Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hamas/Fatah Pact?

No idea if this is true, but according to one source, it may be that Hamas and Fatah are putting their differences behind them.

Earlier on Wednesday delegations headed by Musa Abu Marzoka, member of Hamas Politburo member, and Azzam al-Ahmad, member of Fatah central committee started talks to reach the long awaited unity deal mediated by the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Nabeel al-Arabi.

Sources close to Azzam al-Ahmad of Fatah told PNN that the deal have in fact been signed adding that al-Ahmad and Abu Marzoka will announced the deal in a press conference at 8:00 PM ( 9:00 PM local Palestinian time).

In a phone call from Cairo al-Ahmad told PNN “we have reached reconciliation deal and both Fatah and Hamas have signed it.”

According to sources in Cairo that Fatah and Hamas signed the initial deal, while other Palestinian groups will arrive in Cairo within a week to sign the deal as well.
Given that it's in the Times as well, it's probably credible.

Wow. And I'd thought the stories about Canada possibly ending up under a social democratic government were surprising. THIS could change the face of the entire region.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Contractionary Policies, It Turns Out, Are Contractionary"

Ireland? Under Austerity, it ain't doing so well. Greece? Under Austerity, also not doing so well.

So, as is usually the case, Krugman called it. He knew that austerity wouldn't work. He predicted austerity wouldn't work. He was razzed for predicting that austerity wouldn't work. But lo and behold...austerity doesn't work.

Which means, as he pointed out, that Keynesian analysis DOES. It may not describe a world as elegant as you see in RBC models. For the world we actually live in, though, it's still the best choice.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eliminationist Difference

Courtesy of Alicublog, we see Ann Althouse whining about how Paul Krugman is as "eliminationist" as the people he criticizes. What's the justification? Because he talks about shooting a "zombie lie" in the head.

Okay, Ann? Here's the thing. HIS comment was about a concept. It was about an idea. That's it. He's extending his zombie metaphor and referencing the way that people stop zombies.

Your commentators, on the other hand, are (just from a quick scan) suggesting that Prof. Krugman himself be raped and murdered. Not necessarily in that order. For suggesting that taxes should be more progressive.

THAT, friend, is the difference.

(Oddly enough, that isn't the part that annoys me. What truly annoys me is "democrat party". It really shows what a stupid, petty, childish bunch of passive-aggressive children these people can be.)

Happy Easter

Hope it's a good one.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Really, Matt?

Is this seriously what you have descended to? Have you forgotten EVERYTHING anybody ever told you about health care economics?

Yes, okay, Klein was arguing with Megan McArdle. That's an inherently difficult task: it's rough to debate economics and policy with someone who hasn't the faintest clue about anything—least of all economics and policy. But that's no excuse for saying "I think seniors should just be given cash instead of Medicare". There IS no excuse for that.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Harper and Iggy in 2011

Saw a traffic spike to an old piece of mine on Ignatieff from 2006. So I re-read it. And one paragraph seemed more relevant than any other...though perhaps not the one the linkers intended.

That's not to say he'd be a worse Prime Minister than Stephen Harper, of course. Stephen Harper is a zealous market fundamentalist; a neoconservative exploiting a base of social conservatives to gain the kind of autocratic power that only a Canadian Prime Minister at the head of a majority government can enjoy. We've already seen that he wants to control the government from his own desk, and the only check on his ambitions is the reality that he only controls a minority government. That's why every single thing he's done since the end of January has been turned towards winning that majority; from budgetmaking, to speechmaking, to muzzling his ministers, all of it is aimed at gaining power. Nobody knows what Harper would do with that power, but I imagine it would be to do his damnedest to remake Canada in the image of Howard's Australia and Thatcher's England. Needless to say, anybody would prefer Ignatieff to THAT.
I actually think Ignatieff has changed. I still prefer Dion or Rae to Ignatieff, but "Iggy" has moderated his tone, and has handed off the lead on foreign policy to Bob Rae.

Meanwhile, if anything, Stephen Harper has become worse. He seems to be working hard to become the most autocratic leader of any democracy in the english-speaking world. He cows his party and the public service at the same time, and lies with impunity only when he can't simply ignore you. A Harper majority would be disastrous, and the only reason anybody could possibly think otherwise is that much of Canada's media is so bizarrely right-wing—compared to the public—that they seem to welcome the prospect of a Thatcherite Canada.

Just to be clear, and I'm saying this as a once-strident Ignatieff critic: Given the choice between Ignatieff and Harper, I'd choose Ignatieff in a flash.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Paul Ryan's Top-Down War for Plutonomy

Yeah, let's not mince words here. That's what's going on. Taibbi:

[David Brooks slobbers] over all of Ryan’s ostensibly daring proposals, from the Medicare block grants to the more obnoxious Medicare voucher program (replacing Medicare benefits with vouchers to buy overpriced private insurance, which Brooks calls the government “giving you a sum of money” to choose from “a regulated menu of insurance options”).

What he doesn’t mention is that Ryan’s proposal also includes dropping the top tax rate for rich people from 35 percent to 25 percent. All by itself, that one change means that the government would be collecting over $4 trillion less over the next ten years.

Since Brooks himself is talking about Ryan’s plan cutting $4 trillion over the next ten years (some say that number is higher), what we’re really talking about here is an ambitious program to cut taxes for people like… well, people like me and David Brooks, and paying for it by “consolidating job-training programs” and forcing old people to accept reduced Medicare benefits...

...The last ten years or so have seen the government send massive amounts of money to people in the top tax brackets, mainly through two methods: huge tax cuts, and financial bailouts. The government has spent trillions of our national treasure bailing out Wall Street, which has resulted directly in enormous, record profit numbers – nearly $100 billion in the last three years (and that doesn’t even count the tens of billions more in inflated compensation and bonuses that came more or less directly from government aid). Add to that the $700 billion or so the Obama tax cuts added to the national debt over the next two years, and we’re looking at a trillion dollars of lost revenue in just a few years.

You push a policy like that in the middle of a shaky economy, of course we’re going to have debt problems. But the issue is being presented as if the debt comes entirely from growth in entitlement spending. It’s bad enough that middle-class taxpayers have been forced in the last few years to subsidize the vacations and beach houses of the idiots who caused the financial crisis, and it’s doubly insulting that they’re now being blamed for the budget mess.

But the icing on the cake comes when a guy like David Brooks – like me a coddled, overcompensated media yuppie whose idea of sacrifice is raking one’s own leaves – comes out and calls Paul Ryan courageous for having the guts to ask seniors to cut back on their health care in order to pay for our tax breaks.
A FOUR TRILLION DOLLAR WEALTH TRANSFER. That's what we're talking about here. A forcible transfer (for what choice do Americans have?) of four TRILLION dollars from the poor, middle-class, destitute and aged to monied chucklefucks like David Brooks and Paul Ryan.

If this were happening anywhere else in the world, there would be people on the streets. Things would be burning. But in America, where everybody thinks he's gonna be a billionaire someday, there ain't a damned word said about it or thing done about it. Never mind that income mobility is pathetic and getting worse. Never mind that "equality of opportunity" is naught but a sick joke. Never mind that (as I said in my last post), the guys running the show don't even care if your water poisons you.

No, people aren't even realizing that they're in the middle of a one-sided war for plutonomy. Maybe they'll begin to realize it before they've been hung up and bled dry. Considering what just happened in Wisconsin, though...I wouldn't lay money on it.

Edit: Oh, and pardon my language here, but the very fact that that disingenuous dipshit David Brooks couldn't be bothered to even discuss the possibility of tax increases just shows how fucked up the American media truly is. There's no way that someone like that should be taken seriously, let alone given space in the Times. But there it is.

Apparently the Republicans Want Floridians to Drink Soiled Water

Sounds strange, but take a look at the budget's policy riders if you don't believe it. Specifically, look at section 4035, which "prohibits funds for the EPA to impose and enforce federally mandated numeric Florida water quality standards". Yep. Right there, in black and white. That's what they want.

You may be confused. You may ask yourself "why would the Republicans be deliberately harming Floridians, considering how important that state is?" You may ask "who the hell is against water quality standards"? Sure, contraception, Republicans hate contraception and its role in women's emancipation. But water quality standards? That is, without a doubt, 100% within the purview of government. It's like policing, or the military, or food quality...

...oh, right. If you look at Section 1268, they're also trying to screw the FDA, too.

So, once again, there you have it. That's the party that American voters chose in large numbers. The party that doesn't care if there's poison in your water, or mercury in your cement (Sec. 4008), or radioactive coal ash in your air (Sec. 4045). If you get sick, or your loved ones get sick, or your CHILDREN get sick? Not their problem. F.O.A.D.

All that, and they still haven't done a damned thing to bring jobs back to America. But, then, they were never going to, were they?

Edit: Oh, and before the Dems get too smug: this was in the compromise bill. Which means the Dems signed off on all of this.

Friday, April 08, 2011

No, You Idiots, Ryan Isn't "Courageous"

Just saw a great piece in Time (Yeah, I know, but it happens) by Michael Grunwald. It's about the Beltway nonsense about how Ryan is "courageous" for his determination to screw the non-rich:

You may not like Congressman Paul Ryan's budget plan, but you must admit that it's courageous. You simply must. By order of the Washington establishment, you may question whether Ryan's plan is sensible or humane or even remotely honest, but you have to confess that it is undeniably an extraordinary act of bravery, or else pundits will beat the confession out of you with swoony prose.

To New York Times columnist David Brooks, Ryan's 73-page budget outline — it's not an actual budget — is "the most comprehensive and courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes." Here at, Joe Klein wrote that it's "without question, an act of political courage," while Fareed Zakaria declared that "Ryan's plan is deeply flawed, but it is courageous." The Economist agreed: "Credit where credit is due; whatever you think of Paul Ryan's budget, it is politically gutsy." (See "The Ryan Budget: A Test of Character for Obama.")

This is just weird. Ryan is a conservative Republican committee chairman in a conservative Republican caucus. He was reelected last year with 68% of the vote. Sorry, Joe, but I do question whether it was really courageous for him to propose huge tax cuts for the rich, squeeze health care for the poor, and promise that nobody over 55 — the heart of the conservative Republican base — will have to make any sacrifices. Honestly, does anyone think this week has been bad for Ryan's career?
Yeah, screwing the poor has never taken courage in Washington. It just takes the ability to see where everybody around you stands as well.

As Grunwald points out, what would have been "courageous" is if Ryan had advocated tax increases. Same if he had called for curtailed military spending, or if he had touched that "third rail" of Social Security. But he's not courageous at all. He's just convenient, because he's advocating policies that Americans would never accept in order to fix a deficit that his billion-dollar buddies were responsible for.

One other bit I liked was the one about "adult conversations":

Supposedly, Ryan is brave because he's willing to start an "adult conversation" about the deficit and entitlements in Washington. But politicians talk about the deficit and entitlements all the time. Some close observers of American politics may recall that President Obama proposed a health care bill last year; it included half a billion dollars in Medicare cuts, which Republicans attacked as vicious rationing that would pull the plug on Grandma. I don't recall a lot of David Brooks commentary about the courage of that plan, even though, unlike Ryan's, it had a chance of becoming law.
That's the whole point. "Adult", here, means "realistic". And "realism", in Washington, means admitting that the New Deal is dead, that plutonomy is the new normal, and that the only policies that have a hope in hell of getting implemented are the ones that could issue from the pens held in the Koch brother's desiccated hands.

Thinking that the non-wealthy are allowed to anticipate anything but the workhouse or the gutter? Yeah, that might as well be fairy dust and unicorns for all that it's likely to happen. The only hope people are allowed to have is that the other guy just might get screwed harder and sooner than they are. It's all relative: as long as there's someone worse off than you, you don't have to feel so bad.

That's not "adult", except in the sense of the word where somebody's always getting screwed.

He closes with this:

So by all means, let's have an adult conversation about deficits. A good place to start would be the origins of our current predicament. President Clinton left behind a huge budget surplus. As Joe pointed out, it was wiped out by President Bush's tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.

All of those budget-busters went on the national credit card. And all of them were supported, no doubt courageously, by Congressman Ryan.
But that's just it. It's people like Joe that are the problem. Sure, they'll savage the policy. But, shit, that's utterly irrelevant and always has been. Obamacare-as-policy was savaged by all the liberal pundits back when it was the finance committee's recommendation, but it's the one that Americans ended up with. What matters is whether or not these guys are willing to put away the personal lionizing of people who think that they're scum and call them out for what they are. Klein will never, ever do that. Unlike his conservative counterparts, Joe Klein would never have the stones to say that someone like Ryan's a convenient coward. That would create issues. Klein can't afford issues. He needs beltway access and beltway friends, and knows that ineffective policy critiques are the perfect way to do it.

(Unfounded, bizarre personal attacks on people to his left are also a great way to do it, which is why Klein became synonymous with it.)

If he didn't need access, and didn't need beltway friends, then he might be comfortable saying that Paul Ryan is an absolute coward, a fool, a liar, and a danger to his country and the people that reside within it. But we'll never, ever know. All we'll ever get is "courageous". More's the pity.

Shutdown Coming

So, the government's going to shut down because anti-choice nuts are freaking out over the funding of Planned Parenthood. I'm guessing that this isn't what people had in mind when they threw the Dems out. But, rest assured, that's what you were gonna get.

On the plus side, though, the Republicans appear to be living up to every negative stereotype that you could possibly think of them. Not only are they basically working as the footsoldiers for plutonomy and working hard to screw over everybody who makes less than 500k a year, but they're having a gigantic tantrum because people dare to have a different opinion on an issue that motivates their base. They're doing no better at improving the lot of the country than the Dems did; in fact, they're objectively and unmistakeably worse, just as everybody would have expected.

That's probably going to help Obama and the Dems in 2012—assuming they don't compromise themselves into oblivion between now and then. Poor comfort for all the people who are going to get screwed over by this prospective shutdown. But at least everybody knows the score.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Julian Sanchez, Copyright, and the Undeserved Inheritance

Go here to read an excellent, unsentimental piece on copyright by Julian Sanchez (h/t DeLong).

Excerpt follows:

Wise assessment of copyright policy should have nothing to do with how you feel about the person or entity who holds the right at any particular time, because copyright policy is not about identifying wonderful and meritorious people and ensuring—certainly not as an end in itself, anyway—that their income is proportioned to their intrinsic moral desert—or lack thereof. We are all the massive beneficiaries of millennia of accumulated human scientific knowledge and cultural output, and not one of us did anything do deserve a jot of it. We’re all just extremely lucky not to have been born cavemen. The greatest creative genius alive would be hard pressed to create a smiley faced smeared in dung on a tree trunk without that huge and completely undeserved inheritance.
I really liked that first paragraph; it laid down the situation as it stands EXACTLY as it stands. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, as the saying goes. We don't pay them a thing except the intrinsic honor of building edifices upon the foundations of thought and technology that they bequeathed us, with the understanding that the same thing will happen to us, one day.

So banish the word “deserve” from your mind when you think about copyright. Nobody “deserves” a goddamn thing. (I say this, for what it’s worth, as someone who makes his living entirely through the production of “intellectual property.”) The only—the only—relevant question is whether a marginal restriction on the general ability to use information incentivizes enough additional information production over the long run to justify denying that marginal use to every other human being on the planet, whether for simple consumption or further creation. That’s an empirical question, and while I strongly suspect the answer will generally be “not by a longshot” beyond a whole lot more limited level of protection than we currently provide, I’m happy to be persuaded otherwise along any particular dimension. But if you want to make an argument that turns in any significant respect on how unlikeable big corporations are or how marvelous creative people are… well, spare me. And the rest of us. Because in both cases it’s probably true, but as a policy matter, nobody should really give a damn.
I liked this more, though. Sanchez is wonderfully unsentimental here, and discards the hollow "MINE! MINE!" variety of pseudo-morals that tends to underpin this. The only reason the copying monopoly exists is to produce more information and creativity than would exist otherwise, and in an age where more is produced free of charge on the Internet than could ever possibly be consumed, it's sort of a hard argument to make. At best you could argue from quality, and that might work for, say, film and some forms of video games. But things like music and prose writing? Good lord, there's more amateur material out there NOW than you could possibly consume in a lifetime; and while much of it is dreck, there's certainly enough quality there to raise the question of why the lucky few who benefit from the copyright system should be so expansively (and expensively) coddled.

(Of course, I might have a different view if I had ever written for cash; but as you can see by the distinct lack of advertisements on this site, that isn't the case.)

(I use a pseudonym. How would I even cash the cheque?)

Most of the moral arguments revolve around the idea that artists should be paid a fair wage for their work. I'd buy that if artists seemed to give a rat's ass about the fact that nobody else is getting paid for their work. No, I'm not terribly pleased with how the Huffington Post exploits its writers, but it's no different than a thousand other industries where that happens. The plight of the people who are furiously "tweeting" on their iPads about how horrible the Internet is for their profession pales in comparison to the plight of the impoverished, suicidal workers who MADE the damned things to begin with. Are they aware of that? Do they even care?

(Of course, I doubt Sanchez does, being a CATO writer and all; but even libertarians occasionally have their uses.)

Once everybody else gets a fair wage for their labor, then I'll start crying over the plight of Zack Snyder and Miley Cyrus. But I expect that I'm going to have a very, very long wait.

Edit: DeLong's commentators are very much annoyed with a different part of the Sanchez piece, which was about how one shouldn't blame corporations that exploit artists because "bad contracts happen, deal with it". Obviously that's absolutely ridiculous, and why I didn't deign to quote it. It's also not really about copyright in the first place; it's about the political economy of corporate power. It applies to every sector, not just copyright.

Again, libertarians have their uses—but you'd never want to endorse one's arguments wholesale.

Re-Edit: Or, as John Emerson put it: "Deep pockets can break anyone".

E.J. Dionne Asks "The End of Progressive Government"?

This has been in the works ever since the Republicans started lying their way into a House majority. Hell, it may have been in the works since Citizens United opened the floodgates of corporate cash. But now, finally, here we are.

Americans are about to learn how much is at stake in our larger budget fight, how radical the new conservatives in Washington are, and the extent to which some politicians would transfer even more resources from the have-nots and have-a-littles to the have-a-lots.

And you wonder: Will President Obama welcome the responsibility of engaging the country in this big argument, or will he shrink from it? Will his political advisers remain robotically obsessed with poll results about the 2012 election, or will they embrace Obama’s historic obligation — and opportunity — to win the most important struggle over the role of government since the New Deal?

This week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will announce the House Republicans’ budget plan, which is expected to include cuts in many programs for the neediest Americans.

The Ryan budget’s central purpose will not be deficit reduction but the gradual dismantling of key parts of government. Remember that Ryan wants both to preserve the Bush tax cuts and, over the long run, to enact more breaks for the wealthy, including the elimination of the capital gains tax.

Ryan’s plan reportedly will include steep Medicaid cuts, disguised as a proposal to turn the program into a “block grant” to the states. The net effect would be to leave even more Americans to the mercies of the private insurance market.

In deference to the GOP’s success in turning last year’s health-care law into “Obamacare,” let’s call this proposal Ryancare — and let’s make sure we look carefully at its impact on the elderly and the disabled, the main beneficiaries of Medicaid.

Put the two parts of the Ryan design together — tax cuts for the rich, program cuts for the poor — and its radically redistributionist purposes become clear. Timid Democrats would never dare embark on class warfare on this scale the other way around.
No shit. What's so enraging about this is that the Republicans are likely to accomplish more with their majority in one House than the Dems did with both Houses and the Presidency. The Republicans have stood their ground over and over again, and the Dems have caved over and over again.

And this is part of the reason:

But while I am assailing his ideas, let me put in a good word about Ryan himself:he is, from my limited experience, a charming man who truly believes what he believes. I salute him for laying out the actual conservative agenda. Here’s hoping he is transparent in the coming weeks about whom he is taking benefits from and toward whom he wants to be more generous. If he thinks we need an even more unequal society to prosper in the future, may he have the courage to say so.
WHY? Why praise a man who is trying to tear apart every program that has ever helped the non-wealthy in America? And why, especially, praise him for being "charming" and for consistency? He is a VILLIAN. Not only that, but he is a villian who, by all credible standards, knows absolutely nothing about economics and will most assuredly do more harm than good.


(What the hell is it about the American media that they must embrace amoral, potentially-deadly bastards as long as they're honest about it?)

You want to know why the Republicans are winning? There it is. It may not be what Dionne thought it was. Dionne almost certainly was just trying to play a silly little trick where he damned with faint praise, and he spends a fair amount of time tearing the policies apart.

But what it really is is the same goddamned thing that happens every time: reasonable progressives giving quarter to bastard conservatives, ones that would never, ever return the favor. The same thing he's saying that Obama must not do, he's doing. The same Republican policies of minority rule, gutted revenue, and destroying social security and medicare that he's decrying, he's actually aiding. He can castigate the policies all he wants; it's completely irrelevant.

In the interest of being "nice" and "fair", he's handing his enemy a rope and an instruction manual on noose-tying. Ryan doesn't deserve it. "Charming and honest" or no, he deserves nothing but scorn.

No quarter. Not ever.