Sunday, July 31, 2011

Silver Lining on the Small Screen

He isn't going to get listened to...but it's nice to see Paul Krugman basically take command this morning on This Week and lay out exactly what's going on. When I saw the panel included Will, Norquist, and Stephanopolous, I expected a right-wing pile-on, but Krugman ran that table like a boss. He used to be a bit shy and intimidated by these things, but he kicked ass.

No wonder he got hate mail.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Krugman, Chait, and "Centrist" Idiots

Well, this is a surprise. First, Chait:

The failure to understand the crisis we were entering was widely shared among centrist types...

...The political assumptions here turned out to be badly wrong. The main problem is that the Republican Party does not actually care very much about the deficit. It cares about, in order: Low taxes for high-income earners; reducing social spending, especially for the poor; protecting the defense budget; and low deficits. The Obama administration and many Democrats actually do care about the deficit and are willing to sacrifice their priorities in order to achieve it, a desire that was on full display during the health care reform debate. Republicans care about deficit reduction only to the extent that it can be undertaken without impeding upon other, higher priorities. Primarily "deficit reduction" is a framing device for their opposition to social spending, as opposed to a genuine belief that revenue and outlays ought to bear some relationship to each other.
Yeah, no shit. The rest of us, especially the "left" that your mag loves taking cheap shots at, have been yelling this from the rooftops for the past decade and a half, and definitely since the Crisis.

Willing to admit that the "shrill" set have a point yet?

Meanwhile, here's Krugman:

Jonathan Chait has an excellent piece documenting the way in which what he calls the establishment, and I call Very Serious People, misjudged the way the debt ceiling thing would play out... also showed awesome political naivete. As Chait says, the first thing you need to understand is that modern Republicans don’t care about deficits. They only pretend to care when they believe that deficit hawkery can be used to dismantle social programs; as soon as the conversation turns to taxes, or anything else that would require them and their friends to make even the smallest sacrifice, deficits don’t matter at all.

I can’t help but notice that Chait’s list of chumps is basically the same as the list of people who puffed up Paul Ryan and gave him an award for fiscal responsibility. Enough said.

What’s really awesome here is the blindness. Anyone reading the newspapers with an open mind had a pretty good idea of what would happen in the debt fight; only Washington insiders managed to fool themselves.

But they’re Very Serious.
Yep. Krugman's been calling this one for ages, and he's being borne out. (As is usually the case on these things.)

The best (worst) part is that I suspect that the "centrists" will remember this right up until the moment when the opportunity once again arises to punch a hippy and get some "centrist" cred.

(Well, no. The best part is that Chait wrote a piece last year that showed that there are absolutely no negative electoral consequences to progressive voting.)

Chronic Child Hunger in America

Yep! America has now hit the point where there are children in Boston who can't get enough to eat! First world country? Look at this:
Doctors at a major Boston hospital report they are seeing more hungry and dangerously thin young children in the emergency room than at any time in more than a decade of surveying families.

Many families are unable to afford enough healthy food to feed their children, say the Boston Medical Center doctors. The resulting chronic hunger threatens to leave scores of infants and toddlers with lasting learning and developmental problems.

Before the economy soured in 2007, 12 percent of youngsters age 3 and under whose families were randomly surveyed in the hospital’s emergency department were significantly underweight. In 2010, that percentage jumped to 18 percent, and the tide does not appear to be abating, said Dr. Megan Sandel, an associate professor of pediatrics and public health at BMC.

“Food is costing more, and dollars don’t stretch as far,’’ Sandel said. “It’s hard to maintain a diet that is healthy.’’

The emergency room survey found a similarly striking increase in the percentage of families with children who reported they did not have enough food each month, from 18 percent in 2007 to 28 percent in 2010.

Pediatricians at hospitals in four other cities - Baltimore; Little Rock, Ark.; Minneapolis; and Philadelphia - also reported increases in the ranks of malnourished, hungry youngsters in their emergency rooms since 2008. But Boston’s increases were more dramatic, said Sandel, a lead investigator with Children’s HealthWatch, a network of researchers who track children’s health. Researchers said higher housing and heating costs in Massachusetts probably exacerbated the state’s surge.

BMC has also seen a 58 percent increase, from 24 in 2005 to 38 in 2010, in the number of severely underweight babies under the age of 1 who were referred by family physicians to its Grow Clinic, where doctors provide intensive nutritional, medical, and other services to boost babies’ growth. Such malnourishment is similar to what is more typically seen in developing countries, Sandel said.

Among the children treated at the clinic last year was Jordan Turner-Goode, who at age 1 weighed just 19 pounds, while the average child that age is more than 24 pounds.
That's right! A 58% increase in the number of severely underweight babies! BABIES!

Meanwhile, at this very moment, someone on Wall St. is buying a new iPad for his kids. Not that the kids really need it. They just don't want the kids to look bad when they go back to their private school in the fall.

Hey, gotta spend that last big bonus check on something. They've already bought Washington—so why not splurge on some Appleware?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dean Baker Endorses Ron Paul's "Surprising Lucid Solution" for Debt Crisis

I'll have to admit that the whole thing is bizarrely elegant. Here's Baker.

Representative Ron Paul has hit upon a remarkably creative way to deal with the impasse over the debt ceiling: have the Federal Reserve Board destroy the $1.6 trillion in government bonds it now holds. While at first blush this idea may seem crazy, on more careful thought it is actually a very reasonable way to deal with the crisis. Furthermore, it provides a way to have lasting savings to the budget.

The basic story is that the Fed has bought roughly $1.6 trillion in government bonds through its various quantitative easing programs over the last two and a half years. This money is part of the $14.3 trillion debt that is subject to the debt ceiling. However, the Fed is an agency of the government. Its assets are in fact assets of the government. Each year, the Fed refunds the interest earned on its assets in excess of the money needed to cover its operating expenses. Last year the Fed refunded almost $80 billion to the Treasury. In this sense, the bonds held by the Fed are literally money that the government owes to itself.

Unlike the debt held by Social Security, the debt held by the Fed is not tied to any specific obligations. The bonds held by the Fed are assets of the Fed. It has no obligations that it must use these assets to meet. There is no one who loses their retirement income if the Fed doesn’t have its bonds. In fact, there is no direct loss of income to anyone associated with the Fed’s destruction of its bonds. This means that if Congress told the Fed to burn the bonds, it would in effect just be destroying a liability that the government had to itself, but it would still reduce the debt subject to the debt ceiling by $1.6 trillion. This would buy the country considerable breathing room before the debt ceiling had to be raised again. President Obama and the Republican congressional leadership could have close to two years to talk about potential spending cuts or tax increases. Maybe they could even talk a little about jobs.

In addition, there’s a second reason why Representative Paul’s plan is such a good idea. As it stands now, the Fed plans to sell off its bond holdings over the next few years. This means that the interest paid on these bonds would go to banks, corporations, pension funds, and individual investors who purchase them from the Fed. In this case, the interest payments would be a burden to the Treasury since the Fed would no longer be collecting (and refunding) the interest...

...In short, Representative Paul has produced a very creative plan that has two enormously helpful outcomes. The first one is that the destruction of the Fed’s $1.6 trillion in bond holdings immediately gives us plenty of borrowing capacity under the current debt ceiling. The second benefit is that it will substantially reduce the government’s interest burden over the coming decades. This is a proposal that deserves serious consideration, even from people who may not like its source.

He's not wrong. Neither of them are wrong. It makes perfect sense and I can't fault the reasoning. Sure, the Fed would take a bit of a bath on this. So what? They're still the best equipped organization in America to do so. It wipes out a lot of debt in one go, and it means that there won't be the Mega Catfood Commission wiping out old people's Medicare and Social Security, at least not anytime soon.

In fact, it's such a logical solution that I'm really, really wondering why the hell nobody else has advocated it.

Edit: Noah Smith thinks that it could lead to "hyperinflation", as it would signify the end of Fed independence. Maybe. But I'm a bit skeptical about that. Inflation, yes, but "hyperinflation"? 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Norway Attacker's "Manifesto Against Muslims"

From Huffpo. (The Canadian one this time; the piece was in the Canadian Press. You can find it by going through the Oslo page on Huffpo.)

The man blamed for attacks on Norway's government headquarters and a youth retreat that left at least 93 dead said he was motivated by a desire to bring about a revolution in Norwegian society, his lawyer said Sunday.

A manifesto published online — which police are poring over and said was posted the day of the attack — ranted against Muslim immigration to Europe and vowed revenge on "indigenous Europeans," whom he accused of betraying their heritage. It added that they would be punished for their "treasonous acts."

Police have not confirmed that their 32-year-old Norwegian suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, wrote the document, but his lawyer referred to it and said Breivik had been working on it for years.

The treatise detailed plans to acquire firearms and explosives, and even appeared to describe a test explosion: "BOOM! The detonation was successful!!!" It ends with a note dated 12:51 p.m. on July 22: "I believe this will be my last entry."
 Everybody and his dog was presuming that this was an Islamist thing. Then, when that was ruled out, everybody was presuming that this was just a random crazy. It wasn't that, either. The man is responsible for his own actions, but we cannot ignore the elephant in the room: he's motivated by the same sort of reactionary xenophobic fervor that so much of the American right is.

Here's some elaboration from the Statesman:

A 1,500-page manifesto, posted on the Web hours before the attacks, included a day-by-day diary of months of planning for the attacks, and the author claimed to be part of a small group that intends to "seize political and military control of Western European countries and implement a cultural conservative political agenda."

He predicted a conflagration that would kill or injure more than 1 million "Marxists/multiculturalists" and added: "The time for dialogue is over. We gave peace a chance. The time for armed resistance has come."

The manifesto was signed Andrew Berwick, an Anglicized version of his name. A former U.S. government official briefed on the case said investigators believed the manifesto was Breivik's work.

The manifesto, titled "2083: A European Declaration of Independence," claims to explain "what your government, the academia and the media are hiding from you" and warns against "appeasement and anti-European thinking."

Breivik also was thought to have posted a video Friday calling for Christian conservatives in Europe to rise up violently as a modern-day version of the Crusades-era Knights Templar to save Europe from Islamic totalitarianism. In its closing moments, the video depicts Breivik in a military uniform, holding assault weapons.
What bothers me—other than the fact that ninety innocent people are dead, mind—is that I doubt the wingnuts will stop to reconsider. They'll probably just point to the guy having played that "Modern Warfare" shooting game and say that this is all video games' fault.

I do hope that everybody else remembers, though. I hope that people remember that the xenophobic hate infesting places like the Murdoch Press and the right-wing blogs can foment violence just as easily as theocratic Islam. I hope that people are at least skeptical when engaging those sources in the future.

Freedom of expression is the most important freedom of them all—but the consequences of expression are not limited to expression in Arabic.

Edit: Oh, and he had ties to the good ol' English Defence League.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fox News: Big Phone Hackers?

Big "allegedly" there, of course, but just look at what "The Anomaly" wrote on DailyKos. It's a story about Dan Cooper, a former Fox executive who let out a bunch of confidential information about Fox News' head honcho, Roger Ailes. He did it off the record, but Ailes found out anyway.

Cooper says that Ailes discovered he was the source by gaining access to his phone records through Fox's “brain room”.
Cooper claims that his talent agent, Richard Leibner, told him he had received a call from Ailes, who identified Cooper as a source, and insisted that Leibner drop him as a client--or any client reels Leibner sent Fox would pile up in a corner and gather dust. Cooper continued:  “I made the connections. Ailes knew I had given Brock the interview. Certainly Brock didn’t tell him. Of course. Fox News had gotten Brock’s telephone records from the phone company, and my phone number was on the list. Deep in the bowels of 1211 Avenue of the Americas, News Corporation’s New York headquarters, was what Roger called the Brain Room. Most people thought it was simply the research department of Fox News. But unlike virtually everybody else, because I had to design and build the Brain Room, I knew it also housed a counterintelligence and black ops office. So accessing phone records was easy pie.”
In a Rolling Stone piece, Tim Dickenson corroborates Cooper's account of a “black-ops” room deep within Fox HQ:
Befitting his siege mentality, Ailes also housed his newsroom in a bunker. Reporters and producers at Fox News work in a vast, windowless expanse below street level, a gloomy space lined with video-editing suites along one wall and an endless cube farm along the other. In a separate facility on the same  subterranean floor, Ailes created an in-house research unit – known at Fox News as the “brain room” – that requires special security clearance to gain access. “The brain room is where Willie Horton comes from,” says Cooper, who  helped design its specs. “It’s where the evil resides.”

If that sounds paranoid, consider the man Ailes brought in to run the brain room: Scott Ehrlich, a top lieutenant from his political-­consulting firm.  Ehrlich – referred to by some as “Baby Rush” – had taken over the lead on Big Tobacco’s campaign to crush health care reform when Ailes signed on with CNBC. According to documents obtained by Rolling Stone, Ehrlich gravitated to the dark side: In a strategy labeled “Underground Attack,” he advised the tobacco giants to “hit hard” at key lawmakers “through their soft  underbelly” by quietly influencing local media – a tactic that would help the firms “stay under the radar of the national news media.”
I don't know if this will get any traction. This isn't the Guardian, it's Kos. But this "bunker" is definitely worth investigating. It may well be that News Corps' tactics were only a UK thing...

...but I sure as hell wouldn't bet money on it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

So Warren Won't Be Leading the Consumer Protection Agency

So sez the Post, quoting a source in the White House.

Well, of course she won't be. She might be effective. And Lord knows we can't have that. The little people are cattle. You don't protect them. What are you, some sort of commie?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dow Jones CEO Bails Thanks to Murdoch Hacking Scandal

Well, I wasn't expecting this. Sure, it seems like everybody in the UK is resigning in disgrace in light of the hacking scandal, but I'd expected that it would stay on that side of the Atlantic.

Apparently not.
Dow Jones & Co. Chief Executive Les Hinton resigned late Friday, as the top executive at News Corp.'s financial publishing unit sought to contain the damage from the company's British tabloid scandal, which began while he oversaw the company's U.K. newspaper operations.

Mr. Hinton said that he was "ignorant of what apparently happened" at the company's tabloid newspapers earlier in the decade. He characterized his lack of knowledge as "irrelevant" and said it was "proper" for him to step down.

Mr. Hinton's announcement came hours after Rebekah Brooks, the embattled chief executive of News International, News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper unit, resigned. She acknowledged the reputation of the company was "at risk."

The resignations were part of an aggressive new damage-control campaign by the media company, which also publishes The Wall Street Journal.
It's not enough. It's not remotely close to enough. Murdoch and his underlings knew damned well what was going on. They're under investigation for hacking 9-11 victims, for God's sake. This isn't the sort of thing that gets blown off with a full-page apology in a newspaper and a few strategic resignations. This is serious. The truth must out.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

South Sudan Gains Their Freedom and Independence

I know I've been a bit negative here over the last while. There's good reason for that.But South Sudan finally getting their independence? After all this time, all the bloodshed, all the tears, and all the trials? There's nothing bad to say about that.

The country is going to need investment, aid, and support, and it is going to face immense trials. That doesn't matter.  It was necessary, it was a long time coming, and it'll help things in the long run.

It's a glorious day.

Kevin Drum Tears a Strip

Kevin Drum is pissed. After the latest dismal job report—followed by the latest Krugman skewering—he has clearly had enough.

We are ruled by charlatans and cowards. Our economy is in the tank, we know what to do about it, and we're just not going to do it. The charlatans prefer instead to stand by and let people suffer because that's politically useful, while the cowards let them get away with it because it's politically risky to fight back. Ugh indeed.
The truly sad thing is that it's more politically risky not to fight back. David Plouffe aside, unemployment is going to have a massive effect on people's voting habits. They aren't going to give a tinker's damn about deficits or debts if the employment situation doesn't improve.

Hell, the only reason they care about either debts or deficits at all now is because a large part of the public has been convinced that cutting the deficit will help the job situation. It won't. Even the terrible economists grant that it won't. It still doesn't matter. If people are still lacking jobs, they'll "toss the bums out" no matter how solvent the government is. The politically wise move is not to give in.

Good luck convincing Washington Dems of that, though. They'll keep on following that deficit drumbeat right off the cliff, with Obama at their head. Some nutter like Bachmann will get the reins. Then the fun will TRULY begin.