Sunday, August 21, 2011

Science or ... what?

I can believe the country is turning more conservative. Conservatives, with their maximize the GDP no matter what kind of philosophy, simply don't seem to care if one of their gurus has a scandal. George Bush runs the economy off a cliff, and Republicans blame Democrats. Rush Limbaugh becomes a drug addict, and after slamming drug addicts on his radio show, Limbaugh claimed the victim card for himself. The Bush administration invaded Iraq with multiple justifications, none of which (Iraq's role in 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, bringing democracy to the Middle East) turned out to be true. The Bush administration both tortured prisoners and initiated spying on US citizens. And yet Republicans are perfect content to blame Democrats for any negative press.

Liberals, on the other hand, often take their sides' scandals to heart. Glenn Greenwald has made a cottage industry of holding Obama to at least the same standard Bush had been held to, which is to say that Greenwald has repeatedly complained about Obama continuing Bush administration policies in domestic spying and holding detainees at Guantanamo, and increasing prosecutions of government whistle blowers. And of course the economy has not recovered under President Obama, and indeed Obama seems to have caved to the minority party repeatedly, often before the debate even brings. And many Democrats were bitterly disappointed when Bill Clinton lived up to his worse impulses during his administration. I think liberals take it to heart when their few national figures make mistakes and/or disappoint them. But more than that, liberals think that they want to help at least ease the pain of poverty, and do what they can to help persons of color to have a level playing field (apparently we can't talk about past racism, which could cover up to yesterday). Yet they are baffled and ultimately hurt that most of the people they are trying to help view them with such scorn (from Reagan Democrats to the that part of the Tea Party that is rural poor). Conservatives, on the other hand, are relentless in their exercise of cognitive dissonance. They are relentless in their alternative views of reality and history - that the only racism that still exists is discrimination against white males, that tax cuts and elimination of all regulations have in the past and will now fix the economy, and that climate change is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on Americans.

Which brings us Jack Kelly's column today. Let's be clear, Kelly is dropping to the level of Rick Perry, and saying essentially that NASA, NOAA, the (US) National Academy of Science and essentially the vast majority of the world's scientific community are perpetrating the "the most harmful hoax in history". Kelly is accusing science of lying to us, although Kelly gives us no motive for science to do this. But make no mistake, Kelly is telling us to trust Rick Perry over Phd's when it comes to climate issues.

And make no mistake, Kelly tells us this as he repeats lies (or at best half-truths). "Global temperatures peaked in 1998". There is a basis for this claim, but Kelly clearly did not give us anything close to the whole story and it's worth knowing scientists have a different view. "Polar ice caps are larger". Again, there is a fraction of truth in this, but that hardly tells anything close to the whole truth. The National Snow and Ice Data Center says that since 1979, the largest size of the Arctic sea ice pack has shrunk 10 percent each decade. So if it started at a level of (MADE UP NUMBER) 100, then three decades later (at 2007) it is now at 70. According to the NSIDC, it has recovered in 2008 to 77, and then increased some unstated amount in 2009. However, it is also thinner than ever before, a worrying development. "The rise in sea levels -- which has been going on since the end of the last ice age -- is slowing." I gather some people are saying something like this, but something different is being observed.

I won't try to track down too much of other Kelly statements, except to note that he doesn't explain why (or more importantly provide citations for his statement) "Industrial wind turbines -- a favorite of Mr. Obama's -- cause real environmental harm." and I might question how much oil company tax breaks and direct subsidies increase the costs to taxpayers of each oil industry jobs (versus his charge about European "green" jobs). But the most interesting or amusing thing Kelly does is to suggest that the science of Climate Change should be determined by opinion polls. I suspect cancer would not be positively viewed in an opinion poll, yet I don't think wishing it away would actually cause it to cease to exist.

Now, I think that while Jack Kelly is simply and without question lying to us, there is discussion that could take place about climate change. To start with, Kelly spends considerable effort to tell us that there have been other warm periods in history, as well as other periods where there was more CO2 in the air (apparently not necessarily the same periods). Now, as far as I know no climate scientists deny that those statements are true. I think the difference for current climate change is that it is occurring more rapidly than otherwise in history, sped up by our burning dinosaurs (or plankton) at an increasing rate (something that was not done in history).

Still, do we know what the severity of climate change will be? Will there be widespread drought, or if there is will there also be new regions of arable land that could compensate for the drought? What will the effect of rising seas be, perhaps on places like Venice, Italy? Are we looking at extinctions of large numbers of species (fauna, flora?). These are reasonable points of discussion, although in regard to fossil fuels I have to point out that a) they are not infinite and b) as they get more scarce, they will cost more. So the notion of carbon taxes to encourage less driving does not bother me in the least. The fact that encouraging a conversion from fossil fuels to more efficient consumption of solar, wind (solar-type) and tidal power electricity facilitates the possibility of a more or even an entirely sustainable world economy, well, it seems where we have to get to there anyway at some point. When would you suggest?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Possible, feasible ...

Bismark, or possibly Machiavelli wrote the Politics is the art of the possible. Galbraith, perhaps more cynically wrote that Politics is not the art of the possible, it consists of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable (I would add that only works if legislative leaders can get their members to fall in line).

I am beginning to think that Obama sees politics as the art of the feasible. The difference between possible and feasible is the difference one might see if one is a black man making proposals to white men.

But here's the thing (to put it in West Wing speak), those of us who voted for Obama, we really wanted the possible thing, and we are not at all happy about the feasible thing (things like massive budget cuts that the Republicans should vote for, but still won't not just because there are tiny rollbacks of taxes to the pre-cut levels, but also because Obama is black). We thought change we could believe in was about new sustainable energy policy, not just that there would be a black man in the White House (we could have voted for Colin Powell if that's all we wanted)

Monday, August 15, 2011

A couple of interesting things ...

There are a couple of interesting things I think are worth a read. First my mom (!) asked me if I had this story about Pennsylvania shifting away from encouraging green/clean energy. Yeah, wind and solar are probably not as efficient as we would like yet, but they are certainly not going to get more efficient if they don't have buyers now. Governor Corbett wants the state government to use shale natural gas for energy. there are several problems with that. First, natural gas is cleaner burning than cola or oil, but it still causes greenhouse gases. Second, yes there is a lot of gas in the Marcellus Shale, but it is still finite, and who knows, our great grandchildren may have need of it and develop a way of extracting without harming the environment. Which leads me to my third point, which is to assume we will have great grandchildren, that is assuming we are not poisoning them right now.

The second good read is a guest post on Glenn Greenwald's blog (he is away this week?). It is from Yves Smith, titled Why "business needs certainty" is destructive. A few weeks ago I remember on a Sunday morning talk fest the moderator pointed out to a conservative guest that American corporations are sitting on huge cash reserves, yet refuse to hire people. The conservative guest replied the business right now faces regulatory uncertainty in the form of Obama-care and the Dodd-Frank regulatory reform bill (I have heard this "uncertainty" thing since several times, in many places). I thought to myself, don't corporations have legal departments or lawyers and analysts that could read the bills and tell the bosses what the bills will do? Smith in fact suggests regulatory issues and the supposed uncertainty have been a stated concern for business since the Bush years. If I had to guess, though, I'd bet you could find these kind of complaints back in Teddy Roosevelt's administration.

Anyway, I think Smith does an excellent job of of looking at this canard that businesses refuse to hire because of uncertainty .

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kelly must be dizzy, but ...

Today, out of all the week's possible issues to choose from, Jack Kelly chose to look at the Wisconsin recall elections. Kelly of course sees a failure in the Democrat's efforts, and spins it as being an indication of the imminent death of the Democratic party. I think Kelly is simply repeating GOP spin messages and drawing his interesting (ridiculous?) conclusions.

But the fact of the matter is that the Democrats fell short of what they wanted to accomplish. First of all, doing my own (limited) research, I find someone with a math degree who claims the Republicans somehow stole the four Wisconsin elections they won (to be clear, he apparently claims the Republicans stole 2004 and I think other elections as well). Now, of course, thinking about it, if someone mounted a recall effort to replace Mike Doyle for voting against the debt ceiling, or to recall Luke Ravenstahl for holding on to the anti fracking referendum, how successful do you think that would be? Democrats and/or unions were really upset by what Scott Walker and the Republican legislature had done, but they already hadn't voted for them. The hope Democrats had was that independents and maybe even moderate Republicans would feel outraged over what Walker and the other Republicans had done, and in two out of six elections that hope was borne out. We have this interesting contradiction, that Democrats were more successful in overturning any of the candidates elected just some nine months ago, yet they were not able to achieve their desired goal of creating divided government in Wisconsin.

Kelly's larger conclusions strike me as a big disservice to his readers. For Kelly's analysis to have any strength, voters still need to be angry at unions (to the extent they ever were), and I think people are now (for better or worse) much more focused on (sick of?) the debt ceiling, whether cutting spending will help the economy, and indeed where the jobs might be (what it will take for business to hire). To add to that is the downgrade of the US's credit rating and what happened in the stock markets in the last eight days or so.

Yet I will present my own thoughts about the Wisconsin election results, despite what I said right above. I wonder if the elections could be tied to the popularity of the President, in the sense that even though voters are not happy with Republicans, the President seems to be moving more and more to the right himself. Voters, particularly Democrats, could not be blamed for thinking that voting for Democratic politicians is less and less justified.

The problem with my theory is that it should lead to smaller turnout in elections, yet apparently the Wisconsin elections had a high turnout. So this is something we (I) will have to continue to look at, and consider.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


I do like looking at current political issues and crises, but I don't like tying crises to meta-analysis. For example, as appalling as Dick Cheney's comment to Pat Leahy was, or Joe Wilson's shouted "You lie" to Obama during a healthcare legislation speech were, I won't say that politics is getting less civil than ever before. I remember, for example, that one Congressman attacked another with a cane in the run up to the Civil War. The same with polarization of politics, we have seemed pretty polarized for as long as I can remember (maybe a lot of people really did like Eisenhower, since then ....

Still, as a piece of meta-analysis I was impressed by this blog post by Paul Krugman. I have certainly seen conservative commenters, local and national, claim that Democrats simply want to raise taxes and spend money as ends in themselves, not for any particular purposes. Now I suppose you might get kind of close to the idea of tax and spend if Democrats propose raising taxes on the rich and using money specifically for programs for the poor (essentially close to income redistribution). But even then the taxing and spending do have a goal, related to leveling the playing field or redressing past injustices or something.

Do I fall into the same trap Krugman suggests conservatives are in, if I think that all Republican politicians want to reduce taxes only for the wealthy, reduce government spending for the poor and indeed if possible raise taxes on the poor and middle class while reducing them for the rich? Maybe, but Republicans make it pretty easy to fall into that trap. Among the Republican candidates running for their parties nomination to run for President, there seem to be conservatives (Bachmann, Santorm, Perry, Cain and Palin's shadow) and moderates (Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsman) and other fringes (Gingerich, Ron Paul). But Pawlenty was on Meet The Press a few weeks ago and boasted about allowing his own state government to shut down rather than accept a Democratic legislature's budget. And Huntsman and Romney both raised their hands (along with all the other candidates) pledging not to raise taxes ... ever. There are some ideas like never raising taxes, only slashing spending and ending support programs for the elderly that they all parrot. How are we supposed to look at that?

I like the way Krugman discusses Keynesian ideas for the economy. Krugman has talked in the past about how Keynes had fallen out of favor in DC as Republicans embraced economic theories that supported policies they favor. Even still/now the idea that the wealthy are "job creators" is presented as the default position on taxes. But Keynesian economics has gained clear traction in the Great Recession, even if only for conservatives to claim that Keynesian ideas such as economic stimulus have been discredited by the "failure" of the current stimulus. Certainly it would be hard to portray the stimulus as a success, but it did keep us from going into a full blown depression. However, with the current budget cuts, there is the real possibility that we will fall into depression. Apparently in the twisted reality of conservatives, if we do slide into economic depression, it will be because we didn't cut enough.

But there is hope. The debt ceiling debate/debacle made Congress as a whole but particularly the Tea Party look so bad that Tea Party support has dropped by a third, and people with an unfavorable view of the Tea Party have increased by a third. It turns out that maybe you can't just ignore that 10 million Americans are officially out of work, millions more have either given up looking, or are working only part time (when they want full time work) and that as a whole roughly 200 million Americans feel the anxiety of economic insecurity, while only 30 million or so are actually doing well.

Occasionally some meta-analysis is a good thing.

Monday, August 08, 2011

We reap what we sow ...

One of Krugman's complaints is that Obama is actually more conservative than anyone thought. Now, I am not an African American, and absolutely not an African American (pretty literally) who was raised by a white mother in Indonesia and Hawaii, and was one of three black students (out of three thousand) in an elite private high school in Hawaii, etc etc. Krugman thinks that in fact Obama wants cuts in the federal spending. Personally I have no idea what Obama wants, but no one can deny that a lot of his rhetoric on the campaign trail has to be said to be just that, rhetoric. He is still a better choice than McCain, but by less and less with each passing month. Obama won by getting out the youth vote in unprecedented percentages. That ain't happening in 2012. He will have to find another way to win. Good luck.

Meanwhile, on the other side, losing 500 points on the stock exchange on Friday and 600 today had an effect. I have no idea how much effect, but I suspect we are talking about a lot of money. Now a fair bit of stocks are in retirement funds and mutual funds, but a whole bunch of stocks are owned by the wealthy. Now, who was it who funded the Tea Party? And what did the Tea Party in the debt ceiling debacle? By the way, the S $ P downgrade was not really strictly related to the amount of spending that was cut in the sense that not enough was cut. Apparently the downgrade could well be related to the notion that too much was cut, and also to the inflexible position taken by the Congressional Tea Party members during the debacle. As I understand it, as the deadline approached and it became clear that Obama was not going to use some trick and also intended to allow the nation to default if Congress didn't get its act together, financiers on Wall Street began to pressure the Republicans to get the deal done. Obviously now those financiers are suffering the consequences of their previous actions. Sometimes we reap what we sow.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Record profits, yet businesses refude to hire ...

Record profits.

Businesses refuse to hire the unemployed.

I guess pundits, if not candidates, did start talking about deficits before the 2010 midterms, since Krugman said we have a revenue problem (instead of a spending problem)in October of 2010. We do understand why this is important, yeah?

Another thing causing the deficit I have read about, but I don't think I can find a satisfactory link for, is "automatic stabilizers". This is the notion that when the nation goes into recession, the demand for unemployment benefits goes up, and as the recession lasts longer, demand for poverty services such as food stamps starts to rise. Do we blame Obama for this component of increased spending (of course, silly blogger)?

Standards and Poor's downgraded us, but why? The implication CBS (Robert Hendin) gives us is that perhaps we were downgraded because we don't play well with each other. Of course Republicans blame the President, say that he never actually put deals on the table, just talked about them, that he and the Democrats are addicted to spending (see Krugman above). If you read and agree with my blog, then you can guess what my opinion is.

Bill Maher's three guests on Friday were Neil Degrasse Tyson, Joan Walsh of, and a Tea Party person who I guess produced the film about Sarah Palin (Stephen Bannon something?). From what I remember, he said only three things of note, but I can only remember two (I'll update when I remember the third). He called the stimulus a) failed, b) the biggest Keynesian stimulus ever tried, bigger proportionately than the Great Depression and c) a billion dollars (with interest?). He also said that Tea Partiers feel like the government tax structure/economy is socialist for both the rich and the poor, but brutally capitalist for the middle class.

For his part, Jack Kelly this week suggests the the cuts in the debt ceiling deal might be too small to make much of a difference. From his point of view, I can see where he might think that, and with some justification. The cuts will reduce the increase in the deficit over the ten years, not really the deficit, not to mention the debt at all. All that will happen is the debt will grow more slowly.

Although when I say all that will happen ... This is not to mention the coming double dip recession, the worsening crumbling of our infrastructure, kids dropping out of college because they don't have enough money (but will now have college loans to pay off) and poor and middle class families falling further behind. The rich will be doing OK, of course, thanks to Kelly's Tea Party pals. Then there is the awful precedent itself (never tried when a Republican was President) of forcing the President to come up with a deal to pass the increase in the debt ceiling. And Kelly suggests that Democrats want to increase spending and regulations just because they do. Apparently Kelly is unaware of the current recession, or the financial meltdown that occurred at the end of the Bush administration. I think the term for what Kelly says is slander.

Meanwhile, what does all this mean to this point on the road to the 2012 elections? Republicans (like Kelly) are sure that no matter how bad the crisis is that they provoke, the bulk of the blame will stick to Obama as President. I am not sure about that, but it is clear that the Democratic party voters are becoming disheartened. Obama won in 2008 as an unknown with a fairly narrow margin because he was able to get young people to vote in record percentages. Now Obama is a known quantity, seemingly ineffectual but still relatively well liked. But I can't see those young people coming out to vote again, while the Tea Party will get all of their relatively limited numbers to the polls. Which means ,,, I dunno.