Monday, October 20, 2014

Hillsong Church Finds Earliest Pope That Had Sex with Fish

Wait, I might have mixed up three articles in that headline. It's confusing on Monday mornings.

Ancient fish having sex. No pope. My bad.

This scientific article is the only one that makes any actual sense. We've found fossils of the oldest creatures who had sex. Of course, certain Christians might have a problem with this news. First, SEX! And, second, FOSSILS! Certain Christians don't believe in sex or fossils, well, certainly fossils.

Another article talks about how the American bishops put the kibosh on Pope Francis making nice with the gays. It seems he's "tearing up the rule book." There's apparently a rule that you don't make nice with the gays or something. Tell that to the world of people under thirty, you white-haired geezers in red and purple beanies.

Apparently the Hillsong Church, an inclusive Christian megachurch has found a way past the dilemma:
"Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent," [New York Hillsong pastor] Lentz told CNN. "And I'm still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people.  You won't find it, because He never did."
Lentz's wife, Laura, chimed in: "It's not our place to tell anyone how they should live. That's their journey."
To which the head of the Southern Baptists retorted something like "Jesus didn't have to say it to let us know He hated on the gays." Okay, the head of the Southern Baptists didn't exactly say that. The head of the Hillsong Church told the New York pastor to knock it off because Paul...

To recap, there were three articles in which some Christians somewhere were unhappy about something because the Earth is about 4000 years old and St. Paul wasn't down with teh gay, so shut up, Pope.


I've got a feeling the American bishops haven't heard the last from Pope Francis.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Holy Crap. Obama Might Reaffirm Bush Stance on Torture

Don't let this happen.

Bush: We don't have to be humane outside our borders. Obama might go there.

The Obama administration has to decide its stance on torture before a meeting in Geneva next month. Word is there's resistance from the military and intelligence services not to rein in their "options."

As with the NSA, power corrupts, and has corrupted Barack Obama. Will he go all in next month? I wouldn't be surprised.

What say you about a nation of thugs? And what are we if not that, if we say "but we didn't torture in Milwaukee, only in Poland, and, er, Afghanistan, and, er..."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Yes, McDonald's and WalMart Get Free Money from the Government


McDonald's: They make money the old-fashioned way. They screw their workers.

As if it weren't obvious. Minimum-wage workers need public assistance to get by these days. That means we, the taxpayers, pay part of the pay corporations avoid paying themselves. And that's good how?

Turns out raising the minimum wage would save the government -- and us -- billions. Who knew?


Friday, October 17, 2014

David Brooks Squishes Politics into a Can of Sardines

The fish of low idealism: Oily and salty. But they pack so neatly!

Not to knock David Brooks or sardines, but... Okay, yes, to knock David Brooks slightly, but only because, to avoid talking -- as he has this election cycle -- about the state of the right wing he ostensibly supports, Brooks has waxed philosophic in order to remove himself from the toxic swamp his conservatives have wallowed in as they pursue their crusade to destroy Obama.

And Thus doth our Mr. Brooks, in his column, "The Case for Low Ideals," elevate "low idealism" to its vaunted perch as the best we should aspire to. I only slightly knock dear David because his politics have become so slight.

A commenter on his column, Gerard, said it best:
There's a weariness and resignation masquerading here as realism. Whole societies can believe in high ideals and bring them to fruition. The German and Dutch nationwide initiatives to quickly move towards green energy come to mind. Mr. Brooks is reflecting a country that doesn't really know what it wants and is too divided and anxious to use its collective imagination and energies.
If I had David Brooks' job -- to represent conservatism as a positive position to govern from -- I'd be weary, too. I'll grant him that. But to squish politics into philosophic mush?

Why so squishy, Brooks? Is it because of what commenter Sceptique said?
The "the high idealism that surrounded that 2008 campaign" was about education, sustainable energy, infrastructure, and medical care. Too much to ask Republicans to support.
Ouch. A party that wants to drown government like a baby in a bathtub -- blame Grover Norquist for that image, not me -- might not be a party about which one could use the word "ideal," though the word "low" does seem apt.

I'm a philosopher, not a conservative pundit. No, really. Can I go home now?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

New Jersey unemployment line: Equal opportunity suffering
while businesses sit on money.

I believe Atrios, a favorite political-economic blogger of mine, coined the phrase -- often used in his blog posts at Eschaton -- Why We Can't Have Nice Things. His meaning, essentially, is that certain economic policies keep the shrinking middle class and working class from sharing in the fruits of the American economy. Those certain economic policies are austerian, conservative, Republican, freshwater, whatever you want to call it.

In certain ways, we've recovered from the financial crisis of 2008 that brought on the Great Recession, but what's kept the recovery from being broad-based is the refusal of the political right to allow aggregate demand to rise through government stimulus. While businesses have seen their balance sheets filled to the brim as they sit on cash -- due to severe trimming of workforces, thus producing profit that isn't shared by workers -- that same workforce can't increase aggregate demand because businesses won't hire them due to low aggregate demand, and government can't grow that demand through stimulus spending on things like aging infrastructure, education, and research-and-development because of political resistance. Hence the no-nice-things predicament.

Now, conservative politicians and their think tanks and economist shills in the freshwater schools like the University of Chicago love to cite the theory of "crowding out," in which public investment (government spending) crowds out private investment (companies investing in capital goods to increase supply). The conservatives love this theory because is justifies being against both stimulus spending and redistribution -- such as government spending on unemployment insurance extensions and other safety-net programs that kick into higher gear automatically during downturns -- saying that it can't possibly help because anything the government does will either raise taxes or raise the deficit, thus driving up interest rates and reducing private investment.

A weird basis for this is the belief held by real-business-cycle economists (yes, freshwater folks) that all actors are rational and tuned in: If I, say an auto mechanic, hear a tax increase might be coming, I immediately stop spending and start saving to pay for the impending tax increase. (Have you ever done that? I didn't think so.) So even talking about raising taxes or increasing the deficit will shock the markets, the economy, the world, and conceivably cancel, retroactively, the Big Bang. I mean, why exist at all if taxes or deficits are going up?

On the other hand, is that the real world you live in? I certainly don't. For shits and giggles, recall the horrible effect the Clinton 1993 tax increase had on the U.S. economy, you know, the one that led to the greatest period of growth since WWII. I guess we weren't rational enough.

Another aspect of rational expectations is that, if I think something is going to happen, say a stock boom, I'll get into the market and partially cause the boom to happen. So actors acting rationally will alter what happens based on their rational expectations. RBC economists believe this in spite of the fact that it's how stock bubbles, dot-com bubbles, and real estate bubbles happen, you know, through the herd effect, which is what happens when a large bunch of people turn out to think they have rational expectations but instead go crazy until they panic and bring down the whole shebang. But then that never happens because RBC types don't believe in bubbles. They believe in efficient markets. You know, the ones that keep going kablooey. But no bubbles! Here's freshwater economics at its best, Eugene Fama of, yes, U of Chicago:
New Yorker Magazine: Many people would argue that, in this case, the inefficiency was primarily in the credit markets, not the stock market—that there was a credit bubble that inflated and ultimately burst.
Eugene Fama: I don’t even know what that means. People who get credit have to get it from somewhere. Does a credit bubble mean that people save too much during that period? I don’t know what a credit bubble means. I don’t even know what a bubble means. These words have become popular. I don’t think they have any meaning.
Great. I feel better now. Another example: There can't have been a housing boom and people borrowing way over their heads to purchase and purchase homes until the valuations on their homes not only exceeded their expectations but caused an entire market to go haywire and crash with a fury, taking down all the rational players, Wall Street and banks included. No, that couldn't happen. Why? Because rational actors like Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Warren Buffet, Hank Paulson, and Timothy Geithner (Robert Shiller's comments on Geithner begin about 2:25) said it couldn't.


The problem is that the crowding out theory is bunk, especially in our current situation in which conservative policies have precluded stimulus spending and private businesses haven't increased investment because of low aggregate demand in spite of the fact that real interest rates are at or below zero, which means that this is the time for the government to spend like crazy because the money will practically be free.

Why? Let's start with the paradox of thrift. Since the financial bubble popped, firms and individuals have embarked on an ongoing deleveraging to reduce the high levels of debt and risk that caused the financial bubble. But since your spending is my income and vice versa, if we both save, both our incomes will decline. How do we increase demand and grow the economy if we sit on cash rather than go out and spend? We can't. Our thrift reduces our incomes and thus our savings, so the economy suffers and we can't get out of our hole. Another way of saying it is austerity literally sucks.

What to do? Keynes and the Keynesians (saltwater economists) say economic stimulus with its multipliers, and the classical school of economics (freshwater economists) says there's no such thing as lack of aggregate demand, there can only be lack of aggregate supply. Refer back to crowding out to understand why they maintain what they do, but saltwater economists want to help labor to increase demand to grow the economy, and freshwater economists want to help businesses to increase supply to grow the economy. Another way of saying that is liberal economists are on the side of labor, and conservative economists are on the side of capital. Unfortunately, depending on who wins, we have what Thomas Picketty described in his massive tome, Capital, which explains how income inequality grows.

Since crowding out is a charade, the only justification for taking the conservative economic stance is to prevent government spending, thus reducing taxes, especially on the rich, who then happily support the conservatives and their professional economic shills.

And we are frozen in time, with no way for the average American to have nice things. Now, if you want an economics lecture that clearly demonstrates that curtailing investment is counterproductive when interest rates are unbelievably low, which they have been for almost six years, watch this very informative Kahn Academy illustrated lecture, and I'll shut up.

If you want to see a series of lectures that explain how interest rates impact investment -- or should impact investment! -- go here. It's very illuminating. Then vote for politicians who will not squander the opportunity to spend on infrastructure and other things that will increase employment, drive up demand, and reduce the suffering among the masses, because interest rates are at zero and money is cheap! Spend now, the paradox of thrift is killing us.

We deserve nice things. The rich already have them. To fix this, give people -- not business -- free money. If people have money, they will spend it and business wins, too. See how easy that is?

Monday, October 13, 2014

The REAL Political Bottom Line: It's All About White, Male Privilege

The Nixon Cabinet: What's wrong with this picture? It would never occur to them.

I've spent a considerable amount of time trying to sort through the difference between outright activist racism (white power, anyone?), institutional racism (I'm not racist!), and implicit racism (like I said, I'm not racist!). Eventually, I came to the conclusion that it's all about privilege and the maintenance of privilege. I'm white, you're black, game over. I win. (Even if you didn't know you we're in the game...).

Then I looked at patriarchy versus, yep, feminism, and, again, it's about privilege. I'm male, you're female, game over. I win.

Then I looked at gays versus straights, and, okay, you get it.

What I got was the Republican Party, as currently constituted, is a white, male, Christian privilege maintenance machine.

Today's Republican leadership (Cantor's out, but). Since Nixon, any change?

See any change, any what progressives might call progress? Nope.

Clearly, the Democrats are only marginally better, but they are better. What's more, their entire future depends on their attempt to embrace blacks, Asians, Latinos, women, gays, Native Americans, the poors, and whatever marginalized population isn't adhered to white, male privilege. (The Christian thing works for white males because it justifies paternal authority and helps bring wives aboard the white, male train.)

Some white, male Democrats might also long for the 1950s and 60s because they ran things. But they know it's not gonna be Daddy's world forever, so they know how their bread's gonna get buttered before too long.

Final flash: It just so happens that what's good for our diverse communities is also good for the country.

So, c'mon, get on board the love train!

Republicans need not apply.

The Greatest Country in the World Shows Again Why It Isn't

Of course the chart above tells the key story: Americans have forgotten what makes a country work and thrive. We put competent systems in place, that's what. Let's face it, this kind of breakdown results from the toxic misapprehension of the Ronald-Reagan type.

"Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." --Saint Ronnie's first inaugural address.

No more dangerous words are ever spoken in a democracy. Government is the repository, the cauldron, of democracy. Declare it the enemy, and the enemies of democracy will thrive instead. There are some public goods that can only be achieved by government, i.e. the people working together.

The knee-jerk counterargument is that when government fails, it's the government's innate inability to do something well. The real counterargument to government-as-the-problem is fix the problem. Now, certain people -- those with access to and control of capital -- will want to frame the solution to a government failure as a private-sector response. Why? Because it's an attempt to move public moneys to private pockets. This is the nature of the capitalist beast, and it's rarely in the public interest.

But the failure here is that the wealthy behind their gated communities -- let's face it, the wealthy don't live with us in the general population -- and, thus, the wealthy aren't tuned in to the general welfare system that would stop an Ebola outbreak or a resurgence of polio. They feel safe and apart.

Which is why we have such a dysfunctional healthcare system, including our public health infrastructure: Simply, the moneyed class run their own operations. How many of you expect to run into Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or George Clooney at your local public health clinic -- or the local Kaiser clinic, for that matter -- getting a TB test or the latest shingles booster? None of us do. The public health clinic is for the dispossessed. I should know: As a teacher, a TB test was required every few years, and we sat waiting our turns with the masses served by our public-health system.

Republicans, I'm afraid, are responsible for this mess, this eroding of public goods, because they serve their masters in the privatization scheme that takes public dollars and puts them in private pockets. What's left? Underfunded public health systems that can't cope with an Ebola outbreak in Dallas. Who's fault is that?

It's the government's!

What a facile, cheap shot. Assholes, otherwise rightfully known as the enemies of the people.

What is breaking down in Africa? The public sector. Private sector to the rescue? Not a chance.
Who is coming to the rescue? The U.S. government -- our armed forces -- and NGOs.