March 2015 Archives

While reflecting on the success of Thomas Piketty, The Economist reports that "a new challenge to Mr Piketty's book has just appeared, and from an unexpected direction:" 26-year-old MIT grad student Matthew Rognlie. As the piece notes, "Rognlie mounts three main criticisms of [Piketty's] arguments:"

First, he argues that the rate of return from capital probably declines over the long run, rather than remaining high as Mr Piketty suggests, due to the law of diminishing marginal returns. [...]

Second, Mr Rognlie's research suggests that Mr Piketty has overestimated how high the returns on wealth are likely to be in the future. These should also decline over time, he reckons, unless it is very easy for the economy to substitute capital (like robots) for workers. Yet the historical evidence suggests that this is far harder than he suggests.

And third, Mr Rognlie finds that the growing share of national income deriving from capital income has not been distributed equally across all sectors. The return on non-housing wealth, in fact, has been remarkably stable since 1970 (see chart). Instead, surging house prices are almost entirely responsible for growing returns on capital.

Just how inconvenient Mr Rognlie's argument is for Mr Piketty's overarching narrative is a matter of perspective. The latter certainly did not make housing wealth the central theme of his bestselling book. But a story in which a privileged elite uses its political power (albeit through the planning system) to create economic rents for the few fits Mr Piketty's argument to a tee. Well-off homeowners may for the moment be more responsible for rising wealth inequality than top-hatted capitalists or famous hedge-fund managers. But their NIMBYism is a very Piketty-like phenomenon.

Rognlie's paper "Deciphering the fall and rise in the net capital share" is certainly worth reading:

Capital income is not growing unboundedly at the expense of labor, and further accumulation of capital in fact most likely means a fall in capital's share of total income - refuting one of the main theories of economist Thomas Piketty's popular book Capital in the 21st Century.


As Brookings summarizes:

Piketty's Capital argues that the role of capital in the economy, after falling during the Depression and two world wars, is set to recover to the high levels of the 19th and early 20th centuries. According to Piketty, wealth will accumulate amid slowing economic growth to push up the capital-to-GDP ratio in the economy, which will then cause an increase in capital's share of income - and growing inequality.

In contrast, Rognlie finds that a rising capital-to-GDP ratio is most likely to result in a fall in capital's share of income, since the net rate of return on capital will fall by an even larger proportion than the capital-to-GDP ratio rises. Outside of housing, postwar changes in the value of the capital stock have not led to parallel changes in capital's share of income. In fact, the value of the capital stock relative to private income reached its highs in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when capital's share of income was near a low.

Meanwhile, in a move calculated to increase inequality, the GOP is still obsessed with cutting taxes for rich heirs because "the Republican Party is nothing if not dedicated to making sure millionaires pay the absolute minimum amount of money to the IRS:"

And truly, we're just talking about millionaires at this point. Currently, the government only taxes estates worth $5.43 million in the case of a deceased individual, or $10.86 million for a married couple--which impacts just the richest 0.2 percent of Americans, according to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities. Fifteen years ago, when the tax kicked in around $675,000 per person, it only affected the wealthy. Now it only affects the super-wealthy.

engaged atheism

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Adam Lee explains why atheism is a force for good:

I've been asked by various critics why I don't leave atheism behind and join a group explicitly built on promoting social justice, if that's the cause that matters to me. Here's my answer to that: I stay, and I speak out, because I believe that atheism has value as an end in itself. It's too important a cause to be sabotaged by those who foolishly speak on topics outside their competence or knowledge.

In fact, I'd go further and say that a politically active, engaged atheist movement is a force for good in the world. The more success it enjoys, the more potential it has to benefit everyone. As such, it deserves our support and advocacy, even when it may stumble or go astray.

Lee sees atheism as "the acknowledgement of reality, and reality matters"--in fundamental contrast to faith, which "keeps us from what's real:"

The cosmos is beautiful enough as it is, deep enough as it is, glorious enough as it is; we need no small human fantasies to embellish it, nor a dusting of mythology to confer it all with meaning. The real story of how everything came to be and where we fit into the grand picture is more spectacular and awe-inspiring than any religion, and it has the virtue of being true. Embracing reality in all its fullness, unclouded by false hope or illusion, is the most profound of all the gifts that atheism has to offer the world.

Did Ted Cruz make a musical sacrifice in the wake of 9/11? New York Magazine mentions an instance where "the inevitably boring interview question of what music a politician listens to has, in this case, yielded a fascinating and revealing answer." Cruz commented:

Music is interesting. I grew up listening to classic rock. And I'll tell you sort of an odd story: My music tastes changed on 9/11. I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn't like how rock music responded. And country music -- collectively -- the way they responded, it resonated with me.

NY Mag retorted that "Of course, the thing about classic rock is that it mostly didn't respond to 9/11 at all, since most of it was written in the decades beforehand:"

To the extent that it did respond, it was in keeping with the patriotic spirit of the moment. Many of the biggest classic rock stars participated in "America: A Tribute to Heroes" ten days after the attacks. As the name of the event implies, the event was not exactly a Chomsky-esque exercise in attributing the attacks to blowback caused by imperial overstretch. The single biggest classic rock star, Paul McCartney, wrote a song the next day, "Freedom," the proceeds of which he donated to families of the victims and the NYPD.

It is true, however, that, in general, rock stars did not reach the jingoist heights of their country brethren. The rockers were mourning victims and celebrating freedom; country stars were demanding blood. That was a real partisan cultural divide.

The piece wonders, "Has the good senator actually stopped listening to the classic rock he spent decades enjoying?" Over at Salon, Digby asks what's really behind his conversion and observes that she is "hard-pressed to think of any rockers, classic or otherwise, who were disrespectful in the aftermath of 9/11:"

Certainly it wasn't Bruce Springsteen or Paul McCartney or Neil Young or Fleetwood Mac or literally dozens of other rock and pop artists who penned heartfelt songs about the event. But then Cruz undoubtedly didn't want to hear poetic songs about loss and pain. He wanted songs of revenge and killing, like Toby Keith's famous anthem, "The Angry American" which featured the kind of language that gets Cruz and his voters very, very excited:
Now this nation that I love
Has fallen under attack
A mighty sucker punch came flyin' in
From somewhere in the back
Soon as we could see clearly
Through our big black eye
Man, we lit up your world
Like the 4th of July

"This whole thing is silly," she concludes, because "Ted Cruz's musical tastes are only interesting to the extent they make him seem like a regular guy:"

But come on -- nobody changes what music they like for political reasons. That pandering comment is so awkward and calculated it makes him sound like an automaton. In fact, it's very hard to believe that Ted Cruz has any interest in music at all.

Slate's piece on opting in to social media discusses Jacob Silverman's book Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection:

If you complain about social media (especially if you post that diatribe on Twitter or Facebook), your friends will tell you one thing over and over: If you think it's so bad, don't use it in the first place. Criticism, they propose, is a waste of breath when all you really need to do is opt out. [but] Those who do manage to escape rarely fare much better: We often treat people who try to extract themselves with contempt, responding as if it were little more than an anti-modern affectation.

Is it possible that "we've yet to develop a language for discussing what it means to really give up on social media"?

To some extent, the problem may be that social media has become increasingly essential to the ways we relate.

As Silverman argues in Terms of Service, opting out may have more to do with privilege than truly radical rebellion. Very few have the luxury to extract themselves completely.

Is someone a hermit for not being hermetically sealed in the social-media bubble? In preferring to interact more deeply with fewer people an anti-social act? This bears more thought.

Dan Kahan had a considerate and thoughtful commenter on the ideologically lopsided trust-in-science debate:

Could an alternate conclusion be reached that scientific and reasonable people downplay the danger of climate change and nuclear power precisely because we are well informed and able reason logically?

Kahan's response was that "that's not what the data show:"

They show that those highest in one or another measure of science comprehension are the most polarized on a small subset of risk issues including climate change.

That doesn't tell us which side is "right" & which "wrong."

But it tells us that we can't rely on what would otherwise be a sensible heuristic -- that the answer individuals with those proficiencies are converging on is most likely the right answer. Because again, those very people aren't converging; on the contrary, they are the most polarized. [emphasis in original]

Digby on Maher

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Digby explains how Islamophobes like Bill Maher are tragically wrong in their "ridiculous assertion that what they usually depict as the debauched left is in cahoots with al Qaeda or ISIS:"

They are unlikely allies to say the least. And there are very few liberals who are anything but appalled by the repressive governments he's talking about.

The fact is that liberals get upset when Maher and his friends claim that Islam is uniquely and inherently violent and that all societies in which Muslim populations have some form of social and political power operate the same way simply by virtue of the fact that they are Muslim. This is patently untrue. Muslims are as different from one another as the members of any other religious tradition... [...] Most liberals believe that to tar all of them with the acts of a few is inflammatory and just plain wrong.

Although "Maher sees himself as the one true liberal who calls out intolerance wherever he sees it. But he's remarkably tolerant when it comes to irrational, racist demagoguery:"

It may have escaped his notice but conservatives always feel under threat and always have a reason to "take the glove off." It's their primary organizing principle. That's not liberalism. It's good old fashioned right wing paranoia.


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Bear Bergman's opinion piece entitled "I Have Come to Indoctrinate Your Children into My LGBTQ Agenda" has drawn fire for its forthrightness:

I knew from my activist mentors that accusations of indoctrination and recruiting were very bad, and I was supposed to refute them promptly. So I did. No indeed, I replied, I would never indoctrinate; never recruit. I was just providing an alternate viewpoint, I said.

Bergman's perspective is now a bit broader, and he currently writes that "All that time I said I wasn't indoctrinating anyone with my beliefs about gay and lesbian and bi and trans and queer people? That was a lie:"

All 25 years of my career as an LGBTQ activist, since the very first time as a 16-year-old I went and stood shaking and breathless in front of eleven people to talk about My Story, I have been on a consistent campaign of trying to change people's minds about us. I want to make them like us. That is absolutely my goal. I want to make your children like people like me and my family, even if that goes against the way you have interpreted the teachings of your religion. I want to be present in their emotional landscapes as a perfectly nice dad and writer who is married to another guy. Who used to be a girl (kind of). Who is friendly and cheerful and not scary at all, no matter what anyone says.

I would also like to know: Why are we so afraid of admitting this? I ask as a person who quailed before this accusation (and its slimy misguided undertones of pederasty) for more than two decades. That is our job: to encourage people, especially children, to think differently about a subject than they do now. To dispel the dim and dismal miasma of myths and stereotypes, and instead allow the light of truth and fairness to shine in.

He concludes with the blunt honesty that "I want kids to know this [the truth about sexual orientation] even if their parents' or community's interpretation of their religious tenets is that we're awful:"

I would be happy -- delighted, overjoyed I tell you -- to cause those children to disagree with their families on the subject of LGBTQ people.

If that makes me an indoctrinator, I accept it. Let me be honest -- I am not even a little bit sorry.

After skimming some of the typical right-wing misinterpretation (with its unique use of scare quotes, e.g. "men who have 'sex' with men"), I was glad that Godless Mom could provide a Quote of the Day as counterbalance:

We all know how hard it is to go through puberty. Imagine what it would feel like, if everyone you knew and loved were adamant that the way you were going through puberty, was wrong. You're 15. You're awkward enough. Now everyone says you're just not the right kind of awkward.

That's why gay kids kill themselves.

She imagines herself in the shoes of gay kids who "come home to packed bags, frowning parents and a one-way ticket to a pray-away-the-gay camp:"

You sexualize a child.

Then you condemn him as an abomination.

And then you wonder why he kills himself.

You, my friend, are the abomination.

Wired asks, are data scientist earning their salaries?

US recruitment agency, Glassdoor, report that the average salary for a data scientist is $118,709 versus $64,537 for a skilled programmer. And a McKinsey study predicts that by 2018, the United States alone faces a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with analytical expertise and a 1.5 million shortage of managers with the skills to understand and make decisions based on analysis of big data.

A lack of analytical and comprehension skills in the management suites? No surprise there...

The piece also asks, "Can data scientists actually justify earning their salaries when brands seem to be struggling to realize the promise of big data?" and points out that "the real value from data comes from asking the right questions of the data:"

And the right questions to ask only emerge if you are close enough to the business to see them. Are data scientists earning their salary? In my view they are a necessary but not sufficient part of the solution; brands need to be making greater investment in working with a greater range of users to help them ask questions of the data. Which probably means that data scientists' salaries will need to take a hit in the process.

If data is needed to answer these questions, doesn't it become a the-master's-tools-will-never-dismantle-the-master's-house dilemma?

The StingRay cell-tower-spoofing technology is apparently supposed to be a big secret:

A powerful new surveillance tool being adopted by police departments across the country comes with an unusual requirement: To buy it, law enforcement officials must sign a nondisclosure agreement preventing them from saying almost anything about the technology.

Any disclosure about the technology, which tracks cellphones and is often called StingRay, could allow criminals and terrorists to circumvent it, the F.B.I. has said in an affidavit. But the tool is adopted in such secrecy that communities are not always sure what they are buying or whether the technology could raise serious privacy concerns.

Orin S. Kerr, an expert in privacy law at George Washington University, wonders: "What's the secret that they're trying to hide?" With an epidemic of NDAs, will we ever find out?

The Advocate's Andrew Holleran talks to Larry Kramer about his new novel, the 800-page The American People: Volume 1: Search for My Heart. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

I just finished reading your new novel, The American People: Volume I. Is it true that you started writing it in 1975?

I started when I finished Faggots, long before AIDS came along, and I kind of put it to the side. I wrote a couple of plays in between, so it was done in bits and pieces over the years. And it wasn't until I got really sick, when I had the liver transplant [in 2000], that I got serious about making it as a whole. Because I didn't think I was going to live. Now I've got to finish Volume II.


If you started it before AIDS had even emerged, what was the impetus then to write the book? Was it the idea that gays have been written out of history?

Oh, I don't know. Why does every gay writer start out? To write his Proust? And so I wrote my Proust. The title comes from that speech by Reagan which really did hit me, where I knew he was talking about "the American people," and I knew that I was not part of that crowd that he was talking about. It was so obvious. There has never been any history book written where the gay people have been in history since the beginning. It's ridiculous to think that we haven't been here forever.


How much of Volume II is written?

I'm writing. It has to come out a year after this one.

Kramer is unhappy with the presence of pharmaceutical prophylactics, observing acidly that "part of what depresses me is how passive most of the gay population is about this issue:"

So now we have Truvada and you can get laid on Saturday night, and surely, we deserve more than that from 35 years of waiting. We could have so much if we just used the power that was there to be taken, if we could just learn how to take it. Why are there still so few people saying that? Why hasn't there ever been another Larry Kramer? And I don't mean that as self-serving.

This Q&A pair should surprise no one:

Which president would you single out as the worst in U.S. history?

Reagan, hands down, no contest. What with his being responsible for not attending to gays and AIDS deaths, he was responsible for killing more people than Hitler or Stalin.

That isn't hyperbole; 30 million people died of AIDS to date, and another 35 million are living with the disease. Without the likes of Larry Kramer, things could have been much worse. I'm eager to read the first volume of his magnum opus to find out what else he has to say.

In explaining the hidden secrets of the right-wing brain, Paul Rosenberg discusses his recent interview with political psychologist John Jost:

Moral foundations theory posits a small set of distinctly different moral concerns, and it correlates those moral concerns with distinctly different emotions: harm with anger, sanctity with disgust, etc. In fact, it has been argued that moral judgements are essentially post-hoc rationalizations of distinct instinctual emotions. But the actual evidence for such distinct basic emotions is noticeably quite weak--indeed, it's virtually non-existent.

In contrast to the basic emotions interpretation, there's another long-standing approach to psychology, known as constructionism, which has been making quite a comeback recently, taking note of the gaps in the basic emotions story, and taking advantage of new technological advances in brain imaging to study what's really going on in our brains. If the constructionist account is true, then moral foundations theory is not an account of how humans are hardwired. It may provide a useful map of where we've been in the past--of social mores more than morality--but it doesn't provide us with maps for the new world we may want to shape in the future. For that, we may need a new set of maps entirely.

The paper "A Constructionist Review of Morality and Emotions: No Evidence for Specific Links Between Moral Content and Discrete Emotions" notes that "Morality and emotions are linked, but what is the nature of their correspondence?:"

Many "whole number" accounts posit specific correspondences between moral content and discrete emotions, such that harm is linked to anger, and purity is linked to disgust. A review of the literature provides little support for these specific morality-emotion links.

Princeton history professor Kevin Kruse asks, since when were we a Christian Nation?"

Back in the 1930s, business leaders found themselves on the defensive. Their public prestige had plummeted with the Great Crash; their private businesses were under attack by Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal from above and labor from below. To regain the upper hand, corporate leaders fought back on all fronts. They waged a figurative war in statehouses and, occasionally, a literal one in the streets; their campaigns extended from courts of law to the court of public opinion. But nothing worked particularly well until they began an inspired public relations offensive that cast capitalism as the handmaiden of Christianity.

The two had been described as soul mates before, but in this campaign they were wedded in pointed opposition to the "creeping socialism" of the New Deal. The federal government had never really factored into Americans' thinking about the relationship between faith and free enterprise, mostly because it had never loomed that large over business interests. But now it cast a long and ominous shadow.

Accordingly, throughout the 1930s and '40s, corporate leaders marketed a new ideology that combined elements of Christianity with an anti-federal libertarianism. Powerful business lobbies like the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers led the way, promoting this ideology's appeal in conferences and P.R. campaigns. Generous funding came from prominent businessmen, from household names like Harvey Firestone, Conrad Hilton, E. F. Hutton, Fred Maytag and Henry R. Luce to lesser-known leaders at U.S. Steel, General Motors and DuPont.

"The most important clergyman for Christian libertarianism," he writes, "was the Rev. Billy Graham:"

In his initial ministry, in the early 1950s, Mr. Graham supported corporate interests so zealously that a London paper called him "the Big Business evangelist." The Garden of Eden, he informed revival attendees, was a paradise with "no union dues, no labor leaders, no snakes, no disease." In the same spirit, he denounced all "government restrictions" in economic affairs, which he invariably attacked as "socialism."

"In 1952, Mr. Graham went to Washington and made Congress his congregation," writes Kruse, and "The rest of Washington consecrated itself, too:"

The Pentagon, State Department and other executive agencies quickly instituted prayer services of their own. In 1954, Congress added "under God" to the previously secular Pledge of Allegiance. It placed a similar slogan, "In God We Trust," on postage that year and voted the following year to add it to paper money; in 1956, it became the nation's official motto.

During these years, Americans were told, time and time again, not just that the country should be a Christian nation, but that it always had been one. They soon came to think of the United States as "one nation under God." They've believed it ever since.

His book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America seems destined for my TBR pile.

In "Tom Cotton, Iran, and Old GOP Ideas," Rolling Stone's Jeb Lund writes about seeing freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) "in action at the Conservative Political Action Conference:"

I already knew him as a bad liar who still thinks Iraq was involved in 9/11, wants to prosecute New York Times reporters and fears the inevitable partnership between Mexican drug cartels and ISIS, but homeboy can work a room.

Lund gives a history lesson to remind us of Nixon's treason with Vietnam

In 1968, Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon dispatched a friend of his campaign named Anna Chennault to tell the North Vietnamese to back away from peace talks with the Democratic Johnson administration, promising the Vietnamese a better deal. Nixon's campaign guarantee that he had a secret plan to win in Vietnam would have meant nothing if his opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, could have helped end the war and taken credit for it. And so the North Vietnamese backed away, Nixon condemned the Johnson administration for failing to even get the Vietnamese to the bargaining table; Nixon and genocide-and-assassination hobbyist Henry Kissinger admitted to each other that the war was unwinnable as early as 1969; and in the meantime 22,000 more Americans and hundreds of thousands more Vietnamese and Cambodians died. But, hey, Nixon won the 1968 election by a 0.7 percent margin, and Kissinger went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
and Reagan's treason with Iran and Nicaragua:
The Iran-Contra affair was ultimately a vastly more explicitly illegal enterprise at every stage than Nixon's clownish burglary, campaign ratfuckery and slush funds - and yet the response to it, from a nation still disgusted by the post-Watergate bummer process of honest self-evaluation, was bipartisan compartmentalization and hyper-partisan pardon.

In summary, writes Lund, "the threat that successful negotiations present to Cotton and his ilk cannot be overstated:"

They've spent roughly 35 years trying to inflate a regional power nearly 6,500 miles from Washington D.C. into an existential threat to the entire United States, and the last thing they can afford is for the American voter to awaken to the histrionic bullshit nature of that campfire horror story.

LBJ, radical

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Ian Milhiser praises LBJ's radical speech:

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson stood before a joint session of Congress and offered his response to the moral atrocity that occurred a week earlier, when civil rights marchers were savagely beaten by Alabama police on the road from Selma to Montgomery. "I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of Democracy," Johnson began in the speech that proposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to Congress. In a rhetorical flourish that moved Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to tears, Johnson invoked the anthem of the civil rights movement itself -- twice speaking the words "We Shall Overcome."

He reminds us that "LBJ did far more than simply lay out his case for a Voting Rights Act:"

He presented the cause of the men and women who were beaten at Selma as part of a moral failing that indicts America's very soul. "[S]hould we defeat every enemy, and should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal" to the issue of equal rights for African Americans, "then we will have failed as a people and as a nation."

Milhiser's book Injustices: The Supreme Court's History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted looks like a good choice for further reading.

In discussing the science of protecting people's feelings, Chris Mooney identifies "an important successor to the Dunning-Kruger paper" [remember that?] wherein "psychologists have not uncovered an endless spiral of incompetence and the inability to perceive it:"

Rather, they've shown that people have an "equality bias" when it comes to competence or expertise, such that even when it's very clear that one person in a group is more skilled, expert, or competent (and the other less), they are nonetheless inclined to seek out a middle ground in determining how correct different viewpoints are.

Yes, that's right -- we're all right, nobody's wrong, and nobody gets hurt feelings.

Mooney clearly identifies the problem with "both sides" being treated equally:

I think it's pretty obvious that human groups (especially in the United States) err much more in the direction of giving everybody a say than in the direction of deferring too much to experts. And that's quite obviously harmful on any number of issues, especially in science, where what experts know really matters and lives or the world depend on it -- like vaccinations or climate change.

The new research underscores this conclusion -- that we need to recognize experts more, respect them, and listen to them. But it also shows how our evolution in social groups binds us powerfully together and enforces collective norms, but can go haywire when it comes to recognizing and accepting inconvenient truths.

Similarly, Jeff Madrick explains why economists cling to discredited ideas while ignoring "the practical failures of free-market economics:"

Such ideas are often rooted more in ideology than in evidence. These beliefs and the policies that follow led directly to the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession. They also centrally contributed to the nation's subpar performance beginning in the late 1970s, and to our widening inequality. They continue to endanger America's economic health.

To be sure, there are dissenting economists. A few even win Nobel prizes. But in the academy, free-market ideas are still the dominant ones.

Smith's "Invisible Hand," Say's Law, efficient markets, and austerity economics dominate the common discourse, and the claim that "Markets Invariably Work Better than Governments" rarely has to face a serious challenge. Madrick sees "three main explanations: faux science, careerism, and political acceptability" as the culprits. Similarly, Robert Reich identifies the 3 biggest economic myths--which are, of course, predominant among those on the Right:

1. The "job creators" are CEOs, corporations, and the rich, whose taxes must be low in order to induce them to create more jobs. Rubbish. The real job creators are the vast middle class and the poor, whose spending induces businesses to create jobs. [...]

2. The critical choice is between the "free market" or "government." Baloney. The free market doesn't exist in nature. It's created and enforced by government. [...]

3. We should worry most about the size of government. Wrong. We should worry about who government is for. When big money from giant corporations and Wall Street inundate our politics, all decisions relating to #1 and #2 above become rigged against average working Americans.

Dominant ideas that can't be questioned for fear of hurting their proponents' feelings--it's almost like a religion, isn't it?

PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel and other anti-government whackjobs are pitching the "Seasteading Institute" as some sort of Libertarian paradise island, but it's destined to be more like a capitalist nightmare because "Libertarianism preaches a night-watchmen government that stays out of businesses way, and allows private industries to regulate themselves:"

It is a utopian ideology, as was communism, that has an almost religious-like faith in the free market, and an absolute distrust of any government. It is a perfect philosophy for a large corporation, like Apple, Google or Facebook. If we lived in an ideal libertarian society, these companies would not have to avoid taxes, because they would be non-existent, and they wouldn't have to worry about annoying restrictions on privacy.

Essentially, their ideology is "the same old libertarian argument wrapped up in a new millennial cloak, that corporations will act ethically because if they don't, consumers will go elsewhere:"

As usual, it leaves out important realities that don't sit well with the self-regulation myth. These realities include the irrationality and apathy of consumers, the lack of information available to consumers, and the overall secretive nature of corporations. The problem with self-regulation is that, consumers do not know what goes on at a corporation behind closed doors, so how would they force a company to act ethically if they are not aware of their misdeeds.

The continual cries for "less regulation" ignore the past century's lessons:

Before government regulatory agencies like the FDA came around, the safety of workers and consumers were both constantly at stake, as muckrakers like Upton Sinclair described so vividly. More recently, the lack of regulation in the financial industry, particularly in derivatives, contributed to one of the worst economic crises in history, and hurt many people in the process.

Libertarians are uninterested in these realities, and believe that all government intervention is useless and stifles innovation, and it is the "cult of innovation" that makes the libertarian philosophy particularly popular in the technology obsessed Silicon Valley. In their world, innovation is more important than privacy or safety, and the best and brightest should not have to play by the rules.

The story of the campaign to steal Apple's secrets has been broken, with news from The Intercept that that CIA has "conducted a multi-year, sustained effort to break the security of Apple's iPhones and iPads, according to top-secret documents:"

By targeting essential security keys used to encrypt data stored on Apple's devices, the researchers have sought to thwart the company's attempts to provide mobile security to hundreds of millions of Apple customers across the globe. Studying both "physical" and "non-invasive" techniques, U.S. government-sponsored research has been aimed at discovering ways to decrypt and ultimately penetrate Apple's encrypted firmware. This could enable spies to plant malicious code on Apple devices and seek out potential vulnerabilities in other parts of the iPhone and iPad currently masked by encryption. [...]

"The U.S. government is prioritizing its own offensive surveillance needs over the cybersecurity of the millions of Americans who use Apple products," says Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. "If U.S. government-funded researchers can discover these flaws, it is quite likely that Chinese, Russian and Israeli researchers can discover them, too. By quietly exploiting these flaws rather than notifying Apple, the U.S. government leaves Apple's customers vulnerable to other sophisticated governments."

The article notes approvingly that "Apple CEO Tim Cook has specifically denounced the U.S. government's efforts to compel companies to provide backdoor access to their users' data:"

"I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will," Cook said last September in announcing Apple's new privacy policy. More recently, Cook said, "None of us should accept that the government or a company or anybody should have access to all of our private information. This is a basic human right. We all have a right to privacy. We shouldn't give it up. We shouldn't give in to scare-mongering."


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At a recent American Economics Association panel that was "packed with right-wing economists," Thomas Piketty got a laugh at Greg Mankiw's expense when someone asked him about a consumption tax:

Collins reports his reply:
"We know something about billionaire consumption," Piketty observed, "but it is hard to measure some of it. Some billionaires are consuming politicians, others consume reporters, and some consume academics."

Sweet. A correspondent tells me that one of his friends was there and that this jibe brought the house down. Too bad more people don't laugh at Mankiw and other toadies for the rich.

It's time to kill Daylight Saving Time, writes The Atlantic, noting that it's "an annual tradition whose time has passed:"

In contemporary society, it's not only unnecessary: It's also wasteful, cruel, and dangerous. And it's long past time to bid it goodbye. [...]

The simple act of adjusting to the time change, however subtle, also has measurable consequences. Many people feel the effects of the "spring forward" for longer than a day; a study showed that Americans lose around 40 minutes of sleep on the Sunday night after the shift. This means more than just additional yawns on Monday: The resulting loss in productivity costs the economy an estimated $434 million a year.


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Bill O'Reilly's systematic lying, writes Salon, is exemplified by how O'Reilly pontificated on the Brian Williams controversy back in February:

"He knows what he did was wrong. A lot of people exaggerate their life experience, and he got caught.... I don't think Americans care anymore. I think they're so used to being lied to, they're so cynical about the media, they don't trust the media at all," O'Reilly added.

And O'Reilly should know, because it turns out that he's among the people who "exaggerate their life experience." But so far, the reports of O'Reilly's strained relationship with the truth have neglected a very important point: He doesn't just lie about his own experiences - he lies about everything. And because "everything" includes important political issues, most of his lies are much more damaging than his claims to have drawn fire in the Falklands. From a myriad of examples, we've focused on five instances where O'Reilly's not just lying, but where he demonstrably knows he's lying, and doing so to better fit a right-wing slant.

Whether it's Benghazi bullshit, deceptive video editing, fantasies of voter fraud, Iraq's nonexistent WMDs, or his support for right-wing anti-abortion Christian terrorist Scott Roeder, O'Reilly can be counted on to be on the wrong side of, well, just about any issue. Media scholar Robert McChesney's introduction to The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (2003) nailed it years ago:

It is one thing to make misstatements on a daily TV program; that is going to happen under the best of circumstances. But O'Reilly does so repeatedly and shamelessly. O'Reilly's disinterest in truth, in principle, in interrogating his own assumptions and in intellectual consistency is little short of breathtaking."

In another example, Rand Paul confirms the conservatism of Fox "News:"

Senator Paul told Howie [Kurtz] his appearances on Fox 'News' have been "extraordinarily helpful". Not only that, says Paul, "The emergence of Fox News has allowed there to be a conservative viewpoint."

His illustration for that claim is simple enough.

"When I was a kid, there were three networks, and they were all identical and they were all liberal. And now with Fox - and also with the Internet - there really is much more of a balance."

When he was a kid, those three networks actually reported facts, the things that are consistently missing from Roger Ailes' Republican News Channel, aka Fox "News". If they were perceived to be liberal, it's because facts have a liberal bias.

Rand Paul approaches the reliability of a proverbial stopped clock:

The only thing Rand Paul is accurate about is that they have indeed managed to game the Internet with all of their echo chamber websites, designed to create memes, Google-bomb names, and spread misinformation.

We call that the "Fox Effect."

Referring to Rand Paul's remark that same-sex marriage "offends myself and a lot of people," Crooks & Liars blogger John Amato wrote of Paul that, "When you hear him opine on issues coveted by the religious right, he falls squarely in their camp every time." The problem, however, is party-wide. National Memo lists 5 colossal mistakes that the GOP want to make again, snarking that "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to seek the 2016 Republican nomination for president:"

What did Republicans learn from the first decade of the 21st century? A decade in which a record surplus became a record deficit. A decade in which America suffered the worst terrorist attack in her history, then responded with two disastrous wars financed by tax breaks mostly enjoyed by the rich. A decade in which wealth inequality soared to a point that we hadn't seen since before the Great Depression. A decade in which the American economy created zero net jobs for the first time since the 1930s.

Nothing, apparently.

1. Another disastrous war in the Middle East.

2. More and bigger tax cuts for the rich

3. More ground troops in Iraq.

4. Take health insurance from millions of Americans.

5. Another Bush in the White House

It's almost as if they're standing athwart history, yelling "Reverse!"

In painting the intellectual as servant of the state, Andrew Bacevich states that "Policy intellectuals -- eggheads presuming to instruct the mere mortals who actually run for office -- are a blight on the republic:"

Like some invasive species, they infest present-day Washington, where their presence strangles common sense and has brought to the verge of extinction the simple ability to perceive reality. A benign appearance -- well-dressed types testifying before Congress, pontificating in print and on TV, or even filling key positions in the executive branch -- belies a malign impact. They are like Asian carp let loose in the Great Lakes.

After FDR's Brain Trust, World War II, and the Cold War, the problem was exacerbated:

These events brought to Washington a second wave of deep thinkers, their agenda now focused on "national security." This eminently elastic concept -- more properly, "national insecurity" -- encompassed just about anything related to preparing for, fighting, or surviving wars, including economics, technology, weapons design, decision-making, the structure of the armed forces, and other matters said to be of vital importance to the nation's survival. National insecurity became, and remains today, the policy world's equivalent of the gift that just keeps on giving.

He questions the prevalence of groupthink:

How was it that during Vietnam bad ideas exerted such a perverse influence? Why were those ideas so impervious to challenge? Why, in short, was it so difficult for Americans to recognize bullshit for what it was?

These questions are by no means of mere historical interest. They are no less relevant when applied to the handiwork of the twenty-first-century version of policy intellectuals, specializing in national insecurity, whose bullshit underpins policies hardly more coherent than those used to justify and prosecute the Vietnam War.

Today's status quo--from the Global War on Terror to global spying--is no better.

City Journal's John McGinnis rails against progressives, claiming that "Barack Obama's supporters and detractors don't agree on much, but as the president enters his final two years in office, they have voiced a common complaint: the president lacks competence:"

They cite multiple management breakdowns, such as the disastrous rollout of the Obamacare health-insurance website, which have eroded public support; his lack of engagement with Congress, which has impeded his legislative agenda; and his chronic inability to address serious problems before they become full-blown crises, undermining Americans' confidence in his leadership.

Sorry, but I haven't heard his supporters say anything like this--mostly because the items on his list are questionable at best (a common problem with conservative lists). McGinnis goes on to claim that "Obama's fundamental problems stem less from incompetence than from his philosophy of governance:"

In his first presidential campaign, Obama took pains to distinguish his approach from the incrementalism of Bill Clinton and modeled himself instead on the transformational leadership of Franklin Roosevelt and of Ronald Reagan. During the race, and increasingly after the election, it became clear that Obama embraced a theory of dramatic political change--that of progressivism, which dates its American origins to an early-twentieth-century era of social and political reform. And he has adhered to it, despite some of the worst midterm election defeats faced by any two-term president.

He fails in his attempt at a history lesson:

Over the course of the twentieth century, free-market capitalism created unprecedented mass affluence. The average income of Americans grew by more than four times in the last century, making the United States the wealthiest nation of any substantial size. Citizens now have more to lose from interventions in the free market, because they are better off.

Economic growth was due to Progressive efforts to grow the middle class, and subsequent failures due to the Reagan Revolution and the prevalence of the so-called "free" market.

Faced with these constraints, today's progressives must resort to more misleading and sometimes coercive measures, as they seek to bring about equality through collective responsibility; they must rally support by looking beyond economics, to cultural and social identifications, in a bid to maintain the support of voters with little need for government intervention. They also want to limit the voices of citizens at election time, and thereby magnify the influence of the press and academia, which lean sharply in the progressive direction.

No, we want to limit the influence of money...but that's hardly his only misrepresentation.

If people had known the truth about Obamacare in 2010, the bill would almost certainly have been defeated. If they had known it in 2012, Obama would likely have lost his reelection bid.

As if the GOP didn't spend those election cycles lying about the ACA ("death panels," anyone?). He's wrong on campaign finance, too:

It's worth noting in this light that the single constitutional amendment that Obama has endorsed in office is one overruling Citizens United. Last year, Senate Democrats brought to the floor an even broader amendment that would have permitted Congress to regulate both campaign expenditures and contributions. The amendment would have exempted the press from regulation, suggesting that the political objective is indeed agenda control.

No, exempting the press proves the exact opposite--unless control is somehow accomplished through the absence of control. (Pretty much the same way the Right misconstrues Net Neutrality as a government takeover.)

This goal also explains why the new progressivism must enlarge its agenda to include social issues, engaging in the wars of culture as well as class. While the old progressivism focused almost exclusively on economics, the new progressivism seeks a panoply of new entitlements, from on-demand contraception to same-sex marriage. Today's progressive enthusiasm for creating new constitutional rights out of the latest social cause expands progressivism's appeal to more affluent, secular voters, for whom bending the arc of history gives meaning to life. To succeed, then, modern progressivism must reconstitute the nature of politics, not merely change the content of policies.

At least he admits that "The Right became more enamored of executive discretion when Republicans seemed to have a lock on the presidency," which they will disavow as soon as they lose control of Congress.

In discussing how we can get serious about taxing the mega-rich, Thom Hartmann asks "At what point does great wealth held in a few hands actually harm democracy, threatening to turn a democratic republic into an oligarchy?"

This week, Forbes Magazine released its list of the 20 richest people on the planet--and tied for number six were Charles and David Koch. Right now, it is easy to call out the billionaire brothers as a threat to our democracy (after all, they have promised to spend nearly a BILLION dollars in the 2016 election), but there are 18 other people on that list.

Why is this a problem?

Since the so-called Reagan revolution more than cut in half the income taxes the multimillionaires and billionaires among us pay, wealth has concentrated in America in ways not seen since the era of the Robber Barons, or, before that, pre-revolutionary colonial times. At the same time, poverty has exploded and the middle class is under economic siege.

And now come the oligarchs, the most wealthy and powerful families of America, buying our members of Congress so that they should retain their stupefying levels of wealth and the power it brings, generation after generation.

How might we solve it?

The solution is as simple as it was when it was proposed by our Founding Fathers: a tax. A 100-percent tax on all income over $1 billion to limit the power of the super rich while and strengthen the rest of us. If you can't live on a billion dollars a year, you've got much bigger problems.

Did you know that descendants of Holocaust survivors have altered stress hormones? Research into "the intergenerational effects of trauma" indicates that "A person's experience as a child or teenager can have a profound impact on their future children's lives, new work is showing:"

[Rachel] Yehuda's team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., and others had previously established that survivors of the Holocaust have altered levels of circulating stress hormones compared with other Jewish adults of the same age. Survivors have lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that helps the body return to normal after trauma; those who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have even lower levels.

It is not completely clear why survivors produce less cortisol, but Yehuda's team recently found that survivors also have low levels of an enzyme that breaks down cortisol. The adaptation makes sense: reducing enzyme activity keeps more free cortisol in the body, which allows the liver and kidneys to maximize stores of glucose and metabolic fuels--an optimal response to prolonged starvation and other threats. The younger the survivors were during World War II, the less of the enzyme they have as adults. This finding echoes the results of many other human epigenetic studies that show that the effects of certain experiences during childhood and adolescence are especially enduring in individuals and sometimes even across generations... [...]

With low levels of cortisol and high levels of the enzyme that breaks it down, many descendants of Holocaust survivors would be ill adapted to survive starvation themselves. In fact, that stress hormone profile might make them more susceptible to PTSD (below, yellow); previous studies have indeed suggested that the offspring of Holocaust survivors are more vulnerable to the effects of stress and are more likely to experience symptoms of PTSD. These descendants may also be at risk for age-related metabolic syndromes, including obesity, hypertension and insulin resistance, particularly in an environment of plenty.

If the word epigenetics doesn't ring a bell, check out this video (h/t: 3 Quarks Daily):

Salon's Edward McClelland calls October 1973 the month that killed the middle class, painting that time period as "a rude awakening for the entire United States:"

It was a watershed month for the American middle class. The Arab Oil Embargo would lead to the downfall of the American auto industry, whose generous wages and benefits set the standard for the entire economy. It was also the month of the Saturday Night Massacre, which made inevitable the downfall of Richard Nixon. The Watergate scandal resulted in changes to the American political system that put more power into the hands of lobbyists, political action committees and wealthy, self-funded candidates. [...] From the 1947 to 1973, the golden postwar quarter-century, hourly earnings grew at an average of 2.2 percent a year. Since 1973, they've been stagnant, barely keeping up with inflation, even as productivity has boomed.

He pinpoints the end of the United Auto Workers' strike on 23 September 1973 as "the day the American middle class peaked," and pivots to political drivers--beginning with Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre:

The Watergate Babies -- young Democrats elected to the House in the wake of Nixon's resignation -- took advantage of their numbers and of popular revulsion against The Way Things Are Done in Washington to break the power of long-serving committee chairmen who had controlled the flow of congressional legislation. The House became more democratic, but the nation didn't. Money replaced seniority as the most important factor in moving a bill. Lobbyists and political action committees began showing up in greater numbers to make sure members cast the correct votes, rewarding those who did, punishing those who didn't. The cost of campaigns increased.

This, of course, increased the political importance of money just as most people had less and less of it--just as the Reagan Revolution (and Citizens United) intended:

But from 1984 to 2009, the median net worth of a House member increased from $280,000 to $725,000, in inflation-adjusted dollars," while the median net worth of the average citizen remained stuck at around $20,000.

Politicians so far removed from the financial struggles of the middle class are less likely to govern with its interests in mind.

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