Monday, November 30, 2009

An Excellent Presentation of 'Climate Change'

Here is a bit from an article in the Wall Street Journal by MIT's Richard Lindzen that explains why all the gnashing of teeth about 'global warming' is overdone:
... the main greenhouse substances in the earth's atmosphere are water vapor and high clouds. Let's refer to these as major greenhouse substances to distinguish them from the anthropogenic minor substances. Even a doubling of CO2 would only upset the original balance between incoming and outgoing radiation by about 2%. This is essentially what is called "climate forcing."

There is general agreement on the above findings. At this point there is no basis for alarm regardless of whether any relation between the observed warming and the observed increase in minor greenhouse gases can be established. Nevertheless, the most publicized claims of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deal exactly with whether any relation can be discerned. The failure of the attempts to link the two over the past 20 years bespeaks the weakness of any case for concern.

The IPCC's Scientific Assessments generally consist of about 1,000 pages of text. The Summary for Policymakers is 20 pages. It is, of course, impossible to accurately summarize the 1,000-page assessment in just 20 pages; at the very least, nuances and caveats have to be omitted. However, it has been my experience that even the summary is hardly ever looked at. Rather, the whole report tends to be characterized by a single iconic claim.

The main statement publicized after the last IPCC Scientific Assessment two years ago was that it was likely that most of the warming since 1957 (a point of anomalous cold) was due to man. This claim was based on the weak argument that the current models used by the IPCC couldn't reproduce the warming from about 1978 to 1998 without some forcing, and that the only forcing that they could think of was man. Even this argument assumes that these models adequately deal with natural internal variability—that is, such naturally occurring cycles as El Nino, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, etc.

Yet articles from major modeling centers acknowledged that the failure of these models to anticipate the absence of warming for the past dozen years was due to the failure of these models to account for this natural internal variability. Thus even the basis for the weak IPCC argument for anthropogenic climate change was shown to be false.
Go read the whole article. It is well written, clear, simple to understand, and gives you a deep insight into the debate over global warming. Armed with this understanding you will be able to fend off the catastrophist Chicken Littles running around telling us that the sky is falling.

Bad Policies in Afghanistan

Here is a posting on
We're apparently still holding prisoners incommunicado at Bagram for weeks at a time without access to the Red Cross. There's no possible excuse for this -- it's not as if there's domestic political pressure that makes abiding by international law and norms of civilized behavior in this regard particularly difficult. No part of the public who would think of this as being soft on terrorists is paying enough attention to make it an issue. I would really like to be making excuses for the Obama administration as generally well intentioned on this sort of human rights issue, but I have no idea at all of how one could possibly justify this sort of thing.

One of the things that made me want to cut the Obama administration slack for good intentions on detainee issues was that Phil Carter of Intel Dump was the administration official in charge of those issues, and he had a long written record of decent positions on these issues. He's just quit for personal reasons.

I've got nothing useful to say here, but I'm not happy.
I've moved to a smaller, more rural area with a much more conservative population. I was at a tire store getting snow tires when a father and son had a bit of an argument. The son ranted that torture was OK in Iraq and Afghanistan because the people being fought "weren't real soldiers". The father dissented. I bit my tongue. I think in analogies and for me the analogy would be the English in the American Revolutionary War treating all prisoners as rebels and traitors and not as soldiers. (In fact there was a fair bit of this and it hardened attitudes in the colonies.)

This kind of 'hard' approach in Iraq and Afghanistan is asking for more trouble in the present and the future. It is so foolish. But it is an attitude that many have. Sadly, the Obama administration is showing itself liable to this kind of short-sighted policy by allowing illegal detentions (and I suspect torture as well) to continue despite the horrible repercussions of torture under the Bush administration. This is yet another reason why I have lost all faith in the Obama administration.

Legislating the Future

The problem with letting bureaucrats legislate the future is that they have no commitment to the future and their laws carry no cost to the legislators. It is all 'funny money' so it is easy to mandate expensive non-solutions in order to create the appearance of 'action' on an agenda. This is stupid and expensive and slowly drives a nation down a path of economic decline.

Sadly, as this bit from a posting by Geoffrey Styles on his Energy Outlook blog points out, the US energy policy is heading down this idiotic bureaucratic path:
The disconnect on US ethanol policy is even more pronounced, because the current path can only be sustained for a few more years. An op-ed in Saturday's New York Times reminds us of the shortcomings of our current reliance on ethanol produced from corn, while comments by the CEO of Shell, a major investor in next-generation biofuels, makes it clear that the extremely ambitious targets for cellulosic ethanol and other non-food-based biofuels that the Congress mandated in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 are extremely unlikely to be met. And even before that shortfall becomes serious, the nation's distilleries will exceed the capacity of current US motor gasoline sales to accommodate all the ethanol they can produce, unless the government also lifts the 10% blending limit.

While we can argue about whether that ought to happen, the bigger issue is that these two developments expose the failure of the key assumptions under which the Congress crafted the Renewable Fuel Standard: E85 has turned out to be a dud in the marketplace for good reasons--consumers have figured out that a fuel that costs more dollars to go fewer miles is a bad deal--and it turns out to be really hard to make fuels on a large scale or at an affordable cost from non-food biomass. The appropriate response when your expectations of the future turn out to be so badly wrong would be to freeze the status quo in place while revamping the standard to reflect more realistic assumptions, not to enshrine the false assumptions in new EPA rules that will drive up fuel costs for consumers without doing a thing to improve the environment.
Politicians are like Wall Street bankers, i.e. they can run high risk heads-I-win-tails-you-lose strategies to promote their political careers by fronting whatever idiocy some advocacy group puts forward. The costs, like the financial crisis, are ultimately paid by the taxpayers as a whole. This is a system set up to deliver failure and bureaucratic regulations that favour nobody and serve no real purpose other than suiting some fleeting agenda of some advocacy group. Sad.

The Future

In his blog, Paul Krugman lays out his view of what the future holds. This is bleak. I've bolded key bits:
Things to come

What’s going to happen, economically and politically, over the next few years? Nobody knows, of course. But I have a vision — what I think is the most likely course of events. It’s fairly grim — but not in the approved way. This vision lies behind a lot of what I’ve been writing, so it might clarify things for regular readers if I laid it out explicitly.

Start with the short-term economics. What we’re in right now is the aftermath of a giant financial crisis, which typically leads to a prolonged period of economic weakness — and this time isn’t different. A bolder economic policy early this year might have led to a turnaround, but what we actually got were half-measures. As a result, unemployment is likely to stay near its current level for a year or more.

And politically it’s hard to do anything about that. Those economic half-measures have landed the Obama administration in a trap: much of the political establishment now sees stimulus as having been discredited by events, so that it’s very hard to come back and scale the policy up to where it should have been in the first place. Also, with the apocalypse on hold, the deficit scolds have come back into their own, decrying any policy that actually involves spending money.

The result, then, will be high unemployment leading into the 2010 elections, and corresponding Democratic losses. These losses will be worse because Obama, by pursuing a uniformly pro-banker policy without even a gesture to popular anger over the bailouts, has ceded populist energy to the right and demoralized the movement that brought him to power.

Despite all this, the midterms probably won’t give Republicans the majority in the House. But the losses will be big enough to deny Obama a working majority for any major initiatives in the rest of his first term. (My guess is that he’ll be reelected thanks to the true awfulness of the Republican nominee). Since Republicans are dead set against any of the things I think could help pull the economy out of its rut, this means more economic stagnation.

Along with this will come a process of defining prosperity down. All the wise heads will tell us that 8 or 9 percent unemployment — maybe even 10 percent — is the “new normal”, and that only irresponsible people want to do anything about the situation.

So what I see is years of terrible job markets, combined with political paralysis.

I hope I’m wrong about all this. But my sense is that to have any hope of breaking out of this trap, Obama and company have to take risks — they have to propose new initiatives that might not pass, and be prepared to run against the do-nothing Republicans if the initiatives fail. That’s not happening now; as best as I can tell, the administration strategy is to insist that only a few minor course corrections are needed, and to wait for the jobs to start coming in.

Maybe they’ll get lucky. But hope is not a plan.

What can the rest of us do? Progressives have to keep the pressure on. The time for trusting the administration to do what’s necessary is past — all indications are that it won’t, not on its own. But maybe, just maybe, the president can be brought to see the danger he’s running by playing it safe.
The tragedy is that Obama could have avoided all this if he had shown courage. He didn't. He has condemned the American people to short term misery and a long term loss of wealth and growth that could have been had with bolder economic action. He has given power to the fanatics on the right. This is horrible.

Reich on the 'Recovery'

Here's the key bit from a good post by Robert Reich on how the Obama administration's strategy for recovery is good for Wall Street but terrible for Main Street:
The result, overall, is an asset-based recovery, not a Main Street recovery. Yes, the economy is growing again, but the surge in productivity is a mirage. Worker output per hour is skyrocketing because companies are generating almost as much output with fewer workers and fewer hours.

The Fed, meanwhile, has become an enabler to all this, making it as cheap as possible for companies to axe their employees. Money costs so little these days it’s easy to substitute capital for labor. It’s also easy to buy up foreign assets with cheap American money. And it’s now blissfully easy for Wall Street to borrow money almost free and buy all sorts of interests in foreign assets, especially commodities. That's why we're seeing the prices of foreign commodities and other assets go through the roof.

At the same time, the Treasury continues to be fixated on keeping banks afloat. The Administration's mortgage mitigation efforts are lagging. Small businesses are starved of credit. The White House has announced a "jobs summit," which is better than nothing but not nearly as good as pushiing immediately for a larger stimulus, a new jobs tax credit, and a WPA-style jobs program.

The Fed and the Teasury have, in effect, placed a huge bet on a recovery driven by asset prices. That’s a bad bet. The great disconnect between the stock market and jobs is pushing stock prices way out of line with the real economy. This isn't sustainable.

No economy can recover without consumers. Yet American consumers, who constitute 70 percent of the U.S. economy, are facing mounting job losses as well as pay cuts. They’re in no mood to buy and won’t be for some time.

Where is this heading? No place good. Without a major shift in policy -- both at the Fed and in the White House -- the economics point to a big stock-market correction and a double dip. The politics point to substantial losses for Democrats next year.
The bit at the end is key: Obama is putting the Democrats into a position where they will lose and the Republicans -- the very party that created the financial crisis -- will come back to power and once again diagnose the problems and recommend 'more tax cuts' for the rich.

Krugman Puts the Deficit in Perspective

From his NY Times blog, here is a posting by Paul Krugman that shows that all the doom-and-gloom about big deficits and growing debt are just a lot of hot air:
When I was on This Week yesterday, George Will tried his hand at the debt scare thing, saying that we’re in terrible shape because by 2019 the interest on the debt will be SEVEN HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS. (That should be read in the voice of Dr. Evil). I get that a lot — people who talk about the big numbers which are supposed to imply that things are terrible, impossible, we’re doomed, etc.
The point, of course, is that everything about the United States is big. So you have to interpret numbers accordingly. As the graphic above shows — it’s taken from an article that managed to maintain a grim tone while reporting numbers that actually weren’t all that grim — what we’re talking about is a debt-service burden roughly comparable to that under the first President Bush. How many of the people now warning about the impossible burden of currently projected debt were issuing similar warnings back in 1992? Not many, I’d guess.

And bear in mind my point about causes of deficits: the deficits of the Reagan-Bush years were essentially gratuitous, the result of a desire to cut taxes while increasing military spending, rather than a response to a temporary emergency. So that debt burden should have been more worrying than what we’re facing now.
The media doesn't take up the challenge and point out that the doom-and-gloomsters on debt are hypocrites. The media likes to push this story like they push all the doom-and-gloom stories meant to scare people into accepting lower living standards and allowing the elites to keep their choke hold on the economy and power. Tragic.

Working for al Qaeda

The idiocy of bureaucracies never ceases to amaze me. The idiocy of "security" is outrageous, has been pointed out for years, but continues because governments are thick skulled and stupid. Here's a bit from a Corey Doctorow posting on BoingBoing:
A BBC photographer was stopped from taking a picture of the sun setting by St Paul's Cathedral in London. A real police officer and a fake "community support officer" stopped the photog and said he couldn't take any pictures because with his professional-style camera, he might be an "al Quaeda operative" on a "scouting mission." Now, St Paul's is one of the most photographed buildings in the world (luckily, there is zero evidence that terrorists need photographs to plan their attacks), and presumably a smart al Quaeda operative with a yen to get some snaps would use a tiny tourist camera -- or a hidden camera in his buttonhole. The reporter An ex-MP goes on to describe being stopped for talking into a hand-sized dictaphone in Trafalgar Square (where thousands of people talking in their phones -- most of which have dictaphone capabilities -- can be seen at any given time).
The real damage from terrorist attacks doesn't come from the explosion. The real damage is done after the explosion, by the victims, who repeatedly and determinedly attack themselves, giving over reason in favor of terror. Every London cop who stops someone from taking a picture of a public building, every TSA agent who takes away your kid's toothpaste, every NSA spook who wiretaps your email, does the terrorist's job for him. Terrorism is about magnifying one mediagenic act of violence into one hundred billion acts of terrorized authoritarian idiocy. There were two al Quaeda operatives at St Paul's that day: the cop and her sidekick, who were about Osama bin Laden's business in London all day long.

The Bias in US Media

The joke is that the US media has a "liberal bias". This isn't true and has never really been true. The bias has always been toward the right since media ownership reflects the politics of the elite, the owners of the media. The only debate was between a cold-hearted mean-spirited elite representing the radical right and an elite that wanted its bread buttered but was willing to let the help have a 'decent' life that represents a more centrist elite (the supposed 'left wing' liberals).

The story out of Washington State of a paroled criminal killing four police officers is a good example of the unevenness of the the press. Maurice Clemmons had a 95 year sentence in Arkansas but was paroled by Huckabee. Is the press hounding Huckabee? Nope.

On the other hand, in 1988, the dirty tricks crew in the Republican party smeared Michael Dukakis with Willy Horton. They endlessly played a commercial of a revolving door with the idea that Dukakis was "soft" on criminals and gave them paroles that endangered the community. And the press featured lots of 'analysis' that flaunted this story like a red cloth in the face of a bull. The 'story' literally covered the media wall-to-wall. The 'message' that Dukakis was 'soft' on crime got through loud and clear.

Will Huckabee be haunted by a similar smear in the press? Don't get your lunch money on it!

So why does the "press" play one story so hard and not the other? Liberal bias? Give me a break. The press is the lap dog of the right wing elite that are all to happy to use social policies (issues of gay marriage, abortion, soft on crime, welfare queens, etc.) to enflame the voting public. These elites, when in power do nothing to solve the social problems. They simply levered these issues to get into power to pass more tax cuts for the rich and create sweet-heart contracts for the rich. The system is corrupt and the foolish voters haven't noticed.

Obama's Trickle Down Economics

The Reagan years of "trickle down" economics meant that the rich got richer and the poor poorer. Here's a bit from an op-ed in the NY Times by Paul Krugman that accuses Obama of a new trickle down economics:
If you’re looking for a job right now, your prospects are terrible. There are six times as many Americans seeking work as there are job openings, and the average duration of unemployment — the time the average job-seeker has spent looking for work — is more than six months, the highest level since the 1930s.

You might think, then, that doing something about the employment situation would be a top policy priority. But now that total financial collapse has been averted, all the urgency seems to have vanished from policy discussion, replaced by a strange passivity. There’s a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers.

This is wrong and unacceptable.

Yes, the recession is probably over in a technical sense, but that doesn’t mean that full employment is just around the corner. Historically, financial crises have typically been followed not just by severe recessions but by anemic recoveries; it’s usually years before unemployment declines to anything like normal levels. And all indications are that the aftermath of the latest financial crisis is following the usual script. The Federal Reserve, for example, expects unemployment, currently 10.2 percent, to stay above 8 percent — a number that would have been considered disastrous not long ago — until sometime in 2012.

And the damage from sustained high unemployment will last much longer. The long-term unemployed can lose their skills, and even when the economy recovers they tend to have difficulty finding a job, because they’re regarded as poor risks by potential employers. Meanwhile, students who graduate into a poor labor market start their careers at a huge disadvantage — and pay a price in lower earnings for their whole working lives. Failure to act on unemployment isn’t just cruel, it’s short-sighted.
The Obama approach won't make the rich richer, but it will increase the social divide since those with jobs will become relatively richer than those without and that gap will grow not decrease. It will take a decade or more for the rift to be bridged, but those who lose ground because of the policy won't regain it. They will simply meld into the background. The new generation will see the rift disappear. But those deeply affected by this economic disaster will carry it with them to the grave.

I am completely disheartened by Obama. He was the hope of "change we can believe in" but ends up being a fairly ordinary politician. Worse, he is passive when he should be active. He has raised hopes and dashed them. At least when George Bush was elected most people knew that they wouldn't get a fair shake from government and all the goodies would go to the rich. With Obama there was a promise of change, but he has delivered almost nothing. Sad.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

DeLong on Deficits

The mainstream press acts like the house organ for the Republican party. They constantly yammer about 'excessive' deficits under Obama (but never said a peep as George Bush created trillion dollar deficits with his tax cuts for the rich, his extension of entitlements with Pharmacare, or his war of choice in Iraq).

Here is a big chunk from a Brad DeLong posting detailing how a mainstream economist like DeLong views the issue:
The big valid complaints about policy over the past fourteen months are not that it has run up the national debt and not that it has rewarded the princes of Wall Street, but rather that it has, if anything, been on too small a scale--that we ought to have done more.

Yet these policies appear, somehow, to be political losers in Washington right now: nobody is proposing to do more along the same lines. This is strange: usually when something works the natural impulse is to do it again.

So we have a big puzzle: Just what is going on in America? Good policies that are working to boost production and employment without causing inflation ought to be politically popular, right?

I think two different things are going on--one with respect to the Obama fiscal boost that is the ARRA, and a second with respect to the TARP and related banking-sector support policies.

With respect to the ARRA--the stimulus package, the Obama fiscal boost--it seems to me that what is going on on the American right is simply (a) an outbreak of extraordinary intellectual and political dishonesty that (b) the press refuses to see.

For two and a half centuries economists have believed that the flow of spending in an economy goes up whenever groups of people decide to spend more. Sometimes and to some degree these increases show up as increases in prices and sometimes and to some degree as increases in production and employment. Sometimes these increases come because there is more spendable cash in the economy and sometimes because changes in opportunity cost make people want to spend the cash they have more rapidly. But always it has been that spending goes up whenever groups decide to spend more--and the government's decisions to spend more are as good as anybody else's, as good as the decisions of the mortgage companies and new homebuyers to spend more buying new houses during the housing bubble of the mid-2000s or of the princes of Silicon Valley to spend more building new companies during the dot-com bubble of the late-1990s.

Chicago economists' arguments that fiscal stimulus can't work are at best incoherent and usually simply wrong. Republican politicians' arguments that fiscal stimulus isn't working are simply ripped out of the Newt Gingrich playbook: lie all the time. Remember that back in 1993 when the Democrats' analyses led them to seek to reduce the deficit and spend less--well, back then the Republicans said that would destroy the economy too. And they were very wrong. But how many media stories about Republican claims make even a small attempt to evaluate them?

A stronger--but not much stronger--argument is that the ARRA is boosting employment and production, but at too great a long-run cost because it has produced too large a boost in America's national debt. If interest rates on U.S. Treasury securities were high and rising rapidly as the debt grew, I would agree with this argument. But that is not the case. Interest rates on U.S. Treasury securities are very low. They are not rising. The argument that the economy has too much debt--that the market does not want more debt--is belied by every single Treasury auction at which the market gobbles up huge new tranches of U.S. Treasury debt at high prices. What the market is telling us is that while the economy has too much private debt--prices of corporate bonds are low, and firms find financing expensive--the economy has too little public U.S. government debt, which everyone wants to hold. Those who claim that we have a debt problem, and you can't cure a debt problem with more debt suppress--sometimes deliberately--that since the start of the financial crisis private debt and U.S. Treasury debt have been very different animals, moving in different directions and behaving in very different ways.
The fact is, the political right in the US are hypocrites who pretend to be patriots but in fact are destroying the US economy with their idiocy. They willfully ignore economic facts in favour of their ideology to the detriment of the nation. They are, however, heros to the ultra-rich who act as patrons for these efforts to downsize government and remove taxes from the rich by shifting them onto the poor.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thought Control in Canada

The idiot government in Canada believes it has the mandate to control thoughts. Here's a story of how the goons of government impose their control over the populace:
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's As It Happens radio show covers the story of Amy Goodman's recent' border crossing into Canada. Goodman -- host of the US public radio show Democracy Now! -- was coming to Canada to give a speech at a library, and Canadian border guards questioned her intensely about the subject of her talk, even reading her notes for her speech. They were fishing for something, but Goodman couldn't figure out what, until the guards asked her outright whether she was planning on talking about the upcoming Canadian Olympic Games. When she assured them that she hadn't been, they eventually released her (it had been a 75 minute detention) but stamped a control-order in her passport giving her only 24 hours' stay in Canada.
You can listen to the details on this government radio channel (starts at 2:00). (What an idiotic country. Government on one side pays bullies at the border to rough you up over your beliefs. At the same time the same government pays liberal-minded journalists to wring their hands over this outrage and ensure that everybody can go 'tut tut' without actually doing anything. The government radio makes sure we all 'sympatize' but don't do anything effective like rising up and throwing the idiot Harper government out of office!)

Fascism lives in Canada! The Thought Police are busy ensuring that unblemished minds are not exposed to procribed thoughts about such explosive topics as 'the Olympics'. All hail Stephen Harper and his goons for keeping us pure, virginal, blank slates ready and willing to believe only what the government has approved. Mind science in Canada means brain washing by border guards. Those who have impure thoughts be warned! You will not be allowed to enter Canada!

Holy crap! Harper's 'proscribed thoughts' list highlights such incendiary topics as ideas/beliefs/opinions about the Olympics. The Olympics is the idiotic sandbox of 'sport' for the rich. Canada has intituted 'thought control' to protect the Olympic party revelers. The rich and super-rich jet around the world enjoying expensive venues for 'sport' at the expense of the locals, the suckers forced to pay the taxes for these extravaganzas. Harper sees the protection of these social parasites as so critical he has border guards doing a shakedown of reporters at the border and issuing threatening 'papers' to circumscribe their stay in Canada to ensure they don't raise any troubling issues about 'the Olympics'. Nuts!

I'm outraged! This is nuts. This is not democracy. This is fascism, i.e. state power glorified with control over not just acts but thoughts and beliefs. So much for the joke of 'freedom'. You are free in Canada so long as you toe party line and kowtow to the thought police.

And it isn't just the Feds who are into 'thought control' in a big way. Here's how the universities in Canada employ their security people. From a posting on BoingBoing:
Documents recently obtained through access to information legislation show that author David Bernans was being spied upon by investigators at Concordia University in Montreal.

"In this first-person narrative, Bernans chronicles his experience dealing with Concordia's security apparatus, and questions the motivations of a university that spies on and censors its students."

Christ, a university with its own private eye squad made up of failed Fed cops? What's next, a no-fly list for the campus shuttle-bus? Lookit these Keystone Kop bumblers, chasing people around because they're "interested in bilingualism." Hey, Concordia grads, is this how you want your alumni donations being spent?

What is to be Undone

Here is the kind of 'science' that the guys behind selling global warming believe in. Looks to me like they would have happily joined in jailing Galileo or burning Giordano Bruno at the stake. These are not the kind of 'scientists' that I want to be involved in any serious research. These guys are fanatics and ideologues who don't care to listen to Mother Nature. They want to put her on the rack until she recants and recites the required creed...

Friday, November 27, 2009

When to Worry about Deficits

Paul Krugman has written a nice post on his NY Times blog about the phony cries of anguish over the current deficit. He rewinds a bit of history to show why these false prophets of doom should have been wailing and gnashing their teeth back in 2003, not now:
Now, back in 2003 I got very alarmed about the US deficit — wrongly, it turned out — not so much because of its size as because of its origin. We had an administration that was behaving in a deeply irresponsible way. Not only was it cutting taxes in the face of a war, which had never happened before, plus starting up a huge unfunded drug benefit, but it was also clearly following a starve-the-beast budget strategy: tax cuts to reduce the revenue base and force later spending cuts to be determined. In effect, it was a strategy designed to produce a fiscal crisis, so as to provide a reason to dismantle the welfare state. And so I thought the crisis would come.

In fact, it never did. Bond markets figured that America was still America, and that responsibility would eventually return; it’s still not clear whether they were right, but the housing boom also led to a revenue boom, whittling down those Bush deficits.

Compare and contrast the current situation.

Most though not all of our current budget deficit can be viewed as the result of a temporary emergency. Revenue has plunged in the face of the crisis, while there has been an increase in spending largely due to stimulus and bailouts. None of this can be seen as a case of irresponsible policy, nor as a permanent change in policy. It’s more like the financial equivalent of a war — which is why the WWII example is relevant.

So the debt question is what happens when things return to normal: will we be at a level of indebtedness that can’t be handled once the crisis is past?

And the answer is that it depends on the politics. If we have a reasonably responsible government a decade from now, and the bond market believes that we have such a government, the debt burden will be well within the range that can be managed with only modest sacrifice.
I chalk these cries of 'fiscal responsibility' to ideologues who are intent on destroying a liberal, humane America in order to build the rich man's paradise that George Bush so nearly put in place during his eight year reign of terror (and I mean that literally).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bush/Obama Deliver a Grand Christmas Present

... to the the rich, of course. Here's the theme song for this year's Christmas to be sung by all the ultra wealthy...

I'm so depressed that Obama, the Chicago "community organizer" for poor neighborhoods, has shown his real adeptness as the majordomo of Wall Street. He has stepped into George Bush's shoes and graciously assisted the rich, the super rich, and the ultra rich so they can celebrate a gorgeous, grand, glutonous Christmas. The rest of us get to stand outside in the cold and watch. We are supposed to do all the heavy lifting, all the chores, but we don't get to sit at table. That is reserved for our 'betters'.

I want to hear the Burt Bacharach standard 'What the World Needs Now is Love' re-written as 'What the World Needs Now is a Populist Leader who Seriously Cares for the Downtrodden'.

I'll have to work on that title... that one is a little too long, not catchy enough, not sufficiently inspiring.

I was watching the PBS special on Woody Guthrie last night. Now there's a guy who could write a lyric for the poor. He did 'catchy' swell. OK, on the personal level he was a flake, but in the arena of big ideas, he could pump out songs that lifted up people and pointed them to a better tomorrow.

What populism means is exactly what Guthrie put into his song This Land is Your Land:
  • Don't look for somebody to save you, save yourself.

  • The land doesn't belong to the rich. The nation is a social construct. It is created by social collaboration. It can dissolve in an instant if people stop 'believing' in the property system and the rule of the rich. From time to time, people need to remind the rich that they aren't above, or beyond, or independent of the broader social fabric. Their success is built on collaborations that a civil society makes possible. (Warren Buffet understands this and constantly admits that if he were born in Timbuktu he would be poor and useless, but in a capitalist society his skills at evaluating companies and their prospects has made him a multi-billionaire.)

  • Here's my favourite verse:
    There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
    Sign was painted, it said private property;
    But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
    This land was made for you and me.
  • He revels in this world in the joys to be had in this land, now. He didn't buy into religion that sells you 'pie in the sky' promises.

  • Woody reveled in people. He loved all the characters you meet in life. He enjoyed the earthiness of real living. He hated pretense and self importance. That's the kind of populism we need. What ever happened to the 'can do' American who didn't look for hand outs. The Americans who did barn raising and took pride is pulling themselves up by their own boot straps? Populism needs to celebrate the spirit of a people who take back control of their lives.
To understand the mind set of the rich and their view that everybody works for them, for life, eternally indentured servants with no rights to their own labour is captured by this bit of text pulled from the Wikipedia article on Woodie Guthrie:
In his recordings in the early 1940s Woody Guthrie included the following “Copyright Warning”:
“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”[90] Currently the copyright in much of Woody's songs is claimed by a number of different organizations.[91]
When JibJab published a parody[92] of Woody's song This Land Is Your Land to comment on the US 2004 Presidential election, Ludlow Music attempted to have this parody taken down, claiming it breached their copyright. JibJab then sued to affirm their parody was Fair Use, with the EFF acting for them. As part of their research on the case they found that the song had actually been first published by Woody Guthrie in 1945, although the copyright was not registered until 1956. This meant that when Ludlow applied to renew the copyright in 1984 they were 11 years too late, and the song had in fact been in the public domain since 1973 (28 years from first publication).[93] Ludlow agreed that JibJab were free to distribute their parody. In an interview on NPR Arlo Guthrie said that he thought the parody was hilarious and he thought Woody would have loved it too.[94] Ludlow still claims copyright in this song; however, it is not clear what the basis of this claim is.
Note how the rich love 'property rights' even when what they are doing is illegal, they still 'assert' their rights. They use the power of the state to crush everyone so they can extort as much wealth as they can. This is the Moloch which Obama (and Bush) serve.

Obama Defects

Maureen Dowd has written an interesting op-ed in which she identifies some defects in Obama. Here are some examples:
...Obama can often be more interested in wooing opponents than tending to those who put themselves on the line for him.

...Obama’s failure to lift a finger to help Caroline Kennedy — after she had lifted him at a crucial moment — when the loopy Gov. David Paterson was dragging her through mud and refusing to announce a decision on the appointment for the New York Senate seat. Paterson was being lobbied by a vengeful Bill Clinton. Bill was still upset at Caroline for bestowing the Camelot mantle, which he had tried to claim during his campaigns, on Obama. Yet no one from the Obama camp tried to counteract Bill and straighten out Paterson.

... Although a handful of donors were invited to the premiere state dinner Tuesday night ... many donors and passionate supporters are let down by Obama’s detachment, puzzled at his failure to make them feel invested when he’s certain to come back to tap their well soon enough.

It is especially puzzling given that Obama faces tough midterms and a less-than-certain re-election — and given that we all now know someone on the unemployment line. (A new poll shows Obama and Sarah Palin neck and neck among independents, but then it is a Fox survey.)

Bill Clinton may not have cared any more about contributors than Obama does, but he was such a talented politician that he made them feel as though they were in “a warm bath,” as one put it.

Obama is more like a cold shower.
I felt Obama was a stronger leader than Clinton and I was dead set against political aristocracies (Kennedy, Bush, Clinton) but I'm now willing to admit I made a horrible mistake. Obama has fallen far short. I'm not sure Hillary Clinton would have stood up to Wall Street. But I do know that Obama has failed several critical tests: he caved to Wall Street with the trillion dollar bailout, he didn't push for a large enough stimulus, he ignores the growing unemployment, he never pushed hard for universal health care, he has dithered over Afghanistan and ended up extending a pointless Vietnam-style debacle in Afghanistan, he backtracked on promises to close down Guantanamo, etc., etc.

Hacked Global Warming E-Mails

I am not a fan of Fox News. They are a right wing news organization with big money behind it (owned by Rupert Murdoch). Their slogan "fair and balanced" is a joke. But they are carrying the story of the hacked e-mails from the Hadley CRU (Climate Research Unit). This is a story that needs more air time. It is very significant, but the left eco-nuts won't allow debate. These e-mails make it very clear that much of the political pressure to "fix" global warming is based on tainted data. At the very least major governments should clean house, i.e. replace researchers with ones with an independent mind set, researchers who put science about their petty political/environmental agendas. This story is like Watergate, it will grow over time. Right now the major media is ignoring it or pretending it is a tempest in a teapot.

I have no love for big oil. No love for the rich and powerful. But I do have concern about governments putting a cap on economic growth. The hope for the poor is in a growing economy and a better future. We have just been through a devastating economic panic in which governments around the world have transferred trillions from the average and poor taxpayer to the ultra-wealthy. This scandal about tampering with data and suppressing scientific research is another story in which a minority (not wealthy but eco-fanatics) who want to transfer wealth from average and poor taxpayers to fund their vision of a ecologically "better" future. But who voted these guys in? How did they get their power? Answer: by tainted science. I say: off with their heads! Replace these researchers with honest scientists who will be sceptical and let the facts lead them, not their ideological theories.

As this news story from the UK's Telegraph, the more radical economic demands of the global warming crowd are starting to falter. (I would guess that these are repercussions from the Hadley CRU data tampering & political strong-arming scandal.)
Australia is leading the revolt against Al Gore’s great big AGW conspiracy – just as the Aussie geologist and AGW sceptic Professor Ian Plimer predicted it would.

ABC news reports that five frontbenchers from Australia’s opposition Liberal party have resigned their portfolios rather than follow their leader Malcolm Turnbull in voting with Kevin Rudd’s Government on a new Emissions Trading Scheme.
When politicians resign rather than cave in to political demands, you know there is something serious afoot.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How the Play Hardball Politics

Here's a blog posting by Robert Reich that recounts in gory detail just how the politicians have gutted public health care for Americans. As a Canadian, I look at this an wonder why a people famous for revolting, who celebrate their history as revolutionaries, just lie down and let themselves be raped by big business. It is simply bizarre. Politics bought and paid for, sold into the service of big corporations, served up with all the froth and deception of a master Madison Avenue advertising campaign:
Harry Reid, and What Happened to the Public Option

by Robert Reich

First there was Medicare for all 300 million of us. But that was a non-starter because private insurers and Big Pharma wouldn't hear of it, and Republicans and "centrists" thought it was too much like what they have up in Canada -- which, by the way, cost Canadians only 10 percent of their GDP and covers every Canadian. (Our current system of private for-profit insurers costs 16 percent of GDP and leaves out 45 million people.)

So the compromise was to give all Americans the option of buying into a "Medicare-like plan" that competed with private insurers. Who could be against freedom of choice? Fully 70 percent of Americans polled supported the idea. Open to all Americans, such a plan would have the scale and authority to negotiate low prices with drug companies and other providers, and force private insurers to provide better service at lower costs. But private insurers and Big Pharma wouldn't hear of it, and Republicans and "centrists" thought it would end up too much like what they have up in Canada.

So the compromise was to give the public option only to Americans who wouldn't be covered either by their employers or by Medicaid. And give them coverage pegged to Medicare rates. But private insurers and ... you know the rest.

So the compromise that ended up in the House bill is to have a mere public option, open only to the 6 million Americans not otherwise covered. The Congressional Budget Office warns this shrunken public option will have no real bargaining leverage and would attract mainly people who need lots of medical care to begin with. So it will actually cost more than it saves.

But even the House's shrunken and costly little public option is too much for private insurers, Big Pharma, Republicans, and "centrists" in the Senate. So Harry Reid has proposed an even tinier public option, which states can decide not to offer their citizens. According to the CBO, it would attract no more than 4 million Americans.

It's a token public option, an ersatz public option, a fleeting gesture toward the idea of a public option, so small and desiccated as to be barely worth mentioning except for the fact that it still (gasp) contains the word "public."

And yet Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson mumble darkly that they may not even vote to allow debate on the floor of the Senate about the bill if it contains this paltry public option. And Republicans predict a "holy war."

But what more can possibly be compromised? Take away the word "public?" Make it available to only twelve people?

Our private, for-profit health insurance system, designed to fatten the profits of private health insurers and Big Pharma, is about to be turned over to ... our private, for-profit health care system. Except that now private health insurers and Big Pharma will be getting some 30 million additional customers, paid for by the rest of us.

Upbeat policy wonks and political spinners who tend to see only portions of cups that are full will point out some good things: no pre-existing conditions, insurance exchanges, 30 million more Americans covered. But in reality, the cup is 90 percent empty. Most of us will remain stuck with little or no choice -- dependent on private insurers who care only about the bottom line, who deny our claims, who charge us more and more for co-payments and deductibles, who bury us in forms, who don't take our calls.

I'm still not giving up. I want every Senator who's not in the pocket of the private insurers or Big Pharma to introduce and vote for a "Ted Kennedy Medicare for All" amendment to whatever bill Reid takes to the floor. And if this fails, a "Ted Kennedy Real Public Option for All" amendment. Let every Senate Democratic who doesn't have the guts to vote for either of them be known and counted.
Robert Reich is doing a public service by telling you how you got screwed by big Pharma. The politics is corrupt. Why does the American public let itself be used and abused by the rich and powerful?

Different Perspectives

The rich see the world differently from the poor. The rich are keen to keep their money, power, and status. So they constantly yammer about "inflationary threat" because they want to keep the cost of money high so they can make their big financial profits.

The poor want the economy to grow to give them a little space to squeeze out a living in the corners that life makes available to them. They have no power so they depend on "the system" to give them a little space to survive.

But right now the powerful are only thinking of themselves. So they are clogging up the media with cries of "too much debt" and the need to "raise interest rates" to ensure that inflation doesn't go wild.

Here's a reality check by Paul Krugman from his NY Times blog:
No exit

The latest Fed minutes, together with the forecast, are out. What do they tell us?

Well, the Fed expects unemployment to come down only very gradually — over 9 percent at the end of 2010, over 8 percent at the end of 2011, around 7 percent at the end of 2012. Inflation, meanwhile is expected to remain consistently below the Fed’s target.

Which raises the question, why is anyone talking about an “exit strategy”? On the Fed’s own forecasts, the economy will remain seriously depressed three years from now.

If we apply the Rudebusch version of the Taylor rule to the mean Fed forecasts, I get the following for what the Fed funds rate should be:

End 2009: -6.3%
End 2010: -5.4%
End 2011: -3.3%
End 2012: -0.6%

Yep: three years from now, we’re still in a liquidity trap, with no reason to raise rates above zero and a continuing need for quantitative easing and fiscal expansion.

As far as I can tell, what’s going on in monetary policy debate is a policy in search of a justification. Many central bankers just hate, absolutely hate, being in the position of being so accommodating; yet economic analysis offers no justification for tightening. So they’re inventing new policy doctrines on the fly to justify doing what they want to do.

It’s a familiar story: see Japan’s premature exit from the ZIRP in 2000, and also see 1937 — which was a monetary as well as fiscal bungle.

The truth is that policy should be piling on, not looking for the exit. But central bankers can’t wait to pull away the punchbowl, even though the party hasn’t started, and shows no signs of starting for years to come.
Krugman's point should be shouted from the rooftops. The economy is in a depression (caused by the mad greed of the bankers). Wall Street gambled, the big shots got to keep their money thanks to the taxpayers, but now Main Street is in distress. But rather than give the little guy a break, the big shots are demanding "tight money" to keep inflation at bay.

But as Krugman points out, there will be not even the slightest hint of inflation for at least 3 more years as the economy stays stuck in a serious recession. Then, and only then, does it make sense to call for tighter monetary policy and the withdrawal of fiscal stimulus. Anybody going contrary this want to drive the truck of greed in reverse to flatten the little guy a second time.

Wall Street flattened him in the Fall of 2008 when their risk-laden bubble burst. Now politicians in the pay of the powerful want to back that truck up and re-flatten the little guy by denying him an economy that will create jobs and grow the economy. Tragic. A mistake compounded by more mistakes. And of course all of this at the expense of the little guy, the taxpayer.

I blame Obama for allowing himself to become the tool of the Rich. He ran as a "people's President" but he is in fact a Wall Street banker President.

Now... for a little zest... Here's Paul Krugman's "the real meaning of Thanksgiving". This is good. A touch over the top, but all in good sport, eh?

Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

This is government at its worst. Bush was big on "no regulation" but on the other hand, he was big on secret government with laws that citizens are not allowed to know about the laws that have been enacted. Bizarre.

Here's Michael Geist giving a talk on ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement):

Here are two US Senators who are trying to take a stand against this law (this is from the Knowledge Ecology International web site):

Senators Sanders and Brown ask White House to make ACTA text public

Submitted by James Love on 23. November 2009

Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) have written to USTR, asking that the ACTA text be made public. The strongly worded letter was sent to Ambassador Ron Kirk, the head of the United States Trade Representative, an office of the White House.

The letter states:
ACTA involves dozens if not hundreds of substantive aspects of intellectual property law and its enforcement, including those that have nothing to do with counterfeiting. . . . There are concerns about the impact of ACTA on the privacy and civil rights of individuals, on the supply of products under the first sale doctrine, on the markets for legitimate generic medicines, and on consumers and innovation in general."
The letter says "the public has a right to monitor and express informed views on proposals of such magnitude."

Senators Sanders and Brown say the ACTA negotiations have not been conducted in a manner consistent with the President's January 21, 2009 Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. Noting in closing:
We are surprised and unpersuaded by assertions that disclosures of basic information about the negotiation would present a risk to the national security of the United States, particularly as regards documents that are shared with all countries in the negotiations, and with dozens of representatives of large corporations. We are concerned that the secrecy of such information reflects a desire to avoid potential criticism of substantive provisions in ACTA by the public, the group who will be most affected by the agreement. Such secrecy has already undermined public confidence in the ACTA process, a point made recently by Dan Glickman, the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) - a group highly supportive of the ACTA negotiation, as well as by the members of the TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue -- a group more critical of the negotiations.

We firmly believe that the public has a right to know the contents of the proposals being considered under ACTA, just as they have the right to read the text of bills pending before Congress.
It is hard as a citizen to live in a "democracy" if the legislators pass laws which do not allow the citizens to know what those laws are. I can accept the need for secrecy when it comes to deadly threats, but over copyright? Who are you hiding the legislation from? Obviously any big criminal syndicate will be able to buy lawyers and politicians and police so they will become experts on ACTA. The only people who will have no idea of what the law is about are the ordinary citizens. Nutty!

I'm extremely hostile to claims of IP (Intellectual Property) rights because I worked with a company that forced me to sign a statement that any ideas I created during or outside work belonged to the company, not to me. They were big, they had money, I needed a job, so I signed. This is very much like workers in the 19th century who had the "freedom" to refuse to work for big capitalists if they didn't like the wages. But they would starve. Those employees willing to sign up for low wages could scrape by. Meanwhile the rich got fabulously rich in the Gilded Era on the backs of underpaid workers. (Much like the new Gilded Age of Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush in which the rich got fabulously rich while the bottom 90% of society merely treaded water.)

There is a reason why the rich love lawyers. They use them to extract "property rights" from the poor. The claims of IP are an uneven fight in which the rich get what they want and the rest of us have the choice of comply or starve.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Failure of Bank Regulation

The legacy of George W. Bush is the financial crisis. He created this through his worship of free markets and deregulation. Here's a bit from a NY Times article by Eric Dash that looks at the failure of bank regulation. It was deep, widespread, and prolonged. All the consequence of an ideology that worshipped unrestrained capitalism the relegated government a role as observer instead of the institution of the society that governs, i.e. makes and enforces the rules. Instead, the ideology of Alan Greenspan et al. was that the rich would make their own rules and that 'greed is good' and unrestrained, unregulated greed is even better...
At bank after bank, the examiners are discovering that state and federal regulators knew lenders were engaging in hazardous business practices but failed to act until it was too late. At Haven Trust, for instance, regulators raised alarms about lax lending standards, poor risk controls and a buildup of potentially dangerous loans to the boom-and-bust building industry. Despite the warnings — made as far back as 2002 — neither the bank’s management nor the regulators took action. Similar stories played out at small and midsize lenders from Maryland to California.

What went wrong? In many instances, the financial overseers failed to act quickly and forcefully to rein in runaway banks, according to reports compiled by the inspectors general of the four major federal banking regulators. Together, they have completed 41 inquests and have 75 more in the works.

Current and former banking regulators acknowledge that they should have been more vigilant.
The economic calamity that the US has inflicted on the world comes from a massive failure of ethics. And the sad fact is that the majority of Americans still worship at the feet of the false god of unrestrained capitalism and a me-first greed. Sad.

Obama, the Perfect Commentary

This says it all...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dowd on Obama

I always enjoy Maureen Dowd. She usually has a good analysis but then spices it up with verbal fireworks to make it doubly delicious. Here's Dowd's NY Times op-ed with her take on Obama's deflating "leadership"...
Like Reagan, Obama is a detached loner with a strong, savvy wife. But unlike Reagan, he doesn’t have the acting skills to project concern about what’s happening to people.

Obama showed a flair for the theatrical during his campaign, and a talent for narrative in his memoir, but he has yet to translate those skills to governing.

As with the debates, he seems resistant to the idea that perception, as well as substance, matters. Obama so values pragmatism, and is so immersed in the thorny details of legislative compromises, that he may be undervaluing the connective bonds of simpler truths.

Americans who are hurting get angry when they learn that Timothy Geithner, as head of the New York Fed before becoming Treasury secretary, caved to the insistence of Goldman Sachs and other A.I.G. trading partners that they get 100 cents on the dollar when he could have struck a far better bargain for taxpayers.

If we could see a Reduced Shakespeare summary of Obama’s presidency so far, it would read:

Dither, dither, speech. Foreign trip, bow, reassure. Seminar, summit. Shoot a jump shot with the guys, throw out the first pitch in mom jeans. Compromise, concede, close the deal. Dither, dither, water down, news conference.

It’s time for the president to reinvent this formula and convey a more three-dimensional person.

Palin can be stupefyingly simplistic, but she seems dynamic. Obama is impressively complex but he seems static.
The American people deserve something better. Obama should resign, Biden step aside, Nancy Pelosi give up he Speaker of the House, and thereby force another election where somebody willing to act and lead and save the nation steps forward. (On second thought, that might not work. Too many voters have been lobotimized and will pull the levers to support gasbags and right wing extremists.) I guess all I can do is what the mess simmer and stew. What a tragedy.

The Failings of American Health Care

I get a chuckle out of the idiotic positions that US lawmakers get into over health care. The ranting about the "public option" drives me crazy. These lawmakers refuse to open their eyes and see just how broken the US health care system is. This graphic makes the point. The US spends far more money per capita on health care but has shorter lifetimes and higher infant mortality. It is as if the US is purposefully designing a health care delivery system that kills people off and American are proud of it. They should be ashamed! The debate should focus on how money is wasted. Instead, the lawmakers act as if everything would be tickety-boo if only there is no "public option"...

Click to enlarge

The reason why the rest of the world gets better bang for its health care buck is that they all have public health care systems. The only "public" health care in the US are the remnants of the 19th century when public health authorities were put in place to monitor plagues and act in extreme situations to protect the population. Otherwise Americans are in love with the idea of public misery and private excesses. Nutty!

Human Potential

I never cease to be amazed at the strange gifts and obsessions of individual humans. Here's an example of dexterity that boggles my mind. The video is nicely done...

Now for a different slant on human arts and potential...

I'm a bibliophile, so I treat books as if they were precious objects. (I just moved so I spent 3 weeks at back breaking labour boxing my 7,000 books. I've 'paid my dues' to my books to keep them close to my heart.)

The following video is beautiful form of art, but I cringe as I think about the sacrilege of creating this kind of art from books. But in the spirit of celebrating human potential, I'm willing to enjoy it:

That is very definitely a different way to celebrate the art & stories that books bring to one's life. Nicely done!

A Little Light Entertainment

Nothing like science to give you a source of good humour...

And if you like your humour to be factual, try this:
A small college in the Midwest wanted to put up a wind turbine on their campus. The school, being on top of a hill in the middle of the prairie, had enough wind to produce upwards of 3/4 of their needed electricity, so the project made good sense. But when it came time to talk to the people living nearby, the school ran into some opposition. In particular, from a farmer who thought the noise and appearance of the wind turbine would lower property values.

The punchline: He was a pig farmer.


This bit from a Paul Krugman op-ed in the NY Times sums up my feelings about how things have gone off the rails:
A funny thing happened on the way to a new New Deal. A year ago, the only thing we had to fear was fear itself; today, the reigning doctrine in Washington appears to be “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

What happened? To be sure, “centrists” in the Senate have hobbled efforts to rescue the economy. But the evidence suggests that in addition to facing political opposition, President Obama and his inner circle have been intimidated by scare stories from Wall Street.


In December 2008 Lawrence Summers, soon to become the administration’s highest-ranking economist, called for decisive action. “Many experts,” he warned, “believe that unemployment could reach 10 percent by the end of next year.” In the face of that prospect, he continued, “doing too little poses a greater threat than doing too much.”

Ten months later unemployment reached 10.2 percent, suggesting that despite his warning the administration hadn’t done enough to create jobs. You might have expected, then, a determination to do more.

But in a recent interview with Fox News, the president sounded diffident and nervous about his economic policy. He spoke vaguely about possible tax incentives for job creation. But “it is important though to recognize,” he went on, “that if we keep on adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, that at some point, people could lose confidence in the U.S. economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession.”

What? Huh?
This is a tragedy on many levels. The failings of Obama mean that millions will live lives of quiet despair for many years, tens of thousands will take decades to recover, and for some, the rest of their lives will be lived as a tragedy (just like the Great Depression created a silent army of hobos who never did find a job in the mainstream working world). All this would have been unnecessary if Obama had taken bold action.

At another level, it shows how money & power on Wall Street has subverted democracy and rational policy making.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Climate Fraud

The hacking of the Hadley centre's CRU (Climate Research Unit) has uncovered massive fraud by global warming fanatics to push their radical agenda on governments and advance their perverted "science".

Here's a bit on this event on Wikipedia.

Here is an interview with Tim Ball, a retired geography professor at the University of Winnipeg and a global warming sceptic, that discusses the level of fraud that has been uncovered by hacking into the CRU's e-mails:

It will be interesting to see how this fraud is dealt with. The fanatics have wormed their way into control of most major climate research insitutitions and they are playing "hardball" to ensure that their political views prevail and as the e-mails show, they are willing to distort data and the science in order to sell their global warming agenda. How long will it take to root them out? It may take as long as it took to get the deviant Lysenkoism out of Soviet science.

Selling Global Warming

Here's how you do the 'science' of global warming... no facts, no analysis, just propaganda that gets little girls to cry...

This is pathetic. It is the kind of artful propaganda always used by those who have no real science, no real analysis, no real facts. It is the way to 'sell' a point of view. Anybody who buys into this kind of message is a fool.

If you really want to understand the vicious propaganda war behind the global warming fanaticism, go look at Roger Pielke Sr.'s response to finding how he was targeted by the politics of the IPCC crowd. The global warming crowd loudly claims 'science' but the facts show that they are political agitators pushing a point of view and are indifferent to facts (except insofar as they can manipulate them to 'sell' their point of view).

The Chatter of 'Experts'

Paul Krugman in his NY Times blog nails the idiocy that passes for 'wisdom' in Washington, the handmaiden of Wall Street:
Many people on Wall Street are now warning that there’s a huge bubble in government debt, that interest rates will spike any day now; it’s a warning that clearly has the Obama administration’s ear. A good sample is this piece from Morgan Stanley, according to which “Our US economics team expects bond yields to rise to 5.5% by the end of 2010 - an increase of 220bp that outstrips the 137bp increase in the fed funds rate expected over the same horizon.”

Btw: what? Almost everyone expects unemployment in late 2010 to remain close to 10%. Why, exactly, would the Fed funds rate rise sharply?

Anyway, I was wondering: it’s my impression that the same people now warning about the alleged Treasury bubble dismissed warnings about the housing bubble. Is this true?

I think so. Morgan Stanley, September 2006:
The pessimists argue that the bursting of a putative housing bubble means that prices could decline significantly. There is some risk that prices could decelerate faster or even decline in real terms — after all, investment and speculative activity has picked up in the past five years. But the character of housing demand makes the much-feared decline in prices on a nationwide basis unlikely …
Why Obama would pay attention to this idiotic chatter is mind boggling... except these are his paymasters, and like all employees, he has to pay keen attention to what his bosses want!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Essay on Climate Modeling

There is a very interesting essay on global warming by Antonis Christofides and Nikos Mamassis, National Technical University of Athens, Department of Water Resources and Environmental Engineering.

I enjoyed this graph they provide. It puts the current hysteria about "global warming" into some historical perspective:

Here is what I view as the key comment in this essay:
Climate models, also known as General Circulation Models or GCMs, are very complicated models that accept a number of inputs such as carbon dioxide, sun radiation, and many more (the input variables of climate models are often called forcings). The models are run in huge supercomputers, simulating the evolution of climate around the globe, and they produce the temperature and rainfall around the earth as a function of the input. The argument goes that when the models are run without the input that is allegedly caused by humans (i.e. when they are run with the "normal" or "pre-industrial" concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), then there is no global warming; but when they are run with the alleged "anthropogenic forcings", i.e. with increased carbon dioxide concentrations, then there is global warming at the end of the 20th century, which continues throughout the 21st. This, goes on the argument, proves that the recent warming of the Earth, unlike previous climate changes, is caused by human activity; and the models, goes on the argument, can tell us how the climate will be several decades from now.

I can claim that if you drive your car at 30 km/h and you hit a wall flat on, you will only get a bruise on your left shoulder; and if you ask me why I think that, I can tell you that this is what the computer crash model says. This can be a convincing answer only if we have reasons to believe that the model works well. Therefore, the crucial question is: "How reliable are the climate models?" The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) attempts to answer that question in pages 600–601 of "The Physical Science Basis" [1], which is part of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. They mention three reasons: (1) that the models are based on established physical laws; (2) that the models can reproduce features of the current climate; (3) that the models can reproduce features of past climate. We need to examine them one by one.

(1) The models are based on established physical laws. If we know the speed and direction of a die, its dimensions, and the hardness of the materials of which the die and the surface on which it falls are constructed, can we predict the outcome? The physical laws of movement are very well known and understood in that case, but any model would fail miserably. The reason is that the problem is extremely complicated. If a model that attempts to simulate the physical movement of a die fails to predict the outcome, when the physical laws are fully known and really well understood, the fact that climate models are based on physical laws constitutes absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the models can work well. Climate is incredibly more complex than the throwing of a die. What's more, by the IPCC's own words, in climate there are "limitations in scientific understanding" ([1], p. 601).

(2) The models can reproduce features of current climate. It's not difficult to make a die throwing model that can reproduce features of die throwing. A model could be made that reproduces the fact that a die accelerates downwards; that when it hits the surface it rebounds; that it maintains its angular momentum; that it loses energy through friction; and so on. If a model can reproduce these features, this does not create any confidence whatsoever that it is able to correctly reproduce the final outcome of a real throw. Similarly, the fact that climate models can reproduce winters and summers, or dry areas and humid areas, has nothing to do with their ability to tell us how the climate will be in the future.

(3) The models can reproduce features of past climate. This argument is summarized in Figure 1. Climate models, it is claimed, are successful in reproducing the climate of the 20th century well, and therefore it is expected that they will be able to also reproduce the 21st century. In the Figure, the black line represents the (estimated) reality; and the yellow lines are 58 different outputs from several different climate models. The red line is the average of these outputs. Your first impression would be "wow, the models are good!" But let's take a more careful look at the Figure.

Figure 1: IPCC's presentation of model reliability ([1], p. 600).

The vertical axis in Figure 1 represents the departure from the mean temperature. If, for example, the temperature of the planet is 15°C on the average, and in 1962 the temperature of the planet was 15.3°C, then the black line will be at +0.3 in 1962. The problem is that the comparison is between the real departure and the departure of each model. If a model says that the temperature raised from 10 to 10.4°C, and in reality the temperature raised from 15 to 15.4°C, then the model would appear to coincide with reality in Figure 1. This means that the 60 lines of Figure 1 are artificially made in order to approximately fall on each other; if plotted without subtracting the mean, they would be 60 distinct lines, often very far from each other; if the chart were still only 2°C high, as it is now, many lines would be entirely outside the chart.

You may argue that if a model could get the departure from the mean, this would be a remarkable achievement, even if it could not get the actual value. Indeed. But it's different if you are shown Figure 1 and you think "wow, the models are good!", and it's different if you were shown a Figure of 60 entirely distinct lines, far from each other, in which case you'd think "hmm, the models are crap; however, they do seem to get the slope right."

Do they get the slope right? From what we can see, the (estimated) reality indicates relatively constant temperature from 1930 to 1970; in contrast, the models indicate a continuous temperature rise from 1930 to 1970, with an abrupt drop in 1962, when the Agung volcano errupted. We don't see, in that Figure, that the erruption has particularly influenced reality. If you look carefully into Figure 1, you'll notice other problems as well.

A third problem is that it is completely unscientific to draw the red line that shows the average of the models. There are absolutely no scientific grounds to believe that the average of the models is something special, or that it is better from the models. If the models get it wrong, there is absolutely no reason why the average of many models would get it less wrong. In fact, the mere existence of that red line makes us wonder: how were the 58 model outputs chosen? Why were those 58 outputs chosen, and not some other 58 outputs? Could that be cherry-picking?

Finally, even if the models match reality to some extent, how do we know that they were not made to fit reality? Normally scientists are extremely careful to adjust their models to match a specific set of data, and then they check how well their models match an entirely different set of data. In this case, for example, one could adjust the models so that they'd match the period 1900―1950, without looking at 1950―2000, and then checking how well the models can match reality for the latter period. This is not as easy as it seems in the case of climate models, and it may be impossible because of the huge complexity of the problem and the fact that there is data for only about one century; but we've never been given evidence that the match, to the doubtful extent that it exists, is anything better than data fitting.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claim that models can predict future climate is extraordinary; but instead of clear evidence, we are provided with confusing arguments and strange linguistic formations: rather than being told that "there is evidence that the models can predict future climate", we are being told that "there is considerable confidence that [the models] provide credible quantitative estimates of future climate, particularly at continental scales and above." What is "considerable confidence" and how far is it from certainty? Who is it that is considerably confident? What is "credible"? Does it merely mean plausible? What does "particularly at continental scales and above" mean? Does it mean "only at continental scales and above", as the quotation by Gavin Schmidt implies? Or does it mean "which is good at regional scales and even better at larger ones", as is implied by the IPCC's 94-page-long Chapter 11 [3], that is crammed with regional details?

A number of studies explain why the models are not credible (e.g. [4], [5]). But we have chosen, in this chapter, to only look at what IPCC says. The IPCC should have provided evidence that models do a decent job, and then we'd be able to start discussing on the merit of that evidence. But the IPCC, as you can see, has not provided any evidence. Rather than clear answers to clear questions, they have provided confusion and lawyerish language.
Here's another interesting bit:
Roulette is unpredictable in the short term, but very predictable in the long term: you can look at its outcomes as random noise on a well-known signal. Roulette is very uncertain when you zoom in, but very certain when you zoom out. Climate is equally uncertain at all zoom levels. In fact, mathematical analysis of the climate indicates that its behaviour is such that the uncertainty is the maximum possible at all zoom levels. This maximisation of uncertainty at all scales is called the Hurst-Kolmogorov behaviour of climatic processes [3].

Nature loves uncertainty, and it fools us in two ways: on the one hand we wouldn't be able to predict the future of climate, even if we fully knew the natural laws that govern it, because of chaos; and on the other hand, we can't be very certain of the statistically expected behaviour of climate which is based on our observations of the past, because of the Hurst-Kolmogorov behaviour.

Changes in climate and the weather sometimes have a single dominant cause, and sometimes they are chaotic.
This essay has seven sections. The above are just a few tantalizing bits. Go read the whole thing. It gives a viewpoint that doesn't get much coverage in the media. Hysteria and exaggeration sells. The drab facts of life are too boring to sell newpapers or excite a media audience. The IPCC is a media darling. You have to work hard not to get swept up in the "science" of global warming.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Paul Krugman has a post on his NY Times blog that questions Obama's worries over inflation:
Back in 1993, James Carville — frustrated over the way fear of rising interest rates was crimping the Clinton agenda — declared,
I used to think if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or a .400 baseball hitter. But now I want to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.
Right now, however, the bond market seems notably unworried by deficits. Long-term interest rates are low; inflation expectations are contained (too well contained, actually, since higher expected inflation would be helpful). No problem, right?

Alas, I’m getting the sense that the Obama administration is intimidated all the same. We’ve got the president telling Fox News that he’s worried about a double-dip recession if he doesn’t reduce the deficit soon — as opposed to the concern I and other have that he’ll have a double dip if he doesn’t provide more support. (And why is Obama talking to Fox News, btw?) And the buzz is that admin economic officials are telling him that the bond market needs to be appeased, even though rates are low.

This is truly amazing. It’s one thing to be intimidated by bond market vigilantes. It’s another to be intimidated by the fear that bond market vigilantes might show up one of these days, even though you’re currently able to sell long-term bonds at an interest rate of less than 3.5%.

Yet that, according to rumors, is what’s happening.

Let’s hope the rumors are false. For we really need to be doing more about employment — and the debt outlook isn’t that dire, at least by comparison with past experience in advanced countries:

It would be a very, very bad thing if the administration is intimidated into passivity in the face of an employment disaster — or, worse, into neo-Hooverism — by the threat from invisible, and probably imaginary, enforcers.
I find it incredible that Obama who wanted to be a community organizer has lost his concern about people and jobs and is now totally absorbed in catering to the whims of Wall Street. It is hard to believe but his actions demonstrate it. It is an old story, a politician starts out with concerns for people, gets elected, and discovers money and status in catering to the rich and then sells out his original constituency. Obama appears to be going down this path.

Der Spiegel article on Global Warming

Here's a bit from an article in a mainstream magazine -- Germany's Der Spiegel -- that is turning sceptical on the global warming hysteria:
Climatologists Baffled by Global Warming Time-Out

By Gerald Traufetter

Global warming appears to have stalled. Climatologists are puzzled as to why average global temperatures have stopped rising over the last 10 years. Some attribute the trend to a lack of sunspots, while others explain it through ocean currents.

At least the weather in Copenhagen is likely to be cooperating. The Danish Meteorological Institute predicts that temperatures in December, when the city will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference, will be one degree above the long-term average.

Otherwise, however, not much is happening with global warming at the moment. The Earth's average temperatures have stopped climbing since the beginning of the millennium, and it even looks as though global warming could come to a standstill this year.

Ironically, climate change appears to have stalled in the run-up to the upcoming world summit in the Danish capital, where thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, scientists, business leaders and environmental activists plan to negotiate a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Billions of euros are at stake in the negotiations.

The planet's temperature curve rose sharply for almost 30 years, as global temperatures increased by an average of 0.7 degrees Celsius (1.25 degrees Fahrenheit) from the 1970s to the late 1990s. "At present, however, the warming is taking a break," confirms meteorologist Mojib Latif of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in the northern German city of Kiel. Latif, one of Germany's best-known climatologists, says that the temperature curve has reached a plateau. "There can be no argument about that," he says. "We have to face that fact."

Even though the temperature standstill probably has no effect on the long-term warming trend, it does raise doubts about the predictive value of climate models, and it is also a political issue. For months, climate change skeptics have been gloating over the findings on their Internet forums. This has prompted many a climatologist to treat the temperature data in public with a sense of shame, thereby damaging their own credibility.
Go read the whole article. It's a viewpoint that mainstream media doesn't really cover in North America. The article mentions regions where temps went up and regions where temps went down over the last 10 years. This gives you a different perspective from the IPCC models which say hotter, and hotter, and hotter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Politics of Unreality

I'm amazed at how the right wing in America see problems where there are none and refuse to see problems where they do exist. In the culture wars they are bitter at the attempts to find social solutions while they hold up their religious "solutions" as an exemplar without noticing how faulty and wrong-headed these "solutions" are. Here is a bit from a piece by Max Blumenthal. I've bolded the part that caught my eye:
Palin’s daughter’s drama caught vividly a culture of personal crisis that defines so many evangelical communities across the country. That culture is described in a landmark congressionally funded study of adolescent behavior, Add Health, revealing that white evangelical women like Bristol Palin lose their virginity, on average, at age 16 — earlier, that is, than any group except black Protestants.

Another recent study by sociologists Peter Bearman and Hannah Bruckner notes that over half of evangelical girls who have pledged to maintain their virginity until marriage wind up having sex before marriage, and with a man other than their future husband. Bearman and Bruckner also disclose that communities with the highest population of girls who attend so-called purity balls, where they vow chastity until marriage before their fathers in a prom-like religious ceremony, also have some of the country’s highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases. In Lubbock, Texas, where abstinence education has been mandated since 1995, the rate of gonorrhea is now double the national average, while teen pregnancy has spiked to the highest levels in the state.

“So many families deal with the same issues Sarah Palin is dealing with, so we really can relate to what she is going through,” Grace Van Diest, a middle-aged Alaskan delegate from Wasilla, told me on the floor of the 2008 Republican National Convention. Van Diest then described how each of her daughters went on “a date with their dad” to discuss their pledge to “keep themselves pure until marriage.”
This hypocrisy over sexuality and sex education is disgusting. But this same attitude marks the right's venomous rejection of health care. They worry about non-issues like "death panels" while the real issue is that the US spends almost twice per capita as any other developed nation on health care while the statistics show that actual health delivery is below that of any other developed nation. In short the health system is dysfunctional. Just like the issue of sex and family is dysfunctional in the US. But the supporters of Sarah Palin are fanatics and refuse to acknowledge facts that stare them in the face.