Monday, February 25, 2013

FOX: Could there be a 'Second American Revolution'?

Great journalism!  Fair & Balanced!  (A pro-gun host, an NRA lawyer, and a pro-gun sheriff who threatens violent revolution.)  Nope, no pandering to the NRA at all, just tough, smart reporting.  And anyway, treating what-ifs as if they were real news is is not nearly as dangerous as some kids playing video games in their basements, no sir.

Seriously though, it is totally irresponsible of FOX to debate hypothetical scenarios (government confiscating guns, or a government gun registry) that nobody in government including Obama has proposed, and to scare gun owners and encourage crazies to go over the edge.  

Then again, beating the crazy conservative hornets nest with a rhetorical stick just to see what happens next is what FOX does best.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Israeli security chiefs may surprise you

"After retiring from this job, you become a bit of a leftist."  Hmm....

By Asawin Suebsaeng
February 22, 2013 | Mother Jones

"What's unnatural is the power you have to take three people, terrorists, and take their lives in an instant," says Yuval Diskin, the 12th director of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, during the opening sequence of The Gatekeepers. His blunt testimony sets the grave and mournful tone that defines the rest of this illuminating and devastating film.

The Oscar-nominated documentary, directed by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh, uses interviews with all six living ex-directors of the Shin Bet to paint a stark portrait of the agency and how it figures into the Jewish state's past, present, and future. For those who haven't heard of this security service, here are a couple lines from my crib sheet: Imagine the FBI, only tremendously more efficient, brutal, and terrifying. Now, imagine if the war on terror were half a century old, and if we had drone strikes and black sites in Florida and Montana.

That's what the Shin Bet is like for Israelis.

It's a juggernaut of counterterrorism and intel gathering. Shin Bet directors answer directly to the prime minister. The agency's greatest blunder was their failure to protect Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli leader who came closest to making peace with the Palestinians, from being murdered by a right-wing Israeli terrorist.

"I didn't want any more live terrorists in court," explains Avraham Shalom, who led the organization from 1980 to 1986. "In the war against terror, forget about morality." He's talking about the agency doctrine of targeted assassination against Islamic militants. (For what it's worth, Shalom now looks like your average adorable grandpa in dark-red suspenders, and yes, he has blown up his fair share of people.)

It goes without saying that these men have street cred. None of them has anything to prove when it comes to battling Muslim extremism or waging war on violent anti-Semitism. Avraham Shalom was even part of the team that captured Adolf Eichmann and flew his Nazi ass back to Israel to stand trial in 1960. These are guys who know perhaps better than anybody else what it means to orchestrate the ruthless killing of jihadists and Hamas terrorists.

And yet not one of them could make it through a Senate confirmation hearing. In fact, the most fascinating thing about The Gatekeepers is that so much of what these hardened agency dons say about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is completely interchangeable with what many American pundits and politicians might assail as anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Here are six examples of things said in the film that could get you pilloried in American politics:

1. "Talk to everyone, even if they answer rudely. So that includes even Ahmadinejad, [Islamic Jihad, Hamas], whoever. I'm always for it. In the State of Israel, it's too great a luxury not to speak with our enemies…Even if [the] response is insolent, I'm in favor of continuing. There is no alternative. It's in the nature of the professional intelligence man to talk to everyone. That's how you get to the bottom of things. I find out that he doesn't eat glass and he sees that I don't drink oil."—Avraham Shalom (1980-86), on negotiating with the enemy.

2. "We are making the lives of millions [of Palestinians] unbearable, into prolonged human suffering, [and] it kills me."—Carmi Gillon (1994-96).

3. "We've become cruel. To ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population." Our army has become "a brutal occupation force, similar to the Germans in World War II. Similar, not identical."Shalom, who clarifies that he is referring to the Nazis' persecution of non-Jewish minorities.

4. "We don't realize that we face a frustrating situation in which we win every battle, but we lose the war."—Ami Ayalon (1996–2000), regarding the wisdom of Israel's counterterrorism measures.

5. "To them, I was the terrorist.… One man's terrorist is another man freedom fighter."—Yuval Diskin (2005-11), candidly discussing the very first time he considered his profession from a Palestinian perspective.

6. "We are taking very sure and measured steps to a point where the State of Israel will not be a democracy or a home for the Jewish people."—Ayalon

But the film's contribution to any political discussion on the topic goes way beyond its quotable shock value. It's the culmination of a personal saga for these six warriors, packaged in one raw, brilliantly paced film with stunning visuals. "After retiring from this job, you become a bit of a leftist," Yaakov Peri, who ran the Shin Bet during the First Intifada, says with a sad smirk. The narrative unfolds as a modern tragedy where the characters' career highs are forever marred by a sense that they've retired only to become Cassandras. And for all their tactical successes on the battlefield, they see an Israel poised to lose the war if it continues to give up on peace.

Check out the trailer below:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Thanks, austerity: Moody's downgrades UK's debts

Let's be very clear: this was not supposed to happen, according to conservatives and financial markets gurus. Great Britain embraced austerity -- it is still embracing austerity -- and yet Moody's has cut its credit rating to AA1.  So here is yet more evidence for those who still need it that national governments are not households, and the same rules do not necessarily apply.

Why?  Slashing public spending put the UK in a recession that -- get ready, Tea Partyers, this is the part that always gets you -- increased public debt. Here it is again, in case you missed it: slashing spending hurt the economy which increased debt:

“The main driver underpinning Moody’s decision to downgrade the UK’s government bond rating to Aa1 is the increasing clarity that, despite considerable structural economic strengths,” the Moody’s report reads, “the UK’s economic growth will remain sluggish over the next few years due to the anticipated slow growth of the global economy and the drag on the UK economy from the ongoing domestic public- and private-sector deleveraging process.”

The "ongoing deleveraging process" is business-speak for cutting one's debts. And there was an extra "f*** you" from Moody's after it cut the UK's bond rating:

“A combination of political will and medium-term fundamental underlying economic strengths will, in time, allow the government to implement its fiscal consolidation plan and reverse the U.K.’s debt trajectory.”

In other words, Moody's said, "We think you're doing all the right things, and we hope that someday it will work out for you, but in the meantime it's not, so we're downgrading you."  

That's called "damned if you do, damned if you don't," folks. But if you want to know what the "confidence fairy" really believes, look at what she does (downgrading), not what she says (cheering on austerity).

One final note: the credit ratings agencies do not rate debt levels, they rate the ability to pay one's debts. They're not the same thing. In the U.S., we have a record-high national debt, ($7 trillion of it thanks to Dubya), and yet government spending to pay the interest on that debt is at a record low, thanks to record-low interest rates. 

By Jill Lawless
February 22, 2013 | AP

Rosenberg: Obama's better-managed empire

Here's how Rosenberg sums up the lost promise of Obama's presidency, at least when it comes to America's foreign wars:

It's tragic, really. Obama certainly has the capacity to comprehend the sea of troubles he is sailing on, but he lacks the will, desire, and imagination to steer America into a fundamentally different direction. He cannot even begin to conceive of "no war" as an option - indeed, as Martin Luther King would say, as the only option. He is America's "leader" in a decidedly limited, managerial sense, when history and the American people had cried out for so much more - dare I say it? - For a visionary... Or at least for a leader along the path that visionaries have lit before us. Instead, Obama is a go-along-to-get-along president who shares virtually all of the imperial operational mindsets, even as the ever-mounting costs of empire are tearing the American republic apart. Virtually all the aberrations from constitutional government that the neocons under Bush advanced have been continued under Obama, thus confirming them as bipartisan aberrations.

Which is why, tragically, it's America, indulging its own demons, that continues to make al-Qaeda's case, in a way that nobody else possibly can - certainly not al-Qaeda itself.

It's not America alone, of course. It's simply the way of empire.

A smarter empire is no substitute for a lost republic.
By Paul Rosenberg
February 19, 2013 | Aljazeera

Pew poll: GOP wrong on every major issue

Yep, it's all about better messaging and branding by the GOP, mm-hm.

Seriously though, on taxes and the deficit, a higher minimum wage, gun control and background checks, climate change, immigration, and the budget "sequester," the GOP is losing in the battle of public opinion.

So what have they got left? Lies? Yep, lying works, sometimes. Gerrymandering? Check. They already did that: Democrats got more votes in Congressional races than the Republicans, yet we know who still controls the House. Voter suppression? Their best shot was in 2012, when state laws were new and young, old and poor voters were caught relatively unprepared, intentionally so; meanwhile, Democrats shocked and awed Republicans with their get-out-the-vote efforts. Fear-mongering? Ongoing. We're tired of being afraid though... aren't we? Scandals? Their latest attempt was with Benghazi, met with a collective yawn. Red baiting? That's so 20th century, but they're still trying it, while everybody under age 50 scratches their heads or just laughs. Token minorities? It didn't work with Alan Keyes or Hermain Cain, but they're gonna give it another shot with Rubio and/or Jindal. But I sincerely doubt it'll work this time; character and policy positions matter way more. 

All in all, things are looking good for the Democrats, if they can only avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, like they usually do.

By Greg Sargent
February 21, 2013 | Washington Post

GOP establishment pundit: U.S. prisons are 'torture'

Deceiv'st thou me, mine eye?  Lo! boon unsought!  

First he decides, 6 years too late, that the Government should break up the Too Big To Fail banks, and now this? ...Is crusty conservative curmudgeon George Will really seeing the light when it comes to the American Gulag?:

America, with 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of its prisoners. Mass incarceration, which means a perpetual crisis of prisoners re-entering society, has generated understanding of solitary confinement’s consequences when used as a long-term condition for an estimated 25,000 inmates in federal and state “supermax” prisons — and perhaps 80,000 others in isolation sections within regular prisons. Clearly, solitary confinement involves much more than the isolation of incorrigibly violent individuals for the protection of other inmates or prison personnel.

Federal law on torture prohibits conduct “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” And “severe” physical pain is not limited to “excruciating or agonizing” pain, or pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death.” The severe mental suffering from prolonged solitary confinement puts the confined at risk of brain impairment.


Mass incarceration is expensive (California spends almost twice as much on prisons as on universities) and solitary confinement costs, on average, three times as much per inmate as in normal prisons. And remember: Most persons now in solitary confinement will someday be back on America’s streets, some of them rendered psychotic by what are called correctional institutions.

By George F. Will
February 21, 2013 | Washington Post

Study: Top predators affect climate

It's called the Law of Unintended Consequences:

Trisha Atwood of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, studied the effect of removing predator fish from ponds and rivers in Canada and Costa Rica. Across a range of ecosystems, climates and predators, she found a consistent pattern: carbon dioxide emissions typically increased more than tenfold after the predators were removed.

"It looks like predators in many types of ecosystems – marine and terrestrial as well as freshwater – can play a very big role in global climate change," she told New Scientist.

When we start unbalancing the natural order, either out of ignorance or hubris, we can't always predict what will happen. Hence conservation is inherently a "safe bet" for humanity, it is for the good even if we can't predict exactly why.

By Fred Pearce
February 17, 2013 | New Scientist

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ames: Christopher Dorner: Man, myth, murderer

Ames is right, people tend to see in Christopher Dorner what they want to see.  

But the fact that the LAPD is corrupt and racist is undeniable, and it's wrongful terminations were out of control: 

Los Angeles police brought an average of three times more lawsuits a year per officer than officers in Chicago and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Finally, Christopher Dorner did not give off any signs of mental illness until he "snapped," which is quite normal for rampage shooters, exposing, once again, the stinking red herring of the NRA and pro-gun conservatives that somehow mental health checks will prevent shooting rampages.

'Cultural fit?' Try 'discrimination'

WSJ's Silverman only hints at the real bottom line at the very end of her post [emphasis mine]:

According to the Kellogg research, professionals involved in hiring placed more emphasis on how comfortable or excited they were about candidates than on applicants’ cognitive or technical skills. [...]

In her study, comprised of 120 interviews with hiring professionals at elite U.S. investment banks, law firms and consulting firms, more than half of the hiring professionals ranked “cultural fit”—similarity of background, interests and self-presentation—as the most important factor in an interview.

The danger, of course, is that workers from cultural backgrounds that don’t match their evaluators’ backgrounds may be at a disadvantage when they’re up for a job.  Especially when it comes to elite jobs, people who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds might not get the same consideration a well-off candidate would.

But we already knew this, right?  If you're black or Latino you certainly know it. This is hiring discrimination, only it's not illegal and it'd be very hard to prove even if it was. Just be aware that if your hiring is being done by a person of a certain background, then he will tend to hire people with whom he identifies and feels comfortable, regardless of who is the best candidate. He may justify his choice by citing your organization's "culture," but now you know better. 

By Rachel Emma Silverman
February 15, 2013 | Wall Street Journal

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Violent entertainment does not cause gun murders

Like I always say, reliance on statistics and empiricism is what separates liberals from conservatives:

The reality is that there is no evidence linking violent games to mass shootings. We tend to return to this particular element, and it's interesting to see how quickly people like to latch on to this noncorrelation as if it were truly meaningful. The notion that mass homicides are linked to violent media was debunked as far back as 2002 by the U.S. Secret Service, which found that school shooters didn't consume high levels of violent media. But as a society we tend to focus on video games because it's easy to do so. 

Yeah, and what about older adults who go on shooting sprees?

Curiously, no one seems interested in investigating the effects of media popular among the elderly. Our attention to video games in the cases of some shootings but not others is what psychologists call confirmation bias, and it creates the illusion of a correlation where there is none. It's worth asking ourselves why we keep returning to video games despite the lack of evidence to support its link to violence. 

People around the world play the same violent video games and watch the same violent Hollywood movies and TV shows, but they don't commit as many gun murders either in absolute terms, or per capita. Conservatives complain about the so-called lib'rul media, but seriously, what kind of media bias is it when there is no factual or statistical basis to prove the connection between gun murders and violent entertainment, yet it keeps on getting reported as fact? 

What I find especially galling is that die-hard gun rights supporters seem quite ready to restrict the 1st Amendment by limiting what people can watch or play in order to protect the 2nd Amendment from any restrictions. They like to pay lip service to freedom of expression -- "There is no 1st Amendment without the 2nd" -- but it seems they are quite willing to do without the 1st to keep the 2nd, if that's what it comes down to. 

Americans are nuts about firearms, period. No intellectual or moral contortion is too twisted for them to justify their unlimited access to deadly firearms that have no other purpose than to kill many people in seconds.  

By Christopher J. Ferguson
February 20, 2013 | CNN

Stiglitz: American Dream is statistically a myth

Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth
By Joseph E. Stiglitz
February 16, 2013 | New York Times

President Obama’s second Inaugural Address used soaring language to reaffirm America’s commitment to the dream of equality of opportunity: “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.”

The gap between aspiration and reality could hardly be wider. Today, the United States has less equality of opportunity than almost any other advanced industrial country. Study after study has exposed the myth that America is a land of opportunity. This is especially tragic: While Americans may differ on the desirability of equality of outcomes, there is near-universal consensus that inequality of opportunity is indefensible. The Pew Research Center has found that some 90 percent of Americans believe that the government should do everything it can to ensure equality of opportunity.

Perhaps a hundred years ago, America might have rightly claimed to have been the land of opportunity, or at least a land where there was more opportunity than elsewhere. But not for at least a quarter of a century. Horatio Alger-style rags-to-riches stories were not a deliberate hoax, but given how they’ve lulled us into a sense of complacency, they might as well have been.

It’s not that social mobility is impossible, but that the upwardly mobile American is becoming a statistical oddity. According to research from the Brookings Institution, only 58 percent of Americans born into the bottom fifth of income earners move out of that category, and just 6 percent born into the bottom fifth move into the top. Economic mobility in the United States is lower than in most of Europe and lower than in all of Scandinavia. [...]

Is the Big Box era over?

I hope this guy Kunstler is right!  Walmart will be opening more of its smaller, so-called Neighborhood Market stores from now on.

By James Kunstler
February 18, 2013 | Business Insider

Back in the day when big box retail started to explode upon the American landscape like a raging economic scrofula, I attended many a town planning board meeting where the pro and con factions faced off over the permitting hurdle.

The meetings were often raucous and wrathful and almost all the time the pro forces won — for the excellent reason that they were funded and organized by the chain stores themselves (in an early demonstration of the new axioms that money-is-speech and corporations are people, too!).

The chain stores won not only because they flung money around — sometimes directly into the wallets of public officials — but because a sizeable chunk of every local population longed for the dazzling new mode of commerce. "We Want Bargain Shopping" was their rallying cry.

The unintended consequence of their victories through the 1970s and beyond was the total destruction of local economic networks, that is, Main Streets and downtowns, in effect destroying many of their own livelihoods. Wasn't that a bargain, though?     

Despite the obvious damage now visible in the entropic desolation of every American home town, WalMart managed to install itself in the pantheon of American Dream icons, along with apple pie, motherhood, and Coca Cola. In most of the country there is no other place to buy goods (and no other place to get a paycheck, scant and demeaning as it may be). America made itself hostage to bargain shopping and then committed suicide. Here we find another axiom of human affairs at work: People get what they deserve, not what they expect. Life is tragic.   

The older generations responsible for all that may be done for, but the momentum has now turned in the opposite direction. Though the public hasn't groked [sic] it yet, WalMart and its kindred malignant organisms have entered their own yeast-overgrowth death spiral. In a now permanently contracting economy the big box model fails spectacularly. Every element of economic reality is now poised to squash them.

Diesel fuel prices are heading well north of $4 again. If they push toward $5 this year you can say goodbye to the "warehouse on wheels" distribution method. (The truckers, who are mostly independent contractors, can say hello to the re-po men come to take possession of their mortgaged rigs.)

Global currency wars (competitive devaluations) are about to destroy trade relationships. Say goodbye to the 12,000 mile supply chain from Guangzhou to Hackensack. Say goodbye to the growth financing model in which it becomes necessary to open dozens of new stores every year to keep the credit revolving.     

Then there is the matter of the American customers themselves. The WalMart shoppers are exactly the demographic that is getting squashed in the contraction of this phony-baloney corporate buccaneer parasite revolving credit crony capital economy. Unlike the Federal Reserve, WalMart shoppers can't print their own money, and they can't bundle their MasterCard and Visa debts into CDOs to be fobbed off on Scandinavian pension funds for quick profits.
They have only one real choice: buy less stuff, especially the stuff of leisure, comfort, and convenience.   
The potential for all sorts of economic hardship is obvious in this burgeoning dynamic. But the coming implosion of big box retail implies tremendous opportunities for young people to make a livelihood in the imperative rebuilding of local economies.

At this stage it is probably discouraging for them, because all their life programming has conditioned them to be hostages of giant corporations and so to feel helpless. In a town like the old factory village I live in (population 2500) few of the few remaining young adults might venture to open a retail operation in one of the dozen-odd vacant storefronts on Main Street.

The presence of K-Mart, Tractor Supply, and Radio Shack a quarter mile west in the strip mall would seem to mock their dim inklings that something is in the wind. But K-Mart will close over 200 boxes this year, and Radio Shack is committed to shutter around 500 stores. They could be gone in this town well before Santa Claus starts checking his lists. If they go down, opportunities will blossom. There will be no new chain store brands to replace the dying ones. That phase of our history is over.   

What we're on the brink of is scale implosion. Everything gigantic in American life is about to get smaller or die. Everything that we do to support economic activities at gigantic scale is going to hamper our journey into the new reality. The campaign to sustain the unsustainable, which is the official policy of US leadership, will only produce deeper whirls of entropy.

I hope young people recognize this and can marshal their enthusiasm to get to work. It's already happening in the local farming scene; now it needs to happen in a commercial economy that will support local agriculture.   

The additional tragedy of the big box saga is that it scuttled social roles and social relations in every American community. On top of the insult of destroying the geographic places we call home, the chain stores also destroyed people's place in the order of daily life, including the duties, responsibilities, obligations, and ceremonies that prompt citizens to care for each other.

We can get that all back, but it won't be a bargain. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Good. Young Republicans don't get it either

Good news for Democrats: young Republicans are just as clueless as their elders. They also think the GOP's electoral problem is its "messaging" and "branding," not the content or underlying values of those messages: 

"We don't know how to brand our message and we are getting outworked on that, and I think that's our major issue," Lucas Denney, 21, said.

Yep, Republicans just need to send a bunch of tweets and Instagrams about how they've slapped a sombrero, a rainbow pin, and an attractive young face on the Grand Old Party, then they'll start winning again. 

¡Ay, caramba, they're dumb! What are they teaching young Republicans at college nowadays??

By Don Gonyea
February 16, 2013 | NPR

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Obama winks at financial fraud

President Obama has never had any interest in reining in Wall Street, his generous donors. Obama's "Financial Fraud Enforcement Group" proves it:

There are no offices, no phones and no staff dedicated to the non-task force.  Two of the five co-chairs have left government.  What “investigators” there are from the task force are nothing more than liaisons to the independent agencies doing their own independent investigations.  In the rare event that these agencies file an actual lawsuit or enforcement action, the un-task force merely puts out a statement taking credit for it.  Take a look at this in action at the website for the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, the federal umbrella group “investigating” financial fraud.  It’s little more than a press release factory, and no indictment, conviction or settlement is too small.  The site takes credit for cracking down on Ponzi schemes, insider trading, tax evasion, racketeering, violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (!) and a host of other crimes that have precisely nothing to do with the financial crisis.  To call this a publicity stunt is an insult to publicity stunts.

The secret truth: There never was a “task force” dedicated to ferreting out mortgage fraud
By David Dayen
February 13, 2013 | Salon

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Deficits are not a problem; actuaries are not oracles

Worrying about U.S. federal deficits in this down economy is like worrying about what your lawn will look like in 20 years when you're house is on fire right now.

By Derek Thompson
February 15, 2013 | The Atlantic

The showdown between Joe Scarborough and Paul Krugman over our debt is interesting and important, not merely as a media skirmish, but also as a keyhole into the way deficit "hawks" and deficit "doves" misunderstand and talk past each other. A great deal of the animosity and confusion between both sides of the debate would be improved with an honest assessment today's economy and tomorrow's debt. 

Basically, this is a discussion about (a) what we know about the economy and (b) what we think we know about the economy.


Here are six things we know about the economy. [1] We know that unemployment is still high. [2] We know that inflation is low. [3] We know that 4 million people have been out of work, and looking, for more than a year. [4] We know that GDP growth has been fine for normal times, but awfully weak for a recovery following a steep recession. [5] We know that cutting government spending takes money out of an economy. [6] We know that government spending cuts in the last few years have coincided with hundreds of thousands of lost government jobs, which has kept our unemployment rate from falling further.

And here are four things we know about our debt. [1] We know that government borrowing rates are low. [2] We know that global appetite for our debt is high. [3] We know we borrow in our own currency, and not, like Europe, in a common currency that we don't control. [4] And we know that makes us less vulnerable (but not invincible) from a debt crisis.

Out of these ten things we know, how many of them suggest that we should cut our deficits today? Basically, zero. And that's Paul Krugman's point. Everything we know about the economy today provides a clear argument for elevated deficits.


Joe Scarborough understands this. He says he wants higher deficits and a game-plan for cutting our long-term debt (which is the accumulation of our deficits). But he doesn't fully understand -- or properly communicate -- how the argument for long-term debt reduction rests on assumptions about the future that are exquisitely sensitive to change. The precise dimensions of our 2020 debt are calculated from a matrix of variables (e.g. immigration, productivity growth, hospital construction growth, MRI inflation rates) whose very nature is to fluctuate, sometimes dramatically, on a quarterly or annual basis.

Here are four things we think we know about our future debt -- which is almost entirely a health care spending problem. [1] We think we know that the cost of caring for Americans will continue to grow faster than the economy. [2] We think we know that demand for this increasingly expensive care will grow along with our aging boomer population. [3] We think we know that tax revenue will grow about in line with the economy. [4] Thus, we think we know what the gap between future taxes and future spending will be, and how much we have to start saving today to cover it.

It's possible that the deficit hawks have it 100 percent right. But it would also take a rather astonishing clairvoyance for anybody to foresee the next ten years with even slightly useful clarity. Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski often talk about "math" when they talk about debt ...

... and our debt projections look like math, what with all of those numbers. But math is a law. Actuarial projections are not. They are smart guesswork facilitated by multiplying current trends over many years. There's an important difference.

For example, what if health care inflation slows down?

Actually, that's not a "what-if." Two weeks ago, CBO revealed that health care spending has "grown much more slowly than historical rates would have predicted." It cut estimates of federal spending on Medicaid and Medicare in 2020 by "about $200 billion." That's a lot of money. It is much more than Washington would save by raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. If you thought raising the retirement age was enough to calm the market's appetite for debt reduction, then guess what? We just got 2X those savings by doing nothing.

It's generally considered goofy for somebody to pretend he can see the next 75 years in robotics, or software, or bio-sciences.  But somehow it's not goofy for Joe Scarborough, Steven Rattner and other serious, well-intentioned media people point out that we have $60+ trillion in "unfunded liabilities" to Social Security, Medicare, and federal pensions in the next seven decades. That statistic isn't wrong. It's just kinda ... goofy. Medicare actuaries are legally obligated to predict the future of their program past 2070.But the press [and the public! - J] is not legally obligated to pretend that our actuaries are oracles.

Paul Krugman isn't an oracle either. He's just a very smart economist with an astonishingly good track record. And even he isn't saying that debts don't matter. In fact, he's saying almost exactly what Alan Blinder -- an economist Scarborough cites approvingly -- wrote in The AtlanticDon't worry too much about deficits now, and put aside some worry about the future total cost of health care.

Deficit reduction is sometimes framed as stimulus. It's not. It's insurance -- insurance against the possibility that the market will turn against U.S. debt and drive up interest rates and badly hurt the country. Insurance isn't bad. But it's expensive. And money taken out of the economy too soon could prolong an unemployment crisis that is creating structural deficiencies in our atrophying workforce. Deficit doves should concede that there is a risk to doing nothing for too long. But deficit hawks must concede that there is also a risk to taking out that insurance policy too soon -- or distracting attention from everything we know about the economy.

Please don't say that our debt is exactly like global warming. It is true that both global warming and debt are arguably subtle and gathering forces whose impact on the world could surprise us somewhere down the line. But unlike our 2020 debt, global warming isn't just an actuarial projection. It's a scientific finding about the world right now. And whereas even deficit hawks allow that there is good debt (right now) and bad debt (in ten years), there is no analogous argument I'm aware of that says global warming is great for the world today -- or that we actually we need more of it! -- but bad for the world tomorrow. 

Taibbi: U.S. Gov't. let banksters get away with murder

Here's how Matt Taibbi sums up what British bank HSBC did:

For at least half a decade, the storied British colonial banking power helped to wash hundreds of millions of dollars for drug mobs, including Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, suspected in tens of thousands of murders just in the past 10 years – people so totally evil, jokes former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, that "they make the guys on Wall Street look good." The bank also moved money for organizations linked to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and for Russian gangsters; helped countries like Iran, the Sudan and North Korea evade sanctions; and, in between helping murderers and terrorists and rogue states, aided countless common tax cheats in hiding their cash.

"They violated every goddamn law in the book," says Jack Blum, an attorney and former Senate investigator who headed a major bribery investigation against Lockheed in the 1970s that led to the passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. "They took every imaginable form of illegal and illicit business."

But here's why the U.S Government didn't prosecute HSBC in its own words:

"Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer at a press conference to announce the settlement, "HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized."

Again, about a week later, the U.S. Justice Department gave a pass to UBS, which helped to illegally fix the LIBOR rate:

But the Justice Department wasn't finished handing out Christmas goodies. A little over a week later, Breuer was back in front of the press, giving a cushy deal to another huge international firm, the Swiss bank UBS, which had just admitted to a key role in perhaps the biggest antitrust/price-fixing case in history, the so-called LIBOR scandal, a massive interest-rate­rigging conspiracy involving hundreds of trillions ("trillions," with a "t") of dollars in financial products. While two minor players did face charges, Breuer and the Justice Department worried aloud about global stability as they explained why no criminal charges were being filed against the parent company.

"Our goal here," Breuer said, "is not to destroy a major financial institution."

HSBC was given warning after warning. An HSBC employee charged with detecting money-laundering blew the whistle to the FBI. Nothing. This gives the lie, once again, that businesses can be left to regulate themselves. 

And, not to sound like a blood-and-guts conservative, but, without the death penalty (prosecutions, jail time) there is no deterrent. We now have, according to our own government, "an unarrestable class" of banksters who are too socially and economically important to prosecute. To which I say: destroy away!  Off with their heads!  After all, isn't "creative destruction" what free enterprise is all about?  

How HSBC hooked up with drug traffickers and terrorists. And got away with it
By Matt Taibbi
February 14, 2013 | Rolling Stone

GAO: Cost of financial meltdown: $22 trillion

And, as Elizabeth Warren pointed out, nobody has gone to jail for it. Because it was caused by stupidity and greed.  I mean, it was the business cycle. No, wait, it was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac! Yeah, that's the ticket....

By Eleazar David Melendez
February 14, 2013 | Huffington Post

Party affiliation depends on who was President when you were 18

Intwisting. In my case this was true eventually, although I hated Bill Clinton and voted Republican in the 1990s. 

Even if it's true today, still it doesn't change much: young people today are still going to keep voting Democratic, not Republican, until a "successful" Republican POTUS can "flip" the pro-Democratic era presided over by Clinton-Bush-Obama.

By Harry J. Enten
February 15, 2013 | Guardian

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A well-run government has the leisure to debate zombies

No, this is not from The Onion, and yes, you are reading the headline below right.

OK, granted, it's another question why Canada's elected leaders don't have anything better to do than debate hypothetical illegal zombie migration. Then again, they're not wasting their time debating whether to pay for the bills they voted for, to "sequester" their budgets, or to disapprove of Cabinet ministers' nominations because those nominees agree with the Prime Minister who nominated them. 

So on the whole I still give Canada's parliament the edge.

By Taylor Berman
February 13, 2013 | Gawker

Exposé: $118 million funneled to climate change deniers!

So here is the real "climate change conspiracy," and it's not about a bunch of scientists who already have tenured jobs at universities, NASA and NOAA "cashing in" on their "biased" climate science.

The real conspiracy is these so-called "donor-advised funds" secretively distributing $118 million to 102 U.S. climate-change deniers, who, as a rule, do not produce fresh scientific data but merely muddy the waters by misinterpreting others' studies, or doing selective meta-analysis. This is not to mention the $ millions that Exxon, the Koch brothers, et al spend openly every year on denying climate change.

So obviously, if your aim is to get rich on bad science, it's more profitable to be a climate-change denier.

By Suzanne Goldenberg
February 14, 2013 | Guardian

Conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120m (£77m) to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change, the Guardian has learned.

The funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of thinktanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarising "wedge issue" for hardcore conservatives.

The millions were routed through two trusts, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. Donors Capital caters to those making donations of $1m or more.

Whitney Ball, chief executive of the Donors Trust told the Guardian that her organisation assured wealthy donors that their funds would never by diverted to liberal causes.

"We exist to help donors promote liberty which we understand to be limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise," she said in an interview.

By definition that means none of the money is going to end up with groups like Greenpeace, she said. "It won't be going to liberals."


By 2010, the dark money amounted to $118m distributed to 102 thinktanks or action groups which have a record of denying the existence of a human factor in climate change, or opposing environmental regulations.

The money flowed to Washington thinktanks embedded in Republican party politics, obscure policy forums in Alaska and Tennessee, contrarian scientists at Harvard and lesser institutions, even to buy up DVDs of a film attacking Al Gore.


The rise of that movement is evident in the funding stream. In 2002, the two trusts raised less than $900,000 for the anti-climate cause. That was a fraction of what Exxon Mobil or the conservative oil billionaire Koch brothers donated to climate sceptic groups that year.

By 2010, the two Donor Trusts between them were channelling just under $30m to a host of conservative organisations opposing climate action or science. That accounted to 46% of all their grants to conservative causes, according to the Greenpeace analysis.

The funding stream far outstripped the support from more visible opponents of climate action such as the oil industry or the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, the records show. When it came to blocking action on the climate crisis, the obscure charity in the suburbs was outspending the Koch brothers by a factor of six to one.

"There is plenty of money coming from elsewhere," said John Mashey, a retired computer executive who has researched funding for climate contrarians. "Focusing on the Kochs gets things confused. You can not ignore the Kochs. They have their fingers in too many things, but they are not the only ones."

It is also possible the Kochs continued to fund their favourite projects using the anonymity offered by Donor Trust.  [...]

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Artificial conflict between science and religion?

Gee, whaddya know? Only 11 percent of Americans belong to religions that reject evolution or the Big Bang. 

So ask yourself: are you more anti-science than your own church? Relax. You don't need to be dumb to be faithful... although it probably helps.

By Max Tegmark
February 12, 2013 | Huffington Post

Monday, February 11, 2013

GOP establishment pundit: 'Break up the banks!'

Here we have none other than George "I do protest too much I like baseball" Will coming out in favor of breaking up the TBTF banks, albeit four years too late.

His coming to Jesus on this issue should give sufficient "intellectual" cover to conservatives to get behind it.

But getting conservatives on board is just the beginning. The real battle is overcoming the lobbying $ might of the TBTF banks, who are like the mythical giant Argus with 100 eyes that never stop watching Congress and bank supervisors for an instant. So far, the big banks have cared way more about keeping TBTF intact than we have about breaking it up. That's gotta change. And we've got to get $ money and candidates behind the effort.

By George F. Will
February 9, 2013 | Washington Post