January 3, 2012 archive
Jan 03 2012
Jan 03 2012
As we head into the Iowa Caucuses Ron Paul seems more popular than ever and there is at least an even chance he’ll pull off an upset victory.
I’ve drawn your attention to some of the deep philosophical problems with Libertarianism (C’thulhu fhtagn), but recognizing those leaves open the question- just what is so appealing about Ron Paul?
There are those who will argue that his appeal to the Tea Party crowd is based on his history of racism, but instead I would argue that it’s the result of his ‘principled’ stands in favor of individual rights and the populist perception that he is not beholden to the corporatist status quo (though reading the citations in my earlier piece should disabuse you of the notion that the Libertarian future is any less driven by mega corporations, greed and power).
It is indeed this perception of populism that gives him ‘crossover’ appeal to Independents and Liberals. Remember, Independents are anything BUT ‘Swing Voters’. An overwhelming majority are disaffected from one branch or the other of our two headed hydra duopoly.
Glenn Greenwald and Matt Stoller have recently published some pieces examining this phenomena.
Progressives and the Ron Paul fallacies
Glenn Greenwald, Salon
Saturday, Dec 31, 2011 11:15 AM
The worst attributes of our political culture – obsession with trivialities, the dominance of horserace “reporting,” and mindless partisan loyalties – become more pronounced than ever. Meanwhile, the actually consequential acts of the U.S. Government and the permanent power factions that control it – covert endless wars, consolidation of unchecked power, the rapid growth of the Surveillance State and the secrecy regime, massive inequalities in the legal system, continuous transfers of wealth from the disappearing middle class to large corporate conglomerates – drone on with even less attention paid than usual.
Because most of those policies are fully bipartisan in nature, the election season – in which only issues that bestow partisan advantage receive attention – places them even further outside the realm of mainstream debate and scrutiny.
(T)here’s the inability and/or refusal to recognize that a political discussion might exist independent of the Red v. Blue Cage Match. Thus, any critique of the President’s exercise of vast power (an adversarial check on which our political system depends) immediately prompts bafflement (I don’t understand the point: would Rick Perry be any better?) or grievance (you’re helping Mitt Romney by talking about this!!). The premise takes hold for a full 18 months – increasing each day in intensity until Election Day – that every discussion of the President’s actions must be driven solely by one’s preference for election outcomes (if you support the President’s re-election, then why criticize him?).
(H)ere’s the Publisher of The Nation praising Ron Paul not on ancillary political topics but central ones (“ending preemptive wars & challenging bipartisan elite consensus” on foreign policy), and going even further and expressing general happiness that he’s in the presidential race. Despite this observation, Katrina vanden Heuvel – needless to say – does not support and will never vote for Ron Paul (indeed, in subsequent tweets, she condemned his newsletters as “despicable”). But the point that she’s making is important, if not too subtle for the with-us-or-against-us ethos that dominates the protracted presidential campaign: even though I don’t support him for President, Ron Paul is the only major candidate from either party advocating crucial views on vital issues that need to be heard, and so his candidacy generates important benefits.
Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform – certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party – who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial. The converse is equally true: the candidate supported by liberals and progressives and for whom most will vote – Barack Obama – advocates views on these issues (indeed, has taken action on these issues) that liberals and progressives have long claimed to find repellent, even evil.
The simple fact is that progressives are supporting a candidate for President who has done all of that – things liberalism has long held to be pernicious. I know it’s annoying and miserable to hear. Progressives like to think of themselves as the faction that stands for peace, opposes wars, believes in due process and civil liberties, distrusts the military-industrial complex, supports candidates who are devoted to individual rights, transparency and economic equality. All of these facts – like the history laid out by Stoller in that essay – negate that desired self-perception. These facts demonstrate that the leader progressives have empowered and will empower again has worked in direct opposition to those values and engaged in conduct that is nothing short of horrific. So there is an eagerness to avoid hearing about them, to pretend they don’t exist. And there’s a corresponding hostility toward those who point them out, who insist that they not be ignored.
The parallel reality – the undeniable fact – is that all of these listed heinous views and actions from Barack Obama have been vehemently opposed and condemned by Ron Paul: and among the major GOP candidates, only by Ron Paul. For that reason, Paul’s candidacy forces progressives to face the hideous positions and actions of their candidate, of the person they want to empower for another four years. If Paul were not in the race or were not receiving attention, none of these issues would receive any attention because all the other major GOP candidates either agree with Obama on these matters or hold even worse views.
Progressives would feel much better about themselves, their Party and their candidate if they only had to oppose, say, Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann. That’s because the standard GOP candidate agrees with Obama on many of these issues and is even worse on these others, so progressives can feel good about themselves for supporting Obama: his right-wing opponent is a warmonger, a servant to Wall Street, a neocon, a devotee of harsh and racist criminal justice policies, etc. etc. Paul scrambles the comfortable ideological and partisan categories and forces progressives to confront and account for the policies they are working to protect. His nomination would mean that it is the Republican candidate – not the Democrat – who would be the anti-war, pro-due-process, pro-transparency, anti-Fed, anti-Wall-Street-bailout, anti-Drug-War advocate (which is why some neocons are expressly arguing they’d vote for Obama over Paul). Is it really hard to see why Democrats hate his candidacy and anyone who touts its benefits?
Paul’s candidacy forces those truths about the Democratic Party to be confronted. More important – way more important – is that, as vanden Heuvel pointed out, he forces into the mainstream political discourse vital ideas that are otherwise completely excluded given that they are at odds with the bipartisan consensus.
There are very few political priorities, if there are any, more imperative than having an actual debate on issues of America’s imperialism; the suffocating secrecy of its government; the destruction of civil liberties which uniquely targets Muslims, including American Muslims; the corrupt role of the Fed; corporate control of government institutions by the nation’s oligarchs; its destructive blind support for Israel, and its failed and sadistic Drug War. More than anything, it’s crucial that choice be given to the electorate by subverting the two parties’ full-scale embrace of these hideous programs.
Can anyone deny that (a) those views desperately need to be heard and (b) they are not advocated or even supported by the Democratic Party and President Obama? There are, as I indicated, all sorts of legitimate reasons for progressives to oppose Ron Paul’s candidacy on the whole. But if your only posture in the 2012 election is to demand lockstep marching behind Barack Obama and unqualified scorn for every other single candidate, then you are contributing to the continuation of these policies that liberalism has long claimed to detest, and bolstering the exclusion of these questions from mainstream debate.
If you’re someone who is content with the Obama presidency and the numerous actions listed above; if you’re someone who believes that things like Endless War, the Surveillance State, the Drug War, the sprawling secrecy regime, and the vast power of the Fed are merely minor, side issues that don’t merit much concern (sure, like a stopped clock, Paul is right about a couple things); if you’re someone who believes that the primary need for American politics is just to have some more Democrats in power, then lock-step marching behind Barack Obama for the next full year makes sense.
But if you don’t believe those things, then you’re going to be searching for ways to change mainstream political discourse and to disrupt the bipartisan consensus which shields these policies from all debate, let alone challenge. As imperfect a vehicle as it is, Ron Paul’s candidacy – his success within a Republican primary even as he unapologetically challenges these orthodoxies – is one of the few games in town for achieving any of that (now that Johnson has left the GOP and will [likely] run as the Libertarian Party candidate, perhaps he can accomplish that as well).
Matt Stoller: Why Ron Paul Challenges Liberals
Matt Stoller, Naked Capitalism
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Modern liberalism is a mixture of two elements. One is a support of Federal power – what came out of the late 1930s, World War II, and the civil rights era where a social safety net and warfare were financed by Wall Street, the Federal Reserve and the RFC, and human rights were enforced by a Federal government, unions, and a cadre of corporate, journalistic and technocratic experts (and cheap oil made the whole system run.) America mobilized militarily for national priorities, be they war-like or social in nature. And two, it originates from the anti-war sentiment of the Vietnam era, with its distrust of centralized authority mobilizing national resources for what were perceived to be immoral priorities. When you throw in the recent financial crisis, the corruption of big finance, the increasing militarization of society, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the collapse of the moral authority of the technocrats, you have a big problem. Liberalism doesn’t really exist much within the Democratic Party so much anymore, but it also has a profound challenge insofar as the rudiments of liberalism going back to the 1930s don’t work.
This is why Ron Paul can critique the Federal Reserve and American empire, and why liberals have essentially no answer to his ideas, arguing instead over Paul having character defects. Ron Paul’s stance should be seen as a challenge to better create a coherent structural critique of the American political order. It’s quite obvious that there isn’t one coming from the left, otherwise the figure challenging the war on drugs and American empire wouldn’t be in the Republican primary as the libertarian candidate. To get there, liberals must grapple with big finance and war, two topics that are difficult to handle in any but a glib manner that separates us from our actual traditional and problematic affinity for both. War financing has a specific tradition in American culture, but there is no guarantee war financing must continue the way it has. And there’s no reason to assume that centralized power will act in a more just manner these days, that we will see continuity with the historical experience of the New Deal and Civil Rights Era. The liberal alliance with the mechanics of mass mobilizing warfare, which should be pretty obvious when seen in this light, is deep-rooted.
What we’re seeing on the left is this conflict played out, whether it is big slow centralized unions supporting problematic policies, protest movements that cannot be institutionalized in any useful structure, or a completely hollow liberal intellectual apparatus arguing for increasing the power of corporations through the Federal government to enact their agenda. Now of course, Ron Paul pandered to racists, and there is no doubt that this is a legitimate political issue in the Presidential race. But the intellectual challenge that Ron Paul presents ultimately has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with contradictions within modern liberalism.
I would argue with Glenn about the deprivation of essential liberty being limited to Muslims-
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Jan 03 2012
This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
January 3 is the third day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 362 days remaining until the end of the year (363 in leap years). The Perihelion, the point in the year when the Earth is closest to the Sun, occurs around this date.
March of Dimes is an American health charity whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.
Polio was one of the most dreaded illnesses of the 20th century, and killed or paralyzed thousands of Americans during the first half of the 20th century. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt founded the March of Dimes as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis on January 3, 1938. Roosevelt himself was paralyzed with what at the time was believed to be polio, though recent examination has led some to suggest that this diagnosis might have been mistaken. The original purpose of the Foundation was to raise money for polio research and to care for those afflicted with the disease. The name emphasized the national, nonpartisan, and public nature of the new organization, as opposed to private foundations established by wealthy families. The effort began with a radio appeal, asking everyone in the nation to contribute a dime (ten cents) to fight polio.
“March of Dimes” was originally the name of the annual fundraising event held in January by the Foundation. The name “March of Dimes” for the fundraising campaign was coined by entertainer Eddie Cantor as a play on the popular newsreel feature of the day, The March of Time. Along with Cantor, many prominent Hollywood, Broadway, radio, and television stars served as promoters of the charity. When Roosevelt died in office in 1945, he was commemorated by placing his portrait on the dime. Coincidentally, this was the only coin in wide circulation which had a purely allegorical figure (Liberty) on the obverse. To put Roosevelt on any other coin would have required displacing a president or founding father.
Over the years, the name “March of Dimes” became synonymous with that of the charity and was officially adopted in 1979.
Jan 03 2012
For four years, since the start of the financial crisis, people have been asking the question, “Why is the economy so sluggish?”
There are all sorts of reasons, all sorts of reforms that could be implemented, but weren’t. However, one of the most important reasons seems to have been forgotten by almost everyone.
The experts keep telling us not to worry because “America has the most dynamic economy in the world.” Roughly translated, that means “Companies can lay off people at will.”
Those experts have forgotten that there are two factors in a “dynamic economy” and only one of them is labor. The forgotten factor is – competition – and the primary enemy of competition is monopolies, not labor.
Jan 03 2012
The Economist has recently published an article describing 3 schools of Economic thought that have gained prominence recently because of their advocacy on blogs. Indeed, being a political blog reader you may not be aware that there are more Economic blogs and they are more active and have better traffic than political ones like this.
To summarize briefly before I excerpt some of The Economist’s descriptions of each school, the 3 Schools are Modern Monetary Theory (neo-Chartalism), Austrian (Austerian), and Market Monetarism. I would say the article is more sympathetic to the 3rd school than the others though you may disagree.
Also I’m not quite sure what they consider “mainstream”, but in fact the Friedmanite Freshwater School has been thoroughly discredited by the abject failure of their models to predict events. It is not science of any sort, but the faith based mystical mutterings of rattle shaking Shamen.
Heterodox economics, Marginal revolutionaries
The crisis and the blogosphere have opened mainstream economics up to new attack
Dec 31st 2011
This invisible college of bloggers focuses first on the level of spending on American products: America’s domestic output, valued at the prices people pay for it. This is what economists call “nominal” GDP (NGDP), as opposed to “real” GDP, which strips out the effects of inflation. They think the central bank should promise to keep NGDP on a steady upward path, rising at, say, 5% a year. Such growth might come about because more stuff is bought (“real” growth) or because prices are higher (inflation). Mr Sumner’s disinhibition is to encourage the Fed not to care which of the two is doing more of the work.
Central banks set targets to make their currencies credible and their policies predictable. The target for many is to keep consumer prices growing at 2% a year or thereabouts. For the past few decades that has largely succeeded in stabilising inflation; but in the current crisis it has singularly failed to stabilise the economy. In America NGDP plunged over 11% below its pre-crisis path and remains there; what people buy at the prices they pay for it is much less than most would want.
(P)ut into the context of a pathetic response to the current crisis, the ideas offered by these very different schools all take on a similar form: that policymakers are overly worried about something that should concern them less. The Austrians see the bogeyman as deflation, the fear of which inflates bubbles. The market monetarists, diametrically opposed, see exaggerated fear of inflation. And the economy is getting too little help from fiscal stimulus, according to neo-chartalists, because of the government’s superstitious fear of insolvency.
Modern Monetary Theory
The neo-chartalists believe that because paper currency is a creature of the state, governments enjoy more financial freedom than they recognise. The fiscal authorities are free to spend whatever is required to revive their economies and restore employment. They can spend without first collecting taxes; they can borrow without fear of default. Budget-makers need not cower before the bond-market vigilantes. In fact, they need not bother with bond markets at all.
The policy conclusions neo-chartalism draws from this owe a lot to Abba Lerner, John Maynard Keynes’s “militant prophet”. Lerner believed governments should judge their fiscal policy by its economic results-its impact on jobs and inflation-and ignore any red ink it might spill. Governments should seek high employment and stable prices, much as the Fed does today. But instead of relying on monetary policy to meet these objectives, they should use fiscal policy instead. If private spending is too strong, pushing up prices and threatening inflation, the government should raise taxes or cut its own spending. If, on the other hand, private spending is too weak, jeopardising jobs, the government should cut taxes or increase its own spending.
So far, so Keynesian. But most Keynesians, anxious to appear fiscally responsible, say that budget deficits in bad times should be offset by surpluses in good times, keeping the level of debt seemly. Lerner admitted this might not be possible. Private spending might be chronically weak. If so, the government should run chronic deficits, adding continuously to the national debt. Lerner did not see that as much of a problem, though he recognised that many others were “easily frightened by fairy tales of terrible consequences”.
The “Austrian” school of economics, which traces its roots to 19th-century Vienna, is more sternly pre-Freudian: more inhibition, not less, is its prescription. Its adherents believe that part of the economy’s suffering is necessary, an inevitable consequence of past excesses. They do not think the Federal Reserve can rescue the economy. They seek instead to rescue the economy from the Fed.
(A)dvocate(s) of Austrian economics-a resurgent school of thought that, unlike market monetarism, has not been doing much to change the minds of most mainstream economists but, unlike neo-chartalism, has built up a broad constituency on and through the web… agree that interest rates should reflect the fundamental forces of thrift rather than the whims of central bankers.
The Austrian school’s thinking centres on the way “malinvestment” orchestrated by central banks distorts the business cycle. By keeping interest rates artificially low, central banks trick entrepreneurs into believing that society is more abstemious than it really is. The entrepreneurs then embark on ambitious, long-gestation investment projects, only to discover that the men and materials they require are otherwise engaged in the production of more immediate gratifications. Once this realisation dawns, the entrepreneurs abandon their follies, firing their workers. If wages are flexible and workers mobile, this bust need not be too bad. But misguided attempts by the government or the Fed to prevent unemployment will delay the necessary reshuffling of labour from industries too tied up in the future to those catering to the needs of the present.
Most economists do not share their admiration for the gold standard, which did not prevent severe booms and busts even in its heyday. And their theory of the business cycle has won few mainstream converts. … While it provides insights into booms and their ending, it fails to explain why things must end quite so badly, or how to escape when they do. Low interest rates no doubt helped to inflate America’s housing bubble. But this malinvestment cannot explain why 21.8m Americans remain unemployed or underemployed five years after the housing boom peaked.
The market monetarists point out that their 5% (NGDP) target is consistent with inflation of about 2%, provided the economy grows at about 3% a year, its rough average for the pre-crisis years. If growth slowed to 1%, inflation would have to be permanently higher, ie 4%. If output suffered a one-time drop, inflation might have to surge temporarily above 5%. But as growth returned to normal, inflation would recede.
In pursuing this target, the central bank would use many of the same tools as today: tweaking the short-term interest rate and, when that reaches zero, increasing NGDP by printing new money to buy more assets (ie, quantitative easing). And the very creation of the NGDP target would make such intervention more effective, Mr Sumner says. If people expect the central bank to return spending to a 5% growth path, their beliefs will help get it there. Firms will hire, confident that their revenues will expand; people will open their wallets, confident of keeping their jobs. Those hoarding cash will spend it or invest it, because they know that either output or prices will be higher in the future.
The market monetarists argue that fiscal stimulus should be redundant, because a central bank can always revive spending-if it sets its mind to it. If the Fed’s efforts have disappointed, it is not because market monetarism is wrong, but because the Fed is not sufficiently committed to the cause.
The market monetarists do not fret about the side effects of the activism they seek, which can misdirect capital, inflate bubbles and seduce people into over-borrowing.
So, if I may be permitted to summarize, Austrians believe that over-supply of money is what causes busts and depressions, Market Monetarists think that vigorous application of monetary stimulus can solve them, and Modern Monetary Theorists think that the amount of money available to the economy is mostly irrelevant and that aggregate demand should be managed to provide predictable levels of employment and growth.
As always the specters of Weimar and Zimbabwe are raised, but those are special cases where money was manufactured for the sole purpose of speculating in external currencies, NOT the internal economy. In Germany’s case it was the necessity of purchasing gold (external currency) to fulfill their Versailles reparations obligations. In Zimbabwe it was so the corrupt political elite could ex-patriate their stolen wealth.
Jan 03 2012
Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has waged an increasing clandestine war using unmanned drones controlled by civilians members of the CIA. In a recent article Washington Post‘s Greg Miller exposes some troubling aspects of the program which has little oversight or control:
In the space of three years, the administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries. The apparatus involves dozens of secret facilities, including two operational hubs on the East Coast, virtual Air Force cockpits in the Southwest and clandestine bases in at least six countries on two continents. [..]
The rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military. Lethal operations are increasingly assembled a la carte, piecing together personnel and equipment in ways that allow the White House to toggle between separate legal authorities that govern the use of lethal force.
In Yemen, for instance, the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command pursue the same adversary with nearly identical aircraft. But they alternate taking the lead on strikes to exploit their separate authorities, and they maintain separate kill lists that overlap but don’t match. CIA and military strikes this fall killed three U.S. citizens, two of whom were suspected al-Qaeda operatives. [..]
Obama himself was “oddly passive in this world,” the former official said, tending to defer on drone policy to senior aides whose instincts often dovetailed with the institutional agendas of the CIA and JSOC.
Joshua Foust in The Atlantic observes that there are consequences for the successes claimed by the Obama Administration:
In the countries where the drone system is most active — Pakistan and Yemen — relations with local governments and communities are awful, and perceptions of the United States could barely be any worse. There is agreement seemingly only on the need for long distance killing, and even then — especially in Pakistan — there is a great deal of contention.
In fact, one could argue that the severe degradation of relations with Pakistan, which are driven to a large degree by popular anger over drone strikes (as well as a parallel perception among some Pakistani elites that the U.S. disregards Pakistani sovereignty at will), is driving the current U.S. push to ship supplies and, eventually, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, through Uzbekistan.
Besides the political consequences, Foust notes the reorientation of the intelligence community to this killing program may hinder its ability of collecting and analyzing the data needed and a heavy reliance on information from sketchy local partners that can, and has, resulted in unnecessary fatalities. His opinion of Obama’s expansion of the drone war is scathing:
This sloppiness with life and death decisions is a substantial moral failing, and should be a huge scandal for President Obama. But, he has decided to both distance himself from it while also taking credit for its successes, even as it focuses on ever less important and marginal figures within the terrorist milieu. [..]
It is an absolute scandal. We owe ourselves better questions and more accountability of the drones we use to wantonly kill people around the planet.
Senior reporter for Wired.com’s Danger Room, Spencer Ackerman, discussed the sharp increase in drone attacks to do the military’s job since Obama took office.
Jan 03 2012
Stonehenge is a massive prehistoric stone monument located just north of Salisbury, England, constructed anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986.
The history of Stonehenge’s function and construction is subject to much debate since it was produced by a culture that left no written records that has led to multiple theories. Whatever religious, mystical or spiritual elements were central to Stonehenge, its design includes a celestial observatory function, which might have allowed prediction of eclipse, solstice, equinox and other celestial events important to a contemporary religion.
Two of the big questions about the construction of Stonehenge are: Where were these stones? How were these massive stones, weighing tons, moved from where they were quarried? Those questions have some answers, the first, official and the second, an interesting theory.
Some of the volcanic bluestones in the inner ring of Stonehenge officially match an outcrop in Wales that’s 160 miles (257 kilometers) from the world-famous site, geologists announced this week.
As it looks today, 5,000-year-old Stonehenge has an outer ring of 20- to 30-ton sandstone blocks and an inner ring and horseshoe of 3- to 5-ton volcanic bluestone blocks. [..]
So how did a primitive society move these gigantic stones from Wales to the plains of Salisbury? Easy. Balls. Or at least that is the lasted theory that archaeologists have presented:
U.K. archaeology students attempt to prove a rail-and-ball system could have moved Stonehenge stones.
Photograph courtesy University of Exeter
A previous theory suggested that the builders used wooden rollers-carved tree trunks laid side by side on a constructed hard surface. Another imagined huge wooden sleds atop greased wooden rails.
But critics say the rollers’ hard pathway would have left telltale gouges in the landscape, which have never been found. And the sled system, while plausible, would have required huge amounts of manpower-hundreds of men at a time to move one of the largest Stonehenge stones, according to a 1997 study.
Andrew Young, though, says Stonehenge’s slabs, may have been rolled over a series of balls lined up in grooved rails, according to a November 30 statement from Exeter University in the U.K., where Young is a doctoral student in biosciences.
Young first came up with the ball bearings idea when he noticed that carved stone balls were often found near Neolithic stone circles in Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Balls and a lot of “heart” 😉
Jan 03 2012
Because Dennis Kucinich ain’t on the ballot and the rest of them are Bilderberg/dying America old school support false fallacy favorites. Would you like left leaning fascism or right leaning fascism with your Bud Light and GMO fries. Plus 911 and the war of error, the cancer lives on spreading, working it’s way into every human endeavor possible until we are bigger Nazis than the Nazis were.
Oh,progressives and the Ron Paul fallacies.
Now besides picking a doublewide to live in this year the uncertainty of a certain to be sucky year once again takes on multiple dimensions.
My daughter, a major partner in our dream of a horse business is expecting thus killing that dream at least for now. I am now thinking about the emotional pain of selling the horses. She put in so much work, me too. He just started jumping and we got five more people who want horse lessons.