SocraticGadfly: 7/31/11 - 8/7/11

August 06, 2011

Frank Bruni, secularly clueless

Frank Bruni, with the red herring false lead of Rick Perry's "The Promise' (certainly not a rose garden), then jumps to the real subject of his column: the claim that secularists have their own degrees of magical thinking.

I may have found somebody dumber than Teapot Tommy Friedman AND Mojo Dowd on the Sunday NYT op-eds, at least for this week. Bruni erects a straw man and calls it "secularism," showing he clearly knows no such thing of real secularist thought. Here's his entree into wrongness:
But if we stick with this honesty thing, don’t we also have to admit that to varying degrees and with varying stakes, there’s magical thinking in secular life, and that it springs from a similar yearning for easy, all-encompassing answers? Didn’t the debt-ceiling showdown show us that?
No, it did not, and ergo, no, we don't have to admit any such thing. First, there's only one avowed secularlist in Congress, Pete Stark. Second, the debt talks didn't involve "secularism" in any way, shape or form, other than some tea party types perhaps claiming divine backing for their stances.

This blather comes next.
We all have our religions, all of which exert a special pull — and draw special fervor — when apprehension runs high and confusion deep, as they do now.
Wrong again. Many of us accept that life simply doesn't have absolutes. Not all of us are existentialist about that, but some of us are. (I, like Camus' Mersault, sometimes open my arms to the empty starlit sky.)

Then, there's the allegation that secularism is somehow gullible in some way:
“The minute you decide to buy the Toyota, your evaluation of it goes up,” said Jon A. Krosnick, a social psychologist at Stanford University who studies attitude formation. “You overly romanticize it.”

The same goes for religious creeds, political theories or, for that matter, management philosophies.
Oh, some secularists may be. But, the educated, skeptically-minded (in its right sense) secularists are aware of just how irrational human behavior can be at times, and wisely make no exception for ourselves. We may still engage at times in irrational behaviors at first, but we next engage in some form of self-examination.

#RickPerry: Where's the rain "Response"?

It's been almost four full months since Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued an official governor's proclamation that April 22-24 were Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas.

Well, Gov. Helmethair, didn't work.

Perry had "The Response" going on today, but, somehow, decided not to talk about how the drought has only gotten worse - much worse, even - in the nearly four months since his call to prayer.

You know, the drought that's now the worst one-year drought in state history. The drought that may get even worse next year. The drought that's likely exacerbated by the global warming you both deny and you abet with lax pollution standards and enforcement.

I suggested a couple of weeks ago he take a page from Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal, only playing their role, not Elijah's:
1 Kings 18:21-38
New International Version (NIV)
21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.

22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs[a] of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”

34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
Rick, you should have started cutting yourself with a knife in Reliant Stadium and see if you can get us some rain! Or, to modernize, start shooting yourself in the toes, one by one, with your coyote-killer sidearm.

With S&P AAA decision, what's next? And who's next?

Ratings: Green=AAA; Turquoise=AA; Lt blue=A; Dk blue=BBB; purple=BB; red=B

First, S&P is defending its decision to take the United States' debt rating down to AA+. Of course it is; it got defensive about AAA ratings of CDOs a few years ago, after its mix of self-interest, naivete and stupidity got exposed.

Second, it will affect the economy:
The ripples caused from the S&P downgrade would affect America’s employment ratings. Less economic activity would mean less demand for workers. Third Way, the non-partisan group published estimates revealing a 0.5 percent increase in interest rates would eliminate over 640,000 jobs.
And, that will only add further pressure to the deficit and debt.

But, the effect may not be too much. Moody's and Fitch have yet to act, and the ratings drop from S&P, even, has a narrow effect:
The Federal Reserve announced that US government securities such as bonds would still be counted as AAA-rated under risk management regulations, an important decision for insurance companies and other investors who would otherwise have been faced with making massive movements in their portfolios.

Third, partisanship will ratchet even higher. S&P said its downgrade was based in part on debt-cutting plans not being "credible." That's an invitation to even more scorched earth tactics from tea partiers in Congress, even though John/Jane Doe tea partiers said last week in polls they're more worried about jobs than the debt.

Fourth, does S&P lose more credibility, beyond the hypocrisy reasons above? It says it wants a more credible plan, and hints the GOP needs to agree to raise revenue, but, will it push harder than Preznit Kumbaya for this to happen? After all, where was it in the last six months?

Related to that, some financial analysts are wondering if this is indeed the financial world equivalent of a referee's or umpire's "make-up call."
It was "overly aggressive" and "precipitous," said Jules Kroll, whose Kroll Bond Rating Agency has stayed out of the sovereign-debt ratings business. "It's just one more manifestation of lurch-like behavior to try to make up for past sins."
At the same time, this story reminds us S&P wasn't the first ratings agency to downgrade the U.S., just the first of the Big Three. Egan-Jones Ratings Co., a small firm, took similar action last month but on different grounds than S&P.

And, this same article offers further food for thought. S&P wanted to appear "tough on the U.S." after claims it was too tough on Europe:
A "general resentment" of rating firms in Europe may have also played a role, (Daniel Alpert, managing partner of Westwood Capital) said, since some people there regard the firms as "self-righteous Americans who have no business judging" European sovereign debts with as much criticism as they have.

S&P's downgrade of long-term U.S. debt shows it isn't biased in favor of the home country of the ratings firm or its parent, McGraw-Hill, Mr. Alpert said Saturday.

"There's a level of activism at S&P that I haven't seen before," said James Gellert, chief executive of Rapid Ratings, a bond research firm.
Per Chris Mooney, S&P appears to largely be motivated by "pulling a Mooney," more formally known as "motivated reasoning." Appearing tough in Europe's eyes and doing a make-up call are both parts of that.

Fifth, other than repercussions on foreign investment in the U.S., what other fallout does this have? S&P has 18 countries with AAA ratings; it's already made noise about re-evaluating some of them.

I would take a gander the UK is "shakiest" among countries left with AAA ratings, which would lead the Tories toward even more "austerity." In Germany, Free Dems and conservative Christian Dems will push Merkel to get even tougher with Greece to ward off "contagion." Similar may happen in France. That said, it's "interesting" that Greece has no rating right now. And, take note that Italy is down in single-A territory.

I said in a blog post yesterday that "austerity" is at risk of becoming the current world economy's stupid "Smoot-Hawley tariff" response to The Great Recession and its aftermath.

August 05, 2011

PIGS, BRIC, AAA and douple dips

It seems like nobody can do math, at least in the financial world. Definitely, nobody can do history, it seems.

Standard & Poor is going to kick the United States off the AAA ratings bandwagon. The Treasury Department says it's bad math on S&P's part that's leading to this possible decision.
After two hours of analysis, Treasury officials discovered that S&P officials had miscalculated future deficit projections by close to $2 trillion. It immediately notified the company of the mistakes.

S&P officials later called administration officials back to say they agreed about the mistakes, though they didn't say whether it would affect the rating. White House officials remained waiting Friday evening to see what the company would do.
Answer, per the top link? S&P said it was acting anyway.

The kicker, per the first link? S&P threatens further downgrades. That all said, this is in the face of everybody saying the debt deal is going to hurt the short-term economy.

Oh, and Obama? Maybe you're more financially naive than Bill Clinton and his hypocritical comment (he knew better) about being held hostage by the bond market. That said, with the Wall Street insiders in your administration, that petard you hear cranking is your own.

You have no room for economic populism, and it would sound phony if you tried.

That said, what does this all mean?

It wouldn't hurt most domestic investors; as long as at least one ratings agency has the U.S. at AAA, they can hold Treasurys, etc.

Internationally? Another story. The Swiss franc is probably going to go through the roof. The renmimbi in China could come under inflationary pressures too tough for that regime to totally resist. (More on that below.) And, supposedly, rumor of S&P's possible move was part of what was behind Friday's wild stock gyrations.

Basically, "austerity" risks becoming the new "Smoot-Hawley tariff," the Great (double-dip) Recession's answer to Great Depression stupidity.

Meanwhile, speaking of Europe and markets?

The "PIGS" of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain have a new "most sickly" member, perhaps. Italy's chance of default on its debt is reportedly now at 50 percent. Yes, American analysts may claim it's not as big a deal as our own 2008 implosion, but, with the southern half of the Eurozone struggling in general, it might not be minor.

But, it's not just PIGS stressing the global economy.

BRIC nations may have their own woes. Brazil has joined China in battling inflation; another reason behind the Dow's swirling was worries over both their economies.

Yet, while still lethargic, U.S. job growth in July reportedly was at least better than anemic.

So, are we still facing a double-dip recession?

I'd put the odds still around 50 percent, but it could be with a trough more than a deep plunge, and with no more than two quarters of technical recession. That said, it's clearly a muddle.

There's a spate of other could be good/could be bad news out there. Italy says it will balance its budget by 2013 - but will include a balanced budget amendment to its constitution. Consumers increased their borrowing in July, but whether out of economic confidence or economic need is still unclear.

And understanding this muddle depends in part on whether or not S&P pulls its horns back in.

That said, what if it doesn't, the U.S. economy and investments therein stay no worse than now, and Moody's and Fitch's stay at U.S.-AAA? How much of a ding does S&P take?

And, given the Debtmageddon crap we just saw, what happens between Obama and Congress next month? How much more intransigent do Congressional tea partiers get? How much more backbone does Obama lose?

NO, Hillary, NO

Salon sometimes has some very good political articles and columns, headed by the almost-always-great Glenn Greenwald, followed by the often insightful Michael Lind and others. (That ignores Lind flirting with the skirts of global warming "skepticism" and Joan Walsh, Andrew Leonard and others often being Obamiac-like.) Anyway, there's often good stuff on its politics pages.

Then, it has absolute dreck at times, like this nonsense piece urging Hillary Clinton to challenge Barack Obama again.

Every premise is wrong.

The bottom line, though, given that many of Obama's financial advisers are connected to Robert Rubin and the other Goddam Sachs in particular and Wall Street in general apologists who served her husband, Bill, there would be no difference of major degree between her and Obama.

She might have somewhat more cojones, but, overall, she would be wedded to many of the same neolib domestic policy stances, and certainly to many of the same neocon foreign policy ideas, as Dear Leader.

Contra the article, this Green Party voter has no buyer's remorse for either one.

Now, if say a Russ Feingold primaried Obama, then we'd be talking.

But, Hillary and B.O.? Two sides of the same coin.

"A choice, not an echo," please.

August 04, 2011

Water the fracking is happening?

Plenty of other people have blogged about the 1987 EPA study showing, at least in one case, that fracking for oil or gas can contaminate water supplies.

I have just a few takeaways to add.

From page 3 of the story:
State inspectors and drilling experts suggested in interviews that the contamination in Mr. Parsons’ well might have been caused when fracking pushed chemicals from the gas well into nearby abandoned wells where the fracking pressure might have helped them migrate up toward the water well.

This well was fracked using gas and water, and with far less pressure and water than is commonly used today.
OK, so if LESS pressure and water were used today, all the oil/gas industry excuses, such as the fracking chemicals migrating through abandoned mines, water wells, etc., a one-time incident, are suspect.

That said, there's this page 2 comment:
Even critics of fracking tend to agree that if wells are designed properly, drilling fluids should not affect underground drinking water.
But, what does "designed properly" mean? Has the Environmental Protection Agency, or the U.S. Geological Society, or any oil and gas company, done any modeling to determine what "designed properly" means?

Assuming such modeling is about nonexistent, then the increased water and pressure usage of today means that oil-gas industry attempts to explain away issues carries even less weight. It's possible that frack jobs are enough better designed since 1984, the date of the contamination-causing job, to offset the potential problems from using more water under higher pressure. But it's certainly not guaranteed.

And, do local or state governments, or the feds, in light of Deepwater Horizon, require posting of bonds of sufficient value to deter shortcutting on what is theoretically a "designed properly" frack job?

Given that the story talks about a 2004 EPA study of fracking in coal-bed methane that was found to be industry-influenced, I think we know those answers.

So, let's ignore this comment, and let's assume reXXX from eXXXon knew better all along:
“There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one,” Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, said last year at a Congressional hearing on drilling.
After all, if it's eXXXon and the truth, their relationship is pretty nebulous at best.

Texas, La Nina, global warming, Perry's prayers

This used to be a 5,400-acre lake.

Oops, oops, oops. Looks like Rick Perry needs to pray hard at The Response - real hard.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center says La Nina may return in just a couple of months, which would guarantee the current drought extends into 2012.

As if it's not bad enough right now:
Also Thursday, the state climatologist declared this the most severe one-year drought on record in Texas. Officials expected to declare soon that it has become the worst drought since the 1950s.
Cities in West Texas that have long relied for much of their water for small lakes dammed on upper stretches of Texas rivers fear they may run out of water next year.

And, in East and Central Texas, especially, this ain't the 1950s:
In the mid-1950s, Texas had a population of 7 million.

"We got a state with 25 million now. You can see the impact would be significantly greater if we had a drought that the 1950s had," said Travis Miller, a member of the state's Drought Preparedness Council and AgriLife Extension Service leader.

That said, the climate center does not directly link an early La Nina return, or its strength, to anthropogenic global warming. But, it's hard not to tentatively make that connection, if La Nina returns that quickly, especially if it's a strong one again.

If Obama had any cojones, he'd link further disaster relief for Texas (and Oklahoma) to Congressional action addressing global warming. Period. End of story.

But, we already know he doesn't.

And, I mean more than cap-and-trade, which is toothless anyway. But, getting that passed would open the door. And, while there's no chance of a carbon tax passing, there are other things ... further upping mpg requirements for trucks and SUVs, promoting LED as well as CFL lights, abolishing alt-fuel exemptions for car, truck and SUV CAFE ratings and more. I'm sure readers can think of even more examples.

#PZMyers ... not all thought is equally free

Gnu Atheist grand poohbah P.Z. Myers is welcome to leave Scienceblogs and go to FreethoughtBlogs. (I still wish National Geographic would make a clean break of things and replace him, or what's left of his scienceblogging, on Sciblogs.) Beyond his scientific field of evolutionary biology, he has little insight into philosophy in general or philosophical skepticism in general. Beyond that, he has little insight into atheism.

His attempts to claim Sam Harris and Chris Hitchens aren't conservatives is laughable.

And, now, he's making a mish-mash of allegedly liberal politics, his interpretation of skepticism, and Gnu Atheism into one big stew of dreck.

The header says that atheism is an essential part of skepticism.

First, it absolutely isn't, philosophically. What he is saying is, in essence, that atheism is logically necessary for skepticism. Well, it simply isn't, neither for modern "scientific skepticism," nor for ancient philosophical skepticism, in either of its main branches. In fact, an insistence on atheism runs directly counter to the tenets of Pyrrhonism.

When you're this wrong, you're, per Wolfgang Pauli (no, Feynmann didn't say it first), you're not even wrong.

Certainly, a Gnu Atheism that isn't skeptical of itself isn't in a point to be pontifical. But, no surprise that it is. Now, PZip, would those atheist be ALL atheists, or do the conservatives that you want to exclude from "true atheism" not count? (Unless they're like the neocon Sam Harris, whom you antiskeptically claim isn't a conservative.)

Later in the post, it's clear that PZ wants to politicize skepticism, too, just like atheism. He does, on paper, extend an equal hand to both sides:
Liberals and conservatives can join, but only if they don’t demand that their beliefs be exempt from skepticism. You want to oppose same-sex marriage? Sure, let’s argue about it! You show me your evidence that homosexuality is bad, or that gay marriages will damage heterosexual marriages.
But, in reality, given the Daniel Loxton column he criticizes, the fact that all the "expand skepticism" bloggers he cites clearly self-identify as liberal, AND P.Z.'s expressed desire to ban conservatives from "true atheism," that's just window dressing.

And, yes, he does believe that about who the real atheists are:
It is entirely true that one can be an atheist, in the very narrowest sense of the word as someone who does not believe in gods, and a conservative.

However, one cannot be a rational, intelligent human being and contributing member of society and hold the conservative views you do.
And, yes, he denies wanting to define "truth atheism," but he takes away with one hand what he gives with the other.

Freethought blogs? Well, only for a subsegment of thinkers, or "thinkers." Or for the "cadre of vocal atheists" Dear Gnu Leader would like to see.

Beyond that, Myers' post is stupid in many other ways.

There are millions of beliefs that have bupkis to do with skepticism. Like whether the Phillies or the Rangers will win the World Series this year. Or whether Obama will be re-elected or not.

Seriously, as Loxton notes, skepticism needs to have a certain focus. It can have that focus and set politics aside while yet being inclusionary. And, taking the scientific focus of modern skepticism at face value, many political beliefs are little more amenable to scientific review than are who will win the World Series -- or, per the old Latin, "de gustibus non disputandum," whether Beethoven or Mozart was "better." Sure, some specific politics-based claims can be examined, such as claims that abortion increases cancer risks. But, something like "what variety of feminism is best," or "is a third-party vote 'wasted,'" or "are conservatives not true atheists," are not amenable to scientific and skeptical study. Period.

Of course, this is the same insightful thinker who took an unscientific poll, uncritically accepted some of its claims at face value while ignoring others, and essentially lied about guilt-free sexual superiority of atheists.

Add to that the hypocrisy of someone like Myers, who wants atheism to have smaller tent, claiming that skepticism should have a bigger tent, and the circle is complete.

Finally, in terms of classical definitions, this is part of why I'm a "soft" atheist and not a "hard" one.

Even Kay Bailey Hutchison has had it with House GOP

Rep. John Mica, chair of the House's Transportation .... is playing hardball over airline workers' rights to unionize, costing the government airline tax revenue while playing politics with rural airports. And even one Senate Republican is tired of it:
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the senior Senate GOP negotiator on the FAA bill, called Mica's inclusion of the subsidy cuts in the extension bill a "procedural hand grenade."

It has been House Republicans who have refused to negotiate with the Senate unless Democrats agreed to concessions on the labor issue, Hutchison said.
Too bad only pending retirement can get more honest-minded Republicans to speak up on occasion.

Wingers' top 10 reactions to Obama 50th

What do you get the Dear Leader of the Free World, who has said that he already gave himself a special present, namely, the debt ceiling deal? (He got the ceiling, we got the basement.)

Well, here's a few options:
1. A bill for repaying the federal government from House Republicans, who insist that any White House events must be privately funded.
2. Birthers scramble to check Obama's real Kenyan Soviet Union Martian birth certificate to see if he's actually under 35 and therefore ineligible for office.
3. Glenn Beck hangs him in effigy on TV.
4. Pam Gellar, noting the Muslim lunar year, asks if his age is in solar months or lunar ones.
5. Rush Limbaugh says its a socialist plot to brainwash anybody under the age of 50.
6. John Boehner gives him a certificate for a free round of golf ... if he supports a balanced budget amendment.
7. Congressman Joe Wilson repeats his "You lie" claim as to the truth of Obama turning 50.
8. Rick Perry offers to shoot him like a coyote.
9. The Koch Bros. start the new astroturf group: "Obama: The Real Birthday Truth."
10. Michele Bachmann claims that the birthday party is a gay socialistic plot to overthrow America as we know it.

Obama to supporters: Ignore my record

How else can you raise funds for re-election when you've been, on the whole, a crappy president? That's what Obama said at a dinner, though he tried to spin it by saying, don't get bogged down in "detail."
"If somebody asks about taxes, nobody is really interested in hearing what precise marginal tax rate change would you like to see in the tax code," Obama said. "What they want to know is that our campaign stands for a fair, just approach to the tax code that says everybody has to chip in, and that it’s not right if a hedge fund manager is being taxed at a lower rate than his or her secretary."

On Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama said: "If somebody asks about the war, whether it’s Iraq or Afghanistan — if it’s Iraq, you have a pretty simple answer, which is all our folks are going to be out of there by the end of the year. If it’s Afghanistan, you can talk about, look, we think it’s time for us to transition to Afghan lead and rebuild here at home. So, again, it’s a values issue: Where are we prioritizing our resources?"
Well, if you've got primarily Obamiacs as your supporters, I guess you can keep fooling them, eh? That said, if some of your 2008 contributors are still iffy, they're again getting the message that they need to fall in line because they're not going to get offered another choice.

Meanwhile, a long Politico story reminds would-be supporters: This record.

#RickPerry ... all balls, no soul, and tea partiers may like that

Many progressives know the name of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man apparently framed for an arson-murder he most likely did not commit. A man framed by shoddy science at best and pseudoscience at worst. A man whose framing Rick Perry upheld.

Well, last year, in the GOP primary, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison considered using that against him.

One problem? Wingnuts liked the idea he may have sent an innocent man to death:
Multiple former Hutchison advisers recalled asking a focus group about the charge that Perry may have presided over the execution of an innocent man – Cameron Todd Willingham – and got this response from a primary voter: "It takes balls to execute an innocent man."
Don't doubt that Tricky Ricky didn't have some focus groups of his own this whole time.

#Debtmageddon has just begun

What? You mean there's no respite for a weary American public? Nor for intelligent liberal-minded people worried about how much more Preznit Kumbaya will sell out?

Yep, that's right.

As this NYT graphic makes clear, by the end of September, there's another debt ceiling issue to be faced. True, Obama can override a House-Senate "measure of disapproval" on the debt hike, but then, the GOP makes him out to be "Mr. Tax and Spend."

Didn't Preznit Kumbaya say he wanted the debt ceiling removed from electoral entanglements? I'm at the point where I know that he wanted something kind of similar to what has actually happened, while at the same time marveling more all the time just how inept he is.

"Soft bigotry of low expectations," gender bias, a fluffy vetting with the Robert Rubin class, and a willful misinterpretation of his "antiwar" speech sure carried the Peter Principle Prez a long way

But, that's not the only potential snare ahead for Grover Cleveland Obama. Salon lists more, including the federal gas tax expiring Sept. 30.

Is more than #Keynesianism needed?

It's true that we'll never know if true Keynesian economic action, in and of itself, would have been enough to get us more completely out of the 2008-2009 recession, and sturdy the economy against a second dip of recession quite likely to hit us.

That said, what if Obama had made the stimulus, say, $1.5 trillion? Would that have been enough? If a large part of it were spent on government public works, especially of the type where housing carpenters could have easily been retrained, perhaps.

Certainly, one hallmark of FDR's Keynesian spending was on direct public employment. Not just the deficits were stimulatory, but actually creating jobs was even more so.

Of course, Dear Leader's neoliberalism was too engrained for that, for him to experiment with 21st-century federal jobs creation.

So, Keynesianism alone perhaps would have been enough. Or ...

Perhaps not. More below the fold.

August 03, 2011

Why 'dittoheads' won't accept climate science

The man of political discontent
Mother Jones has a good story on why so many conservative white males won't accept the science of climate change. It's not bad at all on the first point, that of a position of privilege. More on that in a moment. But the second? I don't think most denialists think so far ahead as to consider whites are likely to be a minority in the U.S by 2040 or so.

Back to privilege. Chris Mooney nails it:
If climate change is real and human caused, it potentially threatens the whole economic order and those who have built it and benefited from it. It is the most inconvenient of truths. ... I am surprised the authors didn’t bring up what may be the most biologically grounded of them: “social dominance orientation,” or SDO. This refers to a particular personality type—usually male and right wing—who wants to dominate others, who sees the world as a harsh place (metaphorically, a “jungle”) where it’s either eat or be eaten, and who tends to really believe in a Machiavellian way of things. Fundamentally, this identity is all about testosterone firing and being an alpha male.
David Roberts has similar thoughts.

Living in the Permian Basin of West Texas, where trucks are symbols of manhood for conservative white women as well as men, I can attest to everything Mooney and Roberts say, in spades.

But, the two of them miss a bit. The denialists, to some degree, come at their denialism from different angles. Not all are driven primarily by Limbaugh, though they may be fellow travelers on this issue. More below the fold.

San Angelo lake is NOT hit by biblical plague

O.C. Fisher Reservoir on Texas' Colorado River has gone almost totally dry and now turned red. Some fundamentalists are claiming this is a plague of Moses type event, or one from Revelation.


It's really a bacterial infestation, a secular "plague" related to global warming, perhaps.

But, that hasn't stopped fundmentalists:
(The red water) apparently caught the attention of Indiana preacher Paul Begley, who suggested that what's happened at O.C. Fisher is an early sign of the end of the world. He concluded that the event is evidence of the apocalypse as predicted by the biblical book of Revelations.

Begley cited a passage, "The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water and they became blood."
That said, it's not even the first time the lake has gone dry. But, 40 years ago, fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals weren't intransigent about alleged persecution against themselves.

#Debtmaggedon - the Catfood duo weighs in

What else are Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson going to say other than the debt deal didn't cut enough?

First, while rhetorically mentioning the need for more defense cuts, they don't name specifics. Not one.

Second, they repeat alarmist claims about the need to cut Social Security a lot, and soon, if we don't "reform" it. Everything on Social Security they say is a lie, other than calling for raising the cap on income subject to FICA tax. On Medicare, they're a mix of laughable and clueless:
We should ask more of health care providers and drug companies through adjustments in payment formulas and increased drug rebates for Medicaid and Medicare, more from beneficiaries through more rational cost-sharing rules that discourage the overutilization of care, and more from lawyers through tort reform. And we need to cap growth in the long run.
"Ask more"? Like "Pretty please, Blue Cross, pretty please, Merck, don't gouge the public so much? "Rational cost-sharing rules?" That's an euphemism for higher co-pays, folks. "Tort reform"? The old GOP canard, cosigned by a neolib Democrat. "Cap growth"? That means ... stop getting so damned sick?

Third, they're kind of weaselly on taxes, too:
We need new revenue to finance the increasing costs of our health care system and an aging population — but it should come from reducing or eliminating tax breaks, not from higher rates. The tax code is riddled with annual tax breaks amounting to $1 trillion — most of which are just government spending in disguise. By reforming them, we can reduce individual and corporate tax rates in a way that keeps the tax code progressive while promoting economic growth and reducing the deficit at the same time.
They don't name which ones, probably because they know the firestorm over killing the mortgage interest deduction.

Remember, though, folks, Preznit Kumbaya still wants something along the lines of what they're talking about.

#Debtmageddon - why no #14thAmdt?

For people who aren't Obamiacs, but aren't yet ready to join the club of writing him off (and why not?), this is certainly a puzzler. Even erstwhile Senate ally Dick Durbin wanted him to.

Or, if not that, why "compromise away the compromise" and have your press secretary announce, a week in advance of the deadline, that you won't do it?

Once again, although not 100 percent true, this is largely the budget deal Obama wanted. No, there's no "lobbyist bankshot" he planned of playing off defense vs. medical spending on the commission and the possible "trigger," or anything like that.

He wanted something like this, and that's why he appointed his Catfood Commission long ago. That's why he's got Robert Rubinites running his economic policy.

So, again, Obama wanted to be forced to "compromise" in a way that really wasn't compromise.

August 01, 2011

#Debtmaggedon - Obama shafts House Dems blows McConnell

Here's where many a Member of Congress stands:
"I don't want my hands on (Debtmaggedon.)"

Those were the words, in part, of North Carolina Democrat G.K. Butterfield:
“I wouldn’t call it anger, but we are perplexed that it has turned out like it has. But we’ve run out of options and we know the consequences. I’ve heard horror stories from the Great Depression. I don’t want my fingerprints on that.”
Well, thanks to Preznit Kumbaya's surrender on the Bush Obama tax cuts last December, along with the asymmetric warfare of tea partiers, you're being forced to put your fingerprints on something that may cause a second depression as long-lasting as the current one.

Because, Mr. Butterfield, a second recession appears more likely. That's even as Wall Street, in hypocrisy mode, both worries about the effects of these cuts and kvetches about the deficit at the same time.

Those same markets don't like the economy as it is, and now that eurozone problems are becoming more pronounced in Italy, an economy too big to get the Greece treatment, they're more worried there too.

Meanwhile, Rep. Butterfield and other Dems are going to be put on the hook for two votes, the second coming just as 2012 and elections loom, as this NYT graphic of the process illustrates. Technically, it's not for the debt ceiling, but on how to address the debt ceiling, but in spirit, this is another thing Obama said he opposed ... and now doesn't.

Surrender? This is Yalta, or the stereotypical story of Yalta.

Meanwhile, back to Democrats, and back to what this means.

In his excellent analysis, Nate Silver points out that, in making this deal, Obama pissed off Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, having long ago pissed off House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi by largely freezing her out of the process.

As for Obama? Most the heavy budget hits start in 2013. Should he be re-elected, he's already hoist himself and his policy options by his own fiscal petard. Were it not so sad for the country as a whole, I'd laugh at the schadenfreude.

Back to other Democrats and the top-linked story. At least one leading black Democrat, Elijah Cummings, is already prepared to hold his nose and vote yes.

Pelosi? Well ... not yet, at least not for public comment.
“I look forward to reviewing the legislation with my caucus to see what level of support we can provide,” she said in a statement.
Whether a Raul Grivalja type really wants to vote no, and whether he can cross hands, and hold his nose, and get enough tea partiers and progressive Democrats to combine to sink the deal, I don't know, either.

Raul, here's what Team Obama thinks of you, anyway:
Senior White House officials said they were hopeful that Congressional leaders from both sides would manage to sell the deal to their parties. While “there are some Democrats who simply don’t believe in the necessity of deficit reduction,” one administration official said, “most do. I think it’s important as a party to show Americans that we’re serious about deficit reduction.”
So, go ahead, Raul, make his day.

The person who really logrolled Preznit Kumbaya, in the vulture-like fashion so typical of him? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who else. In 16 months, he'll be majority leader, and Obama just hoisted his second term by yet another petard.

Obama otherwise failed to get around a balanced budget amendment, and failed to get around having some sort of debt-related vote again before elections.

Grover Cleveland? Jimmy Carter? Buck Buchanon maybe? Unless you're an Obamiac who continues to blind him/herself to reality, none of this should surprise you. He's only done it at least half a dozen times on major issues, as documented here. The stimulus, health care, the Bush Obama tax cuts, immigration,

July 31, 2011

#Debtmageddon: The wrap-up - surrender or willing hostage?

Couldn't say it better than Krugman, whose headline notes, "the president surrenders."

The nut graf is up front:
For the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.
Krugman then spells out the details.

But, per the "surrender," realistically, as Krugman links, Preznit Kumbaya surrendered last December. Or, to go Krugman one harsher, Obama willingly let himself be taken hostage.

As Krugman notes in his column, Obama had options up until now.

That said, a Congress that acted with true fiscal responsibility, not just in promoting chaos and confrontation, but taking true ownership of budgeting, wouldn't have gone to this point.

Krugman is not the only opiner at his own paper to note the problems, whether with Obama not having the backbone of a chocolate eclair, the tea partiers' scorched earth or other things.

Guest columnist Jacob Hacker and Ross Douthat take their own runs at the problem.

In Hobbitton: Reid, Boehner, Cantor and the mythic Ob A'Ma at #Debtmaggon

Harry Reid went Up the Hill to the House of Boehner, the Last Unfriendly House in TPVille. The evil Cantor saw him and began slavering "my precioussss, my preciousss, my precioussss balanced budget amendment." The mythical shapechanger Ob A'Ma was reported to be in the land, and the evil Cantor shuddered at the mention of his name. He refused to see that Ob A'Ma had already crafted his own Ring of Catfood to bind them all. Blinded by his lust for the preciousss, Cantor could not see that Ob A'Ma had voluntarily surrendered many of the powers of his ring to the dwellers of TPVille.

Metroplex could get ratings downgrade

The AP notes that a federal debt default won't affect the state of Texas, but that Dallas and Tarrant counties could see their financial ratings downgraded.

Who's the real progressive? Not Obama

In a NYT piece about fallout from Obama's ever-rightward tack on deficit cutting, Robert Borosage is interviewed making this claim:
“The activist liberal base will support Obama because they’re terrified of the right wing,” said Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the liberal group Campaign for America’s Future.

But he said, “I believe that the voting base of the Democratic Party — young people, single women, African-Americans, Latinos — are going to be so discouraged by this economy and so dismayed unless the president starts to champion a jobs program and take on the Republican Congress that the ability of labor to turn out its vote, the ability of activists to mobilize that vote, is going to be dramatically reduced.”
He's probably right on the second graf, but questionable on the first.

Many Dems of intellectual background who sincerely believed in Obama in 2008 will remain more skittish. And, then, those of us who saw through him before the 2008 election will only become more activist in recruiting people to vote Green or whatever.

Anybody of intelligence and political involvement who knows what the article goes on to say, namely, that Obama went beyond even the Senate's Gang of Six in proposed entitlements and other things, and yet does just what Borosage predicts may be "activist," and may be part of Obama's "base," but has forfeited the claims to be truly liberal or progressive. Period. End of story.

Between the fear-mongering that's already started, and Obama's social activism tidbits on gay marriage, he's playing with you.