(part of) You Are Here: Explorations in Search of Current Reality

My Blogs Why write 4 different blogs? Good question, but it seemed to make sense at the time. Most energy is going into The Real Truth Project

The Eisenhower Socialist ; The Real Truth Project ; What Was the Cold War? ; The Ontological Comedian

See also Tales of the Early Republic, a resource for trying to make some sense of early nineteenth century America.

(Just to clarify things a little, Eisenhower wasn't really a socialist though he could easily get labeled one today, as could Abraham Lincoln or most every other Republic president until recently. And I'm not really a socialist either.)


Sunday, July 25, 2010

When to Stimulate & When Not To - A neat summary from Paul Krugman (Know when to hold 'em, etc)

SOURCE: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/24/keynes-in-asia/


Quoting another source: David Pilling:

However much Asians trumpet the value of parsimony, their governments have been as bold as any in opening the fiscal sluices. One reason is the bitter memory of the 1997 Asian financial crisis when the International Monetary Fund imposed fiscal austerity on several Asian countries. Those measures are now almost universally seen as a blunder that unnecessarily exacerbated economic misery.

Unlike in the west, there is little debate in Asia about how well the stimulus worked. It has been spectacular.

Part of the reason Asians felt empowered to do [much more aggressive stimulus than any Western nation] was the fact that during the good years they did what you’re supposed to do. Keynesian economics is often caricatured as a policy of deficit spending always; but as I’ve tried to explain, deficit spending is what you should do only when the economy is depressed and interest rates are at or near the zero lower bound. When times are good, you should be paying debt down. Pilling:

The scale of Asia’s stimulus may have matched, even surpassed, the west. But the context has been entirely different. Asian governments had plumped-up their fiscal cushions after the 1997 crisis, building a formidable pool of reserves. Such “prudence” meant, rather bizarrely, that poor countries such as China were foregoing spending and investment in order to facilitate rich foreigner’ binge-buying. But it also meant that, when the crunch came, they had the wherewithal to spend.

So that was the fiscal sin of the Bush years: deficits continued even when times were good; there was no effort to prepare for future shocks.

And don’t say “what can you expect from politicians”. The ratio of federal debt to GDP (pdf) fell from 49 percent in fiscal 1993 to 33 percent in fiscal 2001 (my note: please read and reread this!!); it could have continued on that downward path. But candidate George W. Bush declared that if the government is running a surplus, it means that it’s collecting too much in taxes; Alan Greenspan told Congress that we had to cut taxes to avoid paying off our debt too fast (my note: Holy shit, did he really say that?); then came an unfunded war, and the rest is history.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Codevilla's "Ruling Class" Really the New Scapegoat Class?

Well, the Spectator, proud purveyor of "The Largest Selection of Liberal-baiting Merchandise on the Net!" is at it again with its article "America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution". I have to say something about this piece of schlock by Angelo Codevilla, professor of international relations at Boston University, , even if I can only eke out a half hour to do it in. It worked to call all liberals and people with some sense of history "elites", so why not move on to the next level. Next, let's say they have "Protocols" for taking over and enslaving the world. Meanwhile, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

Personally, I'm more concerned about the people with the money to buy and sell politicians, or just buy their own way into office, or finance Propaganda Tanks and other organizations that pick a key election, where an insufficiently obedient Republican or a Democrat on shaky ground, and determine its result. I'm concerned about the multi millionaires who welcomed George W. Bush into their ranks with do-nothing board memberships and the like. I'm concerned about Bernie Madoff who blew up enough of other people's money to run the Russian government for a year, and I'm worried that the "legitimate finance game" is not so different from Madoff's.

Sure, some of these people went to the same schools as Obama or John Kerry, but Codevilla is just using that to confuse matters. He really isn't focused on the galloping concentration of wealth and real power; he wants to put down the person who says "I've worked all my life trying to understand this (aspect of history say), and I think that should count for something". Glenn Beck can tell you all about it in 10 minutes. It almost sounds like we're warming up for a Cultural Revolution, or, since we all like hyperbole these days, a genocide of the well educated, as in Cambodia.

Stop looking for scapegoats. Let's try to find the real keys to power. Most revolutions look like a few power geniuses stampeding a big chunk of the population into lynching the people who provide what stability there is, and it sometimes looks to me like the Tea Party movement could be taken in that direction.

Yes, there are "Perils of Revolution", as Mr Codevilla says, but for 2 or 3 decades, nearly all the revolutions have been managed by Chicago School style economists who want to put unlimited power in the hands of whoever can make the most money by whatever means; who naively believe that whoever has the most money must have produced the most value. This has been going on from Chile to Argentina to Russia, and now, I'm afraid that revolutionary campaign has its hands around the throat of America.

We don't need "politics of resentment" broadcast by either the left or right. The world is what it is, and there's nobody but us to try to make it better. I like the title of a self-published book I once read "There's No Justice, Just Us".

Some thoughts on JournOlist and the teapot calling the kettle racist (and any other term of abuse that comes to mind)

Some thoughts I posted on http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein, but I think they got pretty much buried in the avalanche of abuse. Quite a few ideas I've expressed before, but I can't hold a candle to some people when it comes to being repititious.

The best argument for a closed list is what an open list discussion looks like **THIS**.
"Racist, Racist, I dare you to call me a racist you racist".
Maybe the right has closed lists. Maybe they need them less because they can outshout anybody, and never tire of saying the same things over and over again. I'm sure some groups of operatives do because they *truly* don't want people to know what they're saying. Now they're going to dare you to open your full archives, to provide 100 times as much fodder to be SHERRODed (I don't think it will catch on, but the right can talk about "Borking").

I'll wager that right wing journalists don't need anything like Journolist -- even the conspiratorial Journolist of their wild imaginations because they (right wing journalists) are an integral part of the whole right wing movement, with its conferences and other venues in which tactics for pushing this agenda or smearing this or that person are discussed openly.

I think there is a huge unexamined side of the right wing noise machine is ripe for journalistic investigation: the emails that try to look like they are from a friend of a friend.

A year ago I started getting emails my parents' friends had forwarded to them. There would be lists showing who had previously forwarded the item to the friend, and so on, but it was never clear who put it together.

My parents have always been pretty mainstream Republicans. My Mom still has some admiration for FDR and Truman, and feels Nixon got what he deserved, and they are far from ready for the revisionism that says we were "stabbed in the back" by liberals over Vietnam. She has just gotten through reading 3 Cups of Tea and loved it.
They live in a wealthy retirement community with mostly college educated people (ages generally 60-80 and up) who've run small to middle sized businesses and the like.

And they and their friends were getting, and believing in the emails with the links to YouTube videos proving Obama deliberately failed to salute the flag when generals and cabinet members around him were saluting. My mother is distressed and saying "What can you say to defend a man like that?" Actually they were saluting the president while "Hail to the Chief" was played. The email was called "The Crotch Salute" because of the awkward position of Obama's hands. Googling "crotch salute" I get 11,400 hits so it has gotten around and precious few of the hits have anyone debunking it.
They get "parables" in which Obama is portrayed as a smooth Marxist/Mafia thug. And other parables with simplistic economic implications.
They contain bits like "what if I were to tell you that Obama wants to dismantle conservative talk radio through the imposition of a new "Fairness Doctrine. that he wants to curtail the First Amendment rights of those who may disagree with his policies via internet blogs..."

Would you say, "C'mon, that will never happen in America ." (this one is a sort of 12 part call-and response thing).

They received a tirade against Obama by Gene Iacocca which was really a 3 year old anti-Bush screed with selective omissions and just one addition.

Some of them have gotten clever enough to say "Approved by Snopes" when in fact Snopes called them a fraud.

They take an essay from a right wing crazy site and call it an "article" (they never distinguish between "article" and op-ed) from the prestigious WSJ.

It seems the right wing propaganda apparat has 3 parts: (1) The Emails where everything EVERYTHING I've seen has been full of blatant lies. (2) wild bloggers who deal in stuff that has a shred of something to back it up (they can't help it if some pure and simple lies get into their comments section (http://eisenhowersocialist.blogspot.com/2010/05/climate-change-and-energy-policy.html)
(3) Finally the stars, who avoid sue-able libel, and deal in interpretations rooted in millions of under the radar words that THEY don't have to risk saying.

Assuming I'm right about the right wing emails, etc., how can the lies and their sources be exposed?

I think first of all, people are vastly underestimating the impact. I'd propose ongoing polling. Watch them as they emerge and circulate. http://myrightwingdad.blogspot.com/ can help with that, and just poll 1000 (maybe less would do) people soon after something emerges to ask whether they believe whatever is being stated. No need, I think, to say anything about where they would have gotten the idea.

Another course of action without the big cost of polling is, don't let Rush and Glenn off the hook. Call and ask "What do you think of Obama's refusal to salute the flag". (http://therealtruthproject.blogspot.com/2010/07/get-email-with-extreme-anti-obama.html) I believe their hope, and certainly what serves them best, is for these things to remain invisible to all but their partisans, and certainly not make publicity for them to get publically debunked.

If 10% of people are believing a ludicrous lie that is important news. If one can find out where the lies are coming from (there is too much similarity in style for me to believe they come from random "concerned citizens"), that is even more important news.

As for the "anything goes" blogs, I think they need to be taken seriously too. Here, unlike with the right wing emails, there is nothing secret to unmask. One way to take them seriously is to try to determine the size of their readership - some of them no doubt advertize their 'hit rates'. Also, the idea of polling applies equally well to them. And likewise putting more visible right wing (which I say because "Radical Conservative" is an oxymoron) commentators on the spot.

For an example of Rush&co studiously ignoring the "Final nail in the coffin of the global warming hoax", see http://eisenhowersocialist.blogspot.com/2010/05/climate-change-and-energy-policy.html

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Imagined Slippery Slope to Totalitarianism

It has troubled and puzzled me for the last couple of years that many people seem terrified that any movement towards any new role of government, or even the recovery of roles it played in the recent past, and believe that any such moves will lead straight to the Stalinist world of torture and vast prison camps.

Millions of people have at times seemed obsessed with serial killers, and have devoured books (mostly novels) on the subject and flocked to movies as if their lives depended on understanding the serial killer mind. I think this is rooted in our minds' instinctual drive to try to understand threats. But the drive isn't working very well in the modern world. For one thing, once upon a time, stories were all we had -- stories told by elders, passed down by word of mouth. We could do better than that today, but our minds have been shaped by evolution to attend to well told stories. Besides being drawn to the wrong sort of material, we seem to focus on monstrous individuals, which we can easily imagine, rather than historic trends, which we can't.

The "Comic Book" version of Hayek's Road to Serfdom which I introduced in "What was the Cold War" is just one version of a popular horror story that, as far as I can tell, resembles nothing that ever really occurred in the history of the world. Other versions include Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. The story is that of creeping liberalism that evolved into socialism and then totalitarianism during a time of peace.

So far, I've been unable to think of any totalitarian nation that just grew due to the efforts of idealists gone wrong; rather, they were born out of violent anarchy and very weak governments, or governments in severe crisis. The French revolution began with widespread starvation and a government unable to raise money, went from crisis to crisis until it seemed that each faction that came into power would try to annihilate its rivals. Finally Napoleon put an end to violent factional struggles but went on to show the world slaughter on a new scale.

The Soviet Union was midwifed by the slaughter of World War I, along with the fanaticism of ideologues who, having observed plenty of Dickensian squalor and grinding poverty and death, developed a theory that only a revolution could prevent this process of virtual enslavement from intensifying. In addition, Russia, which had never come to terms with the civilization of the last 100 or so years, was coming apart at the seams. So a particularly ruthless group managed to seize a power base, and then prevail through several years of civil war. As in so many cases, the sense of life or death struggle, of threat from all sides facilitated the weeding out of all but single minded fanatics, or at least fatally weakened the appeal of the more moderate and humane members of the Bolshevik party.

Communist China was the end product of a century of disintegration of imperial China, a breakdown into regional warlords, and a massive and vicious attempt by the Japanese Empire to enslave the Chinese. Chairman Mao then took the Marxist doctrine of class warfare to new extremes.

The "Warsaw Pact" was the result of a massive conquest. The Soviet Union was nearly wiped out by the Nazi empire, but managed to regain the momentum to overrun arout 2/3 of all the German occupied territory. The memory of having more than a tenth of their population killed combined with Stalin's pure power lust was behind the engineering of "socialist" revolutions under the watchful eye of the largest occupying force in history.

The Hitler empire itself was the outgrowth of the Weimar Republic, a weak democracy under constant threat of reoccupation by its neighbors.

[to be continued]

Friday, July 16, 2010

Manifesto of the "Pay Attention and Don't Take any Wooden Nickles Party"

Doesn't it make common sense that after several years of 20% of the population sitting on its hands, we'll be worse off in some fundamental way. Infrastructure decayed, people less educated, the nation having less intellectual property than we might have had?

The recession started getting well underway in 2001/2, and was masked for most of the Bush Admin by the building, refinancing, and home equity loan boom. We weren't creating true value, and our means (corporate structure, employee skills, capital other than building) were deteriorating, yet we convinced the world, including notably China, that our housing/building /land stock had magically become 50-100% more valuable. Construction jobs (and war related jobs), and some energy related industry (since the disruption in the middle east helped drive up the price of oil) grew, not much else, and China sent us boatloads of stuff on credit that we secured with our mortgages and 2nd mortgages. The recession didn't start when Obama came in, it didn't even start in 2007/8 under Bush -- it's been going on for 8 years only hidden by a rather pointless boom in building etc. And when that bubble burst, we were like Wiley Coyote having marched 20 feet beyond the lip of the cliff, and didn't start falling til we looked down.

What to do? For individuals, if you're 18-20 years old and can't get work, take out a student loan so you don't sit around missing the chance to gain work habits and losing what intellectual capital you have. If you have to borrow from a relative to buy the suit you need for a job interview or a cheap car without which you can't get to a place of employment, you'd be stupid not to.

It's not so different with the nation. If it lets 10-20 percent of the economy grind to a halt, then stuff decays and other stuff doesn't get built that could make the economy stronger in the future. Lay off teachers and the kids get dumber. That's called "intellectual capital". All sorts of capital deteriorates so we have less debt perhaps but a weaker engine with which to pay it off; quite possibly so much weaker that a few years out we have MORE debt than we would have had we invested (yes, might involve borrowing) in some way.

At this time in the business cycle of the great depression, FDR was 2 years from being elected. Would that Obama had had that luck. But some radical-conservative think tank economists are working overtime telling us not only that FDR took a simple little recession and turned it into a depression, but that Hoover really started it instead of the pre revisionis version that said Hoover's failure to take energetic measures for 3-4 years drove us so deep into it. Now you're going to start hearing from the right revisionists about the "failed Hoover/Roosevelt policies of deficit spending"; I'm not making this up -- I've already started hearing this line.

Let's start a "Pay Attention and Don't Take any Wooden Nickles" party.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Was Hayek a secret Eisenhower Socialist?

Dylan Matthews, in Ezra Klein's blog quotes Hayek saying "“The preservation of competition [is not] incompatible with an extensive system of social services — so long as the organization of these services is not designed in such a way as to make competition ineffective over wide fields.” and "There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision." Astonishing! Government healthcare reform is not part of the road to serfdom?

Matthews also notes that this was left out of a 'comic-book version of “The Road to Serfdom” printed in Look magazine in 1945'

Maybe Hayek was having a lucid moment of viewing free markets as physical manifestations, supported by whatever it took to bring them into being (history, regulations, lack of regulations, a felicitous distribution of wealth...) rather than some ideal essence consisting of the absence of government regulation.

Let me suggest that perhaps precisely this (I repeat) view of free markets as physical manifestations, supported by whatever it took to bring them into being (history, regulations, lack of regulations, a felicitous distribution of wealth is the element of realism needed to bring the economic debate down from the clouds.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Balancing Liberty, Democracy, and Equality

Perhaps I can summarize my view of good government as having Liberty, Democracy, and (Rough) Equality, all strong and in balance, and much of the much of what has gone wrong with various ideologies (left, right, and other) can be blamed on obsessions with one or two of the three qualities to the point of practically ignoring the other(s).

Many left-leaning people have tended to worship equality far above anything else, with disastrous results. On the other hand today, many Americans seem almost exclusively obsessed with liberty. But none, and not even any two is likely to survive without the others.

In the old Communist system, the obsession with equality led to the death of liberty and democracy. And yet equality was not achieved either. PERHAPS it is inevitable that when one or two of the qualities is driven to near extinction by the others, even the one that received too much emphasis will be lost in the end.

The trouble is, to merely say 'this is the quality', or 'these are the qualities that matter' has no effect on the world. There has to be a living system that seeks to preserve all of them.

Without practical equality in various forms the majority of us can be in a position to lose all our power when a government entity, or an ultra-rich corporation or individual encrouches on it. I don't only mean formal equality before the law, also believe there must be some rough degree of practical (economic) equality. I.e. when you have a class of people with nothing, it is both inhumane and short sighted for us not to do something collectively for them. In most cases, a "dole" or "welfare" payments does more harm than good. The goal of supporting people to stay out of dire poverty isn't enough; rather, imaginative means must be used to enable and encourage people to be integrated into economic society. I am so far from being a radical leveler that I think maybe 100 to 1 ratios of income could well be fine, while there could still be some "tipping point", some critical mass of individuals 1000 times richer than the average, would put us well on the way to a permanent class system in all but name.

So I leave "rough equality" (which Tocqueville thought was a source of America's strength) undefined, and could consider and respect a wide range of attempts to define it, but we should not accept just burying the whole idea just because it has no obvious or "natural" definition.

Without a wide range of freedoms, we can be robbed of everything else by either the state or by super-rich individuals and we will have no PRACTICAL means of resistence.

Without practical democracy (democratic control of the state) -- and of a meaningful state with sufficient power (hard as this is to define) most people, however well organized, would find it very difficult to hold onto the other values: Freedom and equality.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Confidence Fairies and Invisible Bond Vigilantes

Paul Krugman has been blaming bad economic decisions on the people who believe in "Confidence Fairies" and "Invisible Bond Vigilantes". I think he has a point.

“The idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank, in a recent interview. Why? Because “confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery.”

Now I'm starting to make sense of all this. Mr. Trichet is seeing things exclusively from the point of view of his class. Austerity means he and his brothers will not at any time soon, have to increase what they pay the world's governments to protect their billions while millions starve, so they can confidently continue to sit on their piles of cash waiting for things to turn around. But does getting your unemployment check inspire confidence? Or being laid off if one is a government worker? No, but when we talked about confidence, we weren't talking about those people, were we? Or maybe we should, if we truly believe inspiring confidence is a strategy for getting out of the recession/depression, and aren't just talking through our hats.

Bond vigilantes are investors who pull the plug on governments they perceive as unable or unwilling to pay their debts.

Paul Krugman talks as if he has never seen a bond vigilante. In my opinion the point isn't that they've never existed. I think in fact that smaller weaker countries that were over a barrel, or navigating some extremely difficult transition did in fact have their very constitutions formed by the hammer blows of the bond vigilanties. I am thinking of what I read in the Shock Doctrine about South Africa, Russia, other former Warsaw Bloc menbers, and various Latin American countries especially. To punish the South African currency on the day there is talk of any sort of constraint on foreign ownership seems quite feasible to me, and many times this and similar things did occur, based on what I've read (I think the book has some problems in its overall framing of what happenned, but do not by any means think it is based on total fabrication. If anyone wants to point me to evidence to the contrary, feel free.

You have, in fact something going on in the public arena - critical decisions being made about how the South African or Russion economy will interact with the rest of the world. It is seen as precedent setting. You have one or more strong centralized bodies of the world's wealth handlers, like the IMF, and no doubt people writing alarming editorials in the Wall Street Journal, or Wall Street blogs or newsletters on a day by day or even hour by hour basis, in the case of the blogs/newsletters when the precarious new or newly reconfigured government makes a "misstep". And it was cheap to punish these small or weak countries. You move your investment somewhere else; most of the world's economy is reasonably healthy, so that is not a problem.

But we cannot simply extrapolate this to the current situation, and the American economy or even moderately large western economies. Who is going to jerk hundreds of billions of dollars out ot the American economy based on an alarmist editorial or emotional reaction "Oh my God, how dare they flout the laws of sacred economics!". No, they have to think about whether the proposed move, even by their economic theories, is all that catastrophic really, and where is a better place to put that investment.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Dubiousness of calling Mandated Insurance a "Tax".

Comments I made on http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/06/current_law_is_fiscally_respon.html":

Responding to: "Also if the government forces one to purchase health insurance at one's own expense that's effectively a tax. These off-balance sheet revenues and expenses ..."

Whoops -- you can, through some analogy call the requirement to purchase health insurance a "tax", but you cannot call it a source of (government) revenue.

OK, here's an idea for lowering the overall tax burden: Ban states from making car insurance mandatory!

OK, you can call mandated health, or car insurance a tax, and by the same reasoning, a (usually local government) requirement that you keep the sidewalk in front of your business ice free in winter is also a tax. Also, one way streets are a tax because under some circumstances, you could arrive at your destination faster and cheaper by going the "wrong way" (such authoritarian language!) up a one way street.

But, getting back to the ice on the sidewalks, it's a government imposed burden that will cost you money if you hire someone to do it. But then again, it might save you from a big lawsuit. Or the requirement that somebody else keep their sidewalk ice free might save you from a broken neck.

Health care can be expected to have some analogous effects. Is it fantastic that someone else's health could have a negative effect on you? not really. How about the part time school bus driver with no benefits who has a heart attack on his/her route that cholesterol lowering drugs might have prevented? How about the unpaid visits to the emergency room that hospitals no longer have to pass on to whoever they can find to subsidize them, when people stop using the ER in place of a family doctor. How about if the government, now able to show a financial benefit, requires procedures in hospitals that drastically cut MERSA and similar hospital spread infections (for which Medicare might pay hundreds of dollars a day for 3, 6, or 9 months (it's happenning in my own family). The cost/benefit effect alone could make it happen. And then along will come the "fringe benefits", like my father not being a deaths door for a time, and stuck in a chair or walker for months and months.

Lets just say there might be a reason the other wealth countries, with real health care systems, have half the financial burden of health care that we do, and mostly people better satisfied with the care they get.

"the cost of complying with the government regulations which have been growing like kudzu." Oh yes, the cost of complying with those pesky safety procedures for mines and oil rigs. The high cost of requiring Wall Street to sell financial instruments that people can understand. Terrible, terrible. Not to say that every government regulation is good - but neither can we assume they are all bad. We need to pay some attention to the arguments pro and con, not just have a rule "All regulation is _____ (a) good, (b) bad."