is the key to fixing our present economic woes, then why won't people listen? Why are we currently so obsessed with deficits?"

Krugman's answer was twofold: People make up their minds about economics based on heuristics and shortcuts--for instance, the misleading metaphor that likens government finances to the budget of an individual family--and Keynesianism can be complex and counterintuitive.

WaPo's Neil Irwin helpfully tries to bridge the economist/pundit divide on debt and deficits. "So here's a guide to why the economics crowd isn't as nervous about deficits and debt as the Washington punditocracy," he writes, because "there is a quite real risk that efforts to cut the deficit could be counterproductive in bringing down the debt burden:"

Britain has been implementing deficit-reduction measures for the past three years, and while it has succeeded in cutting deficits, its economy has been stagnant as austerity sucks the wind out of growth. As a result, its debt to GDP ratio has been rising! (By the IMF's numbers, Britain's deficit has fallen from almost 9 percent of GDP in 2008 to 5.6 percent in 2012--yet in that span its debt level has risen from 61 percent to 84 percent).

Irwin discusses risk management, national security, the retiring baby boomers, and the possibility of a Greek-style fiscal crisis or inflation--but concludes that "if deficit hawks think the markets are wrong, they need to identify what exactly is wrong, and why they're so certain they're right."

violent fantasies

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Dave Gilson's work at Mother Jones on fact-checking more pro-gun myths is an invaluable resource. "When it comes to hard numbers," he writes, "some of the gun lobby's favorite arguments are full of holes." Here are a few tidbits from his piece:

  • America's roughly 80 million gun owners already have the feds and cops outgunned by a factor of around 79 to 1.
  • The states with the highest gun ownership rates have a gun murder rate 114% higher than those with the lowest gun ownership rates. Also, gun death rates tend to be higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership.
  • For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home.
  • Around 80% of gun owners are men. On average they own 7.9 guns each.

Speaking of fact-checking, The Atlantic points out that the "citizen militia" argument is the worst pro-gun argument ever:

Under our constitutional form of government, the Supreme Court has the authority to decide what the Constitution means, and after decades of judicial ambiguity, in District of Columbia v. Heller a majority of the justices found an individual right to gun ownership, unrelated to membership in a state militia. But the Heller decision also makes it clear that this is not an unlimited right, and that it may be subject to extensive government regulation.

The Atlantic continues:

As Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma put it just last week, "The Second Amendment wasn't written so you can go hunting, it was to create a force to balance a tyrannical force here." And if this is insufficiently incendiary, one only need look to the doctrine of the "Three Percenters," with its ominous warning that "all politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war."

The linked piece shows that Threepers are seriously off the deep end, ranting about "enemies" and "oppressors" while darkly threatening that "History, for good or ill, is made by determined minorities:"

We are one such minority. So too are the current enemies of the Founders' Republic. What remains, then, is the test of will and skill to determine who shall shape the future of our nation.

The Three Percent today are gun owners who will not disarm, will not compromise and will no longer back up at the passage of the next gun control act. Three Percenters say quite explicitly that we will not obey any further circumscription of our traditional liberties and will defend ourselves if attacked. We intend to maintain our God-given natural rights to liberty and property, and that means most especially the right to keep and bear arms. Thus, we are committed to the restoration of the Founders' Republic, and are willing to fight, die and, if forced by any would-be oppressor, to kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution that we all took an oath to uphold against enemies foreign and domestic.

This overheated paranoid rhetoric--complete with melodramatic declarations such as "We are the Three Percent. Attempt to further oppress us at your peril"--do little more than scratch a line in the dirt proclaiming than any regulation of firearms (you know, from the "well-regulated militia" phrase--is oppression in their eyes. This is in line with a Rasmussen poll reporting that "65 percent of Americans see gun rights as a protection against tyranny," as The Atlantic continues:

There are two primary pillars to this shaky intellectual edifice. The first is a cottage industry of academics and lawyers who have scoured ancient political tracts and common law to establish that in the distant English past that there was a constitutional right to bear arms as a defense against tyranny. [...]

This line of reasoning ignores the fact that, in 21st century America, the prospect of monarchs and their select militias oppressing the populace is reasonably remote. It also ignores the fact that the common law evolves and is subordinate to acts of the legislature. Other nations built on English common law have all enacted strict regulation of gun ownership, with no perceptible diminution of political liberties.

The second pillar has fewer scholarly pretensions, but it employs even more historically dubious arguments. It suggests, for example, that the Holocaust could have been avoided if Germany's miniscule Jewish population had been better armed. It also argues that Ukrainian peasants could have defeated the Stalinist regime, backed by the NKVD and the Red Army, if they had possessed individual firearms. But these counterfactual interpretations of history are wildly speculative -- and downright implausible.

"Official state armies," the piece notes, "are not immune from the tendency to inflict unjustified violence on civilians:"

But in America today, this prospect is far more remote, and far less terrifying, than the notion of armed citizens striking out against a perceived enemy, answering to no authority other than their own individual prejudices and passions. [...]

And for the most criminal and vicious members of society, the rationale of "protecting" their own rights would be a convenient justification for straight-up looting, robbery, and bloodshed.

The article concludes that "as we debate the role of firearms in our society, it makes no sense to be sidetracked by the impossible and dangerous idea that a heavily armed citizenry is the ultimate safeguard of liberty in America."

ThinkProgress' look at http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2013/01/31/1515331/gun-control-hearing-video-games/ the violent fantasies of yesterday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing includes Sen. Lamar Alexander's (R-TN) declaration that "video games is [sic] a bigger problem than guns because video games affect people," and the NRA's Wayne LaPierre's claim that "Stop putting out violent video games" is a common-sense solution to gun violence:

But at the same time that they were lamenting the idea of young men sitting at home working themselves up to kill by playing video games, both witnesses and senators were engaging in some of the same fantasies of heroic deployment of guns against imaginary enemies.

"LaPierre's fantasies justifying gun ownership were more post-apocalyptic, including dreams of a national disaster or a sudden breakdown in government," ThinkProgress continues:

But if yesterday's gun control hearing proved anything, it's that you don't need to pick up a console to fantasize about emerging a hero by using guns to kill people who you believe are victimizing you.

TPM points out that, whether accidentally or purposefully, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre misses the point of background checks:

"My problem with background checks is you are never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks. And all the law-abiding people, you'll create an enormous federal bureaucracy, unfunded, hitting all the little people in the country, will have to go through it, pay the fees, pay the taxes," LaPierre said. [...]

"Mr. LaPierre, that's the point," [Senator Dick] Durbin [(D-IL)] fired back. "The criminals won't go to purchase the guns because there'll be a background check. We'll stop them from original purchase. You missed that point completely. It's basic."

Durbin's remarks drew applause from some in the audience, prompting Leahy to call for order.

Lawrence Krauss explains why Creationism is child abuse, and suggests that we need to stop validating ignorance:

And if you think about it, teaching kids - or allowing the notion that the earth is 6,000 years old to be promulgated in schools is like teaching kids that the distance across the United States is 17 feet. That's how big an error it is.

"I've often said," he continues, that "the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it:"

Technology and biotechnology will be the basis of our economic future. And if we allow nonsense to be promulgated in the schools, we do a disservice to our students, a disservice to our children, and we're guaranteeing that they will fall behind in a competitive world that depends upon a skilled workforce able to understand and manipulate technology and science.

Michael Dirda displays some charming bibliophilia at WaPo:

In his affectionate introduction to Jacques Bonnet's reflections on reading and collecting, novelist James Salter points out that "a private library of good size is an insolent form of riches." Bonnet owns 40,000 books, which he reads, marks up and uses for his art-history and literary research -- his is a working collection, not a museum of precious rarities. In this case, what's really "insolent" is that Bonnet's books are all shelved, all organized, all findable.

Anyone with a serious personal library -- that means, in Bonnet's view, 20,000 or more volumes -- recognizes that it's easy to acquire books, but it's hard to find a place to put them.

"Serious collectors, in other words," writes Dirda, "focus their energies and cash, while manic readers tend to go wandering through a garden of constantly forking paths:"

Like many intellectuals, Bonnet scribbles in his books, "in pencil, but also with felt pens or ballpoints. In fact I find it impossible to read without something in my hand." There are consequences for this intensive engagement with texts. "The tens of thousands of books with their underlinings and marginalia, which have absorbed a large proportion of the money I have earned in my working life, are therefore now of no commercial value." Not that it matters, since Bonnet never sells any of them. "To lose one's books," he proclaims, "is to lose one's past."

In a similarly bookish vein, Laura Miller's piece in favor of shushing librarians comments that "I've long believed that one of the most precious resources libraries offer their patrons is simple quiet." In considering a study about "services that patrons regard as most essential in a library," she notes that "Quiet study spaces for adults and children" comes in fourth:

According the Pew study ["Library Services in the Digital Age" by Kathryn Zickuhr, Lee Rainie and Kristen Purcell at the Pew Internet & American Life project], quiet matters more to library patrons than special programs for kids or job-search resources or access to fancy databases or classes and events or spaces for public meetings. It matters more to them than the ability to check out e-books or engage in "more interactive learning experiences" -- areas that many library experts seem to regard as top priorities for the libraries of the future.

It's a wonderful thing to be able to enjoy one's insolence in silence.

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