Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Eternal Sunshine of the Glibertarian Mind: an Open Letter to Freshwater Economists

Much of US political history was a kind of de facto libertarianism. Modern libertarians often deny it, and rightly point out that it was not "true" libertarianism (what political system is ever perfectly applied?) but it was very libertarian. It kind of had to be. It was a big country. Travel took a long time. It was impossible to enforce strong federal laws, so they tended to be weak. It led to robber barons, monopolies, weak regulations, corruption, and lack of adequate oversight by people who didn't want to spit in the soup they would be drinking out of.

Sound familiar?

What we know about these past days of no workplace safety rules, no overtime, no minimum wage, no OSHA, no anti-trust, and no child-labor laws is that those days sucked. The vast majority of humans suffered mightily, despite the fact that they worked hard, found ways to increase their own productivity, and in many cases took years off their lives for the enrichment of their bosses. For their trouble they were treated like shit. There was no market punishment for treating workers poorly, only rewards. They stole people's labor and productivity, and no one could do anything to stop them.

Sound familiar?

Government is how we protect ourselves from corporations run wild--cost-shifting negative externalities onto tax payers, polluting and rigging the markets, and daring me to sue in a court they bought. Gutting, laws (using politicians they bought), or passing laughingly weak ones, is now the logical extension of the power of money being called equal to speech, and corporations being called persons. I want no part of that. My ancestors fought in the coal wars, and I'll be damned if I'm going to sit by while I listen to someone who would glibly take us back to the days when people would get so pissed they'd take up arms and literally wage war to stand up for their rights and what they believed in.

"Left wing" market riggers, too,
here behind Mr. Ayn Greenspan
Sound familiar?

You can put a water fountain in the middle of your Freshwater Economics pond and flash pretty lights on it all day, but the greatest quote about this subject is Alan "Ayn Rand Loved Her Some Medicare and Social Security" Greenspan, who famously said:
"Today’s competitive markets, whether we seek to recognise it or not, are driven by an international version of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” that is unredeemably opaque. With notably rare exceptions (2008, for example), the global “invisible hand” has created relatively stable exchange rates, interest rates, prices, and wage rates."
Things are better than they were back in the day of the Battle of Blair Mountain. This is largely because our well-regulated markets have been more efficient than those of the past. I fully support efforts to make our markets more fair and free for everyone. Just check out Dean Baker's free Ebook The End of Loser Liberalism for some examples of the kind of thinking I admire.

Knowing all this history, basic economics, and simple logic, you'd have to be gargantuanly Glib to even say out loud that the markets would behave better if we let them be more free. We just had yet another giant supply-side experiment. It's what they've been conducting on us lab rats since Ronny and the Tricke-down-o-nauts set the charts ablaze some 33 years ago with their number one hit We'll Be Taking Your Productivity Now.

Washington Post
And once again, it has led to income inequality way more severe than Americans think it is, much less where they think it should be. Once again it has led to bubbles, booms and busts, persistently high unemployment, and a lack of investment in public infrastructure that is literally costing us hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands lives every year.

I wonder what Libertarians would do if terrorists were killing as many Americans every year as our deteriorating infrastructure is?

The latest "notably rare exception," the Little Bush Depression, was worse than the last four recessions combined. The loss of public sector workers is unprecedented in a modern recovery, making the misery even worse. A great many people lost their homes, their health, their lives, their cars, their children, all through no fault of their own. All because the right leaning policies put in place since Reagan--unfettered markets coupled with open incentives toward certain favored industries--have done nothing but rig the markets to help redistribute income and wealth upward.

You Freshwater "economists" can put together extremely well debunked, life-destroying policies and call them custard pie all you want, but you're really just deluding yourself. It's a good thing you don't care about the politics of your politics, because you'd be sorely disappointed at your prospects. And it's not because we're all a bunch of dumb ass statists sucking off the giant teat. It's because progressives want to protect a free and fair market economy by setting the ground rules that let management and labor get down to business* instead of bitching and ripping each other off every chance they get.

*If that sounds familiar, see Costco v Walmart, for example.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Conor Friedersdorf Creates an Outrage-fatigue Backed Security Filled with Assertions not Backed up by Facts

Confederate VP Stephens' statue in US Capitol.  
To paraphrase Conor's quasi-famous article on Occupy Wall Street:

It's much easier to decide that it's wrong to create an outrage-fatigue assertion filled with statements you know are not backed by fact so that you can sell it to readers who aren't aware that you're bullshitting by intentionally picking the misleadingly stated false equivalence most likely to be proven to be slanted toward your particular philosophy.

In today's article, Conor makes his observation that "most" Americans are sick of partisanship. He doesn't  mention the fact that, for the most part, it is the right that has big problems with facts. Let's start with the fact that the right-leaning Conor ignores: GOP approval has hit a 20 year low, with 33% rating them favorably, and 58% unfavorably.

Despite this basic fact, Conor says that Sonny Bunch's lament resonates with him...
"I don't worry too much about growing partisan gridlock," Bunch goes on, "but I do worry somewhat about an America in which each half of the country hates the other so viscerally that they won't even interact." I agree that there is cause for concern. But I also think it's a mistake to conceive of the problem as halves of the country pitted against one another, because I think and hope that many more Americans are uncomfortable with the attitude Bunch describes than embrace it.
No, Sonny and Conor, half the country doesn't hate the other half. 58% of the country has a negative approval of 33%. Connor says he thinks and hopes that many more Americans hate the bickering than participate in it, but he offers no evidence.. Maybe the polls are skewed... Who knows? Without evidence to support his thinking and hoping, we're all just supposed to assume, along with him, that his equivalence is correct?

Later in the piece, he tells us, again without any evidence to support his assertion:
Politicized people are much more common in politics than they are in the general population.
Perhaps. But is this because non politicized people have left politics in disgust, as Connor suggests, or is it because they're in politics which means, by definition, that the are politicized? Either way, I don't see him offering any evidence for his assertion, which is enough to make me suspect that he's some kind of partisan trying to stamp some crap-filled political security AAA before he tries to sell it to me.

But wait! Connor has more outrage-fatigue-based securities to sell us!
The biggest advantage the politicized being has is that no one wants to vocally disagree with someone who seems to have no compunction about trying to destroy everyone who disagrees with them.
I don't want to destroy everyone who disagrees with me. Just the ones who want to destroy the world, lie us into wars, force the old and poor to die instead of giving them health care, and perhaps a few other horrific things. Mostly I want the wingnuts who have been so disastrously wrong about so much to keep talking so we can all hear and analyze the ignorant shit they're trying to sell us. The advantage I have, as a politicized being, is that only the craziest of the wingnuts will vocally disagree with me when they don't have the facts to back up their assertions.

I am politicized because I have watched the right, time and time again, be disastrously wrong about things. For me, it started with the attacks on Clinton, which were way out in right field, and undeserved. (If left wingers slandered Reagan or Pappy Bush with accusations of murder, they either didn't get nearly the mainstream press coverage that the accusations against Clinton did, or there weren't any). But when Bush lied us into a $6 trillion dollar war, or told us that tax cuts to the rich would create millions of jobs, or that there was no housing bubble, that was all Bullshit. Are the right wingers politicized because liberals lied us into similar disasters or because they're defensive, embarrassed, and bitter that their ideology has proven so disastrous?

In the case of Global Warming, where the evidence is clear that we are headed toward the biggest human created disaster in the history of the world, is Conor suggesting that I should be nice to the people who are actively trying to bring on that destruction? Should we have been nice to the tobacco executives who lied and bribed their way into profiting from millions of deaths? Should we have been nice to the people who were actively lying us into a war that killed and maimed millions?
Do I blame liberals who spent their time during the Bush Administration calling out policies they found deeply wrongheaded and ignoring Olbermann's excesses? No, I totally understand their priorities. 
I'd like to see what Conor thinks is excessive from Olbermann. Considering that we were lied into the biggest national security disaster in American History that cost $6 trillion, maimed and killed millions, and destroyed our world reputation and future ability to influence events in the middle east, it's good to see that he doesn't begrudge those of us who got "politicized" because of Iraq a little in-your-face response to the warmongers who lied us into it.

Isn't the proper response to someone preaching politics of death and destruction (or hatred and bigotry) to get in their face and challenge them? Do we really make "most" Americans turn on American Idol when we challenge the Bullshit that will lead to more death, poverty, disease, destruction, bigotry, hatred, war, and suffering? From what I've seen in the polling Americans are sick of war, angry at those who lied us into it, and would welcome a little more forceful resistance to another war-backed-security fraud.

American history is chock full of heroes Americans admire because they stood up for what they believed. Even a racist bigot like Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, who helped start a war over his belief that white people are superior to blacks, has a statue in statuary hall in the US Capitol, not far from Rosa Parks'. Standing up for what you believe, and doing it forcefully, is how we move the conversation forward on issues of great importance. Had Rosa Parks quietly and politely argued with the bus driver, I doubt she'd have gotten much attention. If Alexander Stephens had politely argued for a compromise on slavery, it might have been a long time before the centuries long war on black people suffered a severe set back.

In my almost 5 decades on this planet, I've found that people respect people who stand up for their values, especially when they back up what they say with facts. If the right wing would like to earn some respect from me, they should try it for a change.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Fundamental Problem for Fundamentalists

Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni as Satan from The Bible on the History Channel
An old friend, who for these purposes goes by the name ThomasD, had me build a blog for him many years ago. He wanted to get the attention of people who claim to base their beliefs and actions on the teachings of the Bible. ThomasD often has brilliant insights into the workings of the Christian mind, and in the case of his blog, he used one of his most insightful insights, ie, that the God of the Bible seems really, really worried that the readers of the Bible might not believe he wrote it. ThomasD postulated that perhaps, just perhaps, given the details of the matter, the evidence points to the possibility that Satan Wrote the Bible.

This is from the essay that started it all:
The first three commandments tell followers that there is only one God and that the author of the Commandments is it. Not only is he the one and only God but if you dare to question him, he will lay a curses on you and your children and your children’s children. That goes beyond jealousy. That is vindictive in the extreme. Why not give the future generations a chance to make their own mistakes? The answer is that this “god”, the god who caused the writing of this Bible, doesn't want anyone to question him. Why? Perhaps because questioning will lead to a better understanding of the world than the one presented in the Bible.
It's an interesting, and provocative point. The God of the Bible really seems worried that readers will, as the Blog's tagline says, "Leave your leap of faith behind and use your God-given mind."

ThomasD has a talent for capturing the essence of his conversation with fundamentalists and various other sects of people who seem determined to not use the brain they believe God gave them. His latest example of this kind of dialogue, on the apparent inability of fundamentalists to understand allegory, was a real gem, worthy of repeating here, without further comment.

Me: You believe life is a gift?
CF (Christian Fundamentalist): Yes.
Me: A gift from God?
CF: Yes.
Me: God the Father?
CF: Yes.
Me: Do you think life is a wonderful gift?
CF: Obviously.
Me: You are a father. Have you given your children gifts?
CF: Of course.
Me: Imagine giving your son a wonderful gift, the best gift you could imagine and he said “Thank you Dad. What else did you get me?” How would that make you feel?
CF: What’s your point?
Me: God gave you a wonderful gift, you say, but you turn around and ask for another life, a heaven that you know nothing about other than you are sure it is better than this life, this gift. How do you think that would make God feel?
CF: I’m not God.
Me: You believe you were created in God’s image. God shows lots of feelings and emotions that you can identify with including rage. You call him your Father in Heaven. If I gave my son a beautiful bicycle that he wanted and he said, “Thanks Dad. What else did you get me? I’d be pissed.
CF: I’m sure you are a good father.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Smoking Guns: The New Infrastructure Report Card

Fork in the Road Info Graphic from the ASCE's Infrastructure Report Card
(Click for high-res version)
"You know a D turns into a B so easily."--Homer Simpson
Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers releases an infrastructure report card. If America had a Mom and Dad, they wouldn't be too happy right now.The grades are out, and the bottom line is a D+. The estimated investment needed by 2020 is $3.6 trillion.

Considering that the Iraq war cost will, after interest on the debt and Veteran's health care, come to $6.2 trillion, I'd say our grandchildren were doubly robbed. If some wingnut had the balls to say, well, we blew our infrastructure money on Iraq, so we'll just have to suffer, I would calmly suggest that what he knows about economics, if converted to gasoline, wouldn't fill a piss ant's go-cart enough to go around a cheerio once.

I'm not Dean Baker, but as he likes to point out, I have an advantage over many so called economists in the pundit class--I can do basic arithmetic. 2020 is 7 years away. $3.6 trillion, divided by 7 equals $514,285,714,285. A half a trillion dollars a year for 7 years to get our infrastructure up to par would, of course, be a major investment. It would require borrowing a lot more (at negative real interest rates). It would require hiring a lot of unemployed people. It would require buying a lot of materials that are currently cheap. We would have to, essentially, be willing to buy low. The payoffs for this investment are enormous (see the info-graphic, right).

This is from the executive summary of the report card:
We know that investing in infrastructure is essential to support healthy, vibrant communities. Infrastructure is also critical for long-term economic growth, increasing GDP, employment, household income, and exports. The reverse is also true – without prioritizing our nation’s infrastructure needs, deteriorating conditions can become a drag on the economy.
One would think that the very real threat we face from our crumbling infrastructure would be enough to make Americans want to spend to save all the people that will die on our crumbling roads, our collapsing bridges, or from our exploding gas mains... If only we could make infrastructure spending as sexy as shock and awe...

The report card from 2009 stated that 1/3 of all traffic fatalities, or about 10,000 deaths per year, are caused by poor road conditions. I wonder how much money we'd spend on war if terrorists were killing that many Americans every year?

The report card is full of all kinds of interesting facts that won't make it to the news, where mythical mushroom cloud smoking guns get more air time. The report card is full of many warnings of what will happen if we don't invest, none of which will get the kind of main stream air time as Dick Cheney telling us we'd be greeted as liberators, or Donald Rumsfeld telling us the WMD are " the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat." In short, this report card, like the last one, will get ignored, for the most part, by the press that helped sell us a $6 trillion war.

Since so many in the American Press were so anxious to get us into that war, we aren't hearing a whole lot about the group-think of calling anyone who doubted Bush and Cheney a traitor. We won't hear much from a press (that bought the lies) about those lies. But here we have a chance for all the reporters and pundits, from Bill "Iraq has been won decisively and honorably" Kristol to Tom "FU" Friedman, to step up and recommend we spend big on something that will cost a little more than half of what Iraq cost, and this time the spending really will more than pay for itself.

So what are you waiting for? All you Iraq War cheerleaders should be out there now, with this report card (they even have an app) in your hand, telling the intransigent House GOP to get off their bloody hands and fix this country now. After all, we wouldn't want the smoking gun to be another city block going up in a gas main explosion.

Monday, March 18, 2013

An Iraq War Argument that Bothers Me to this Day

Bush collage from photos of soldiers who died in Iraq. Origin unknown.
About this time 10 years ago, right in the middle of an argument, in the middle of our kitchen, a family member told me I would be "toast" in some other countries for opposing the Iraq war.

I always wondered exactly what she meant by that... that we should be more like those countries and kill the people who disagree, or that I was lucky to be in a country where I could speak out? I think the latter, but it's still an odd thing to say when debating whether we should have fought the war. Just out of the blue, like, well, don't you want to fight to protect your right to say you don't want to fight? As if Saddam Hussein was a threat to my right to speak. 

Bush and Cheney lied the right people into it, and the group-think led the rest. It was all threat inflation, all the time, even with supposedly smart people. And it will bother me forever that even close family members who are otherwise perfectly sensible people will succumb to the blood lust that a few neo-cons can fire up, given the right circumstances.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Keep Talking, Wingnuts

I finally did what I've been thinking about for a few weeks and started a blog called Keep Talking Wingnuts where I will post the stuff that is so wingnuterific that I won't have to say much at all. I'll just quote them, and try to keep them talking, while I stand next to them with my virtual "I'm With Stupid" shirt.

So, any of you who might be offended by my usual Gonzo attitude toward these fat cats in their corporate sinecures can follow that feed for pure, unadulterated wingnutitude which you can then use in anyway you think best.

For example, for the inaugural post, there's shorter Celeste Greig: "Todd Akin was insensitive. Now watch me hit this drive!" Maybe some of you would like to talk nicely to her to convince her that yes, women's bodies can get pregnant when they're traumatized, and at least one study shows that because rapists generally don't wear condoms, pregnancy is actually common as the result or rape, to the tune of 88 American women a day.

Frankly, I'd rather ridicule, belittle, and otherwise put her through a little dose of some mental violence exercise, since what she wants to do is force rape victims to give birth to their rapists' babies. Think of it as me physically stopping her from doing that to any women at all if you want. As the descendant of people who fought in the coal wars, I'd call that doing a good thing.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Backstage with Dad at the Hollywood Bowl

You can take a little history of backstage at the Hollywood Bowl tour on my Dad's page. He was the head sound man at the Hollywood Bowl from 1970 to 1993. I spent those summers hanging around the Bowl as much as he would let me. They were great years, and I got to learn things like Jazz, Classical, and live audio mixing from a perspective that few ever see. Dad was a proud member of IATSE Local 33, and died thirteen years ago today, 2000/3/3, at about 3:30 pm.

To continue the odd coincidences, one of our favorite musicians, Robyn Hitchcock, was born 60 years ago today. He has a new album that comes out Tuesday, Love from London---something to look forward to on a melancholy day, when we'll listen to some of Dad's favorites like Miles Davis, Art Pepper, and various other Jazz legends.