Archive for April, 2010

Brief Thoughts for the Week of 2010-04-30

Friday, April 30th, 2010

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Must-Reads of the Week: American Power, Inequality, 1 Billion Heartbeats, Hacking Life, Anthora Cups, Structural Deficit, Financial Doomsedays and Crises, China, the Tea Party’s Views on Immigration, and Lady Gaga

Friday, April 30th, 2010

There were a lot of good articles and posts I came across this week — so brace yourself…

1. The American Power Act. David Brooks makes the case for progressive reform — specifically the American Power Act regarding climate change:

When you read that history, you’re reminded that large efforts are generally plagued by stupidity, error and corruption. But by the sheer act of stumbling forward, it’s possible, sometimes, to achieve important things…The energy revolution is a material project that arouses moral fervor — exactly the sort of enterprise at which Americans excel.

Matt Yglesias had earlier this week critiqued Brooks (among others) for taking the exact opposite stance of the one he was adopting here:

Oftentimes in the Obama Era the difference between “reasonable” conservatives (David Brooks and Greg Mankiw often leading the charge) and reasonable liberals has been that reasonable liberals look at flawed legislation that would improve on the status quo and support it while “reasonable” conservatives look at flawed legislation that would improve on the status quo and oppose it, while claiming to support alternative flawed proposals that they don’t actually lift a finger to organize support for within their own ideological faction.

2. Inequality, social mobility, and the American Dream. The Economist had a good piece that can serve as a starting point for a post I’ll be writing soon on inequality, social mobility, and the American dream:

The evidence is that America does offer opportunity; but not nearly as much as its citizens believe.

Parental income is a better predictor of a child’s future in America than in much of Europe, implying that social mobility is less powerful.

3. The Science of Life. Jonah Lehrer for Seed magazine has a brilliant piece on how cities are like living organisms. As a side matter, he notes this beautifully poignant data point:

[A]n animal’s lifespan can be roughly calculated by raising its mass to the 1/4 power. Heartbeats scale in the opposite direction, so that bigger animals have a slower pulse. The end result is that every living creature gets about a billion heartbeats worth of life. Small animals just consume their lives faster.

4. Fine-tuning life. Gary Wolf for the New York Times Magazine explains how the accessibility of computers is creating data about every aspect of our lives — and of the efforts of some people to begin to catalog and find insights in their own data. Surprisingly, Lifehacker was never mentioned.

5. The Anthora Cup. Margalit Fox of the New York Times writes the obituary for Leslie Buck, the designer of the Anthora cup:

It was for decades the most enduring piece of ephemera in New York City and is still among the most recognizable. Trim, blue and white, it fits neatly in the hand, sized so its contents can be downed in a New York minute. It is as vivid an emblem of the city as the Statue of Liberty, beloved of property masters who need to evoke Gotham at a glance in films and on television.

6. Unified Theory of the Financial Crisis. Ezra Klein synthesizes various narratives into a unified theory of the financial crisis.

7. The Structural Deficit. Donald B. Marron provides a coherent and reality-based conservative look at America’s structural deficit. Absolutely a Must-Read.

8. The Financial Doomsday Machine. Martin Wolf dedicated his column in the Financial Times last week to describe the “financial doomsday machine“:

[T]he financial sector has become bigger and riskier. The UK case is dramatic, with banking assets jumping from 50 per cent of GDP to more than 550 per cent over the past four decades…The combination of state insurance (which protects creditors) with limited liability (which protects shareholders) creates a financial doomsday machine. What happens is best thought of as “rational carelessness”. Its most dangerous effect comes via the extremes of the credit cycle.

9. Realism on China. Stephen Walt explains his take on China’s strategic ambitions — and its inevitable rivalry with the United States and other regional powers.

10. The Tea Party & Immigration. Radley Balko explains his take on the widespread support among the Tea Party for the massive government power grab that is Arizona’s new immigration law:

It also makes a mockery of the media narrative that these are gathering of anti-government extremists. Seems like in may parts of the country they’re as pro-government as the current administration, just pro-their kind of government.

Coincidentally, I made that exact point about the Tea Party back in September 2009 entitled: These Protests Aren’t Against Big Government, But About Liberals Running the Government.

Andrew Sullivan piles on:

Worse, on the fiscal front, they’re total frauds. They have yet to propose any serious cuts in entitlements and want far more money poured into the military-imperial complex. In rallies, the largely white members in their fifties and older seem determined to get every penny of social security and Medicare. They are a kind of boomer revolt – but on the other side of that civil conflict, and no longer a silent majority. In fact, they’re now the minority that won’t shut up.

More and more, this feels to me like an essentially cultural revolt against what America is becoming: a multi-racial, multi-faith, gay-inclusive, women-friendly, majority-minority country.

11. Sovereign Debt Crisis. Felix Salmon and Paul Krugman are both very pessimistic about how Greece will get out of this crisis — and what it means for the global economy.

12. Lady Gaga’s Ambition. Brendan Sullivan for Esquire chronicles the life and ambitions of Lady Gaga:

“There is a musical government, who decides what we all get to hear and listen to. And I want to be one of those people.” The girl who said that didn’t yet have the number-one hits (although she had already written most of them).

She was not yet the creative director of the Haus of Gaga, which is what she calls the machine of more than a hundred creative people who work for her. She didn’t make that statement in an interview or from the stage. She made it in 2007, when she was a go-go dancer sewing her own outfits and I was her DJ. She wrote it in one of my notebooks…

Lady Gaga is a student of fame, and the fame she studies most is her own — being famous seems to both amuse and fascinate her.

[1st image by me; 2nd image by LarindaME licensed under Creative Commons.]

Chait v. Seib: “Seib, like Jeffrey Dahmer, is an imperfect human being.”

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Jonathan Chait guts Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal‘s opinion piece trying to be “even-handed” in assessing who is to blame for the current enormous deficits:

[O]ne party has made the probably massively, overwhelmingly worse. And the other party has only taken limited steps toward solving the problem the first party created. They’re both guilty!

One standard to judge the two parties guilt here would be whether they made the problem better or worse. But that would lead to an unacceptable partisan conclusion. So instead the question is changed to, Has either party reduced the deficit as much as would be ideal in a world without political constraints? Thus we can arrive at the comforting, non-partisan answer that both parties have fallen short.

Seib, like Jeffrey Dahmer, is an imperfect human being.

Zing!

Why Marco Rubio Is the Future of the Republican Party

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Rubio’s comments on the Arizona law:

While I don’t believe Arizona’s policy was based on anything other than trying to get a handle on our broken borders, I think aspects of the law, especially that dealing with ‘reasonable suspicion,’ are going to put our law enforcement officers in an incredibly difficult position.  It could also unreasonably single out people who are here legally, including many American citizens.  Throughout American history and throughout this administration we have seen that when government is given an inch it takes a mile.

Other right wingers and Republicans have stood against the law — as Andrew Sullivan ably chronicles — including Karl Rove, Jeb Bush, and Tom Ridge. But none manages to finesse the issue quite so well as Rubio — who has the added advantage of being the most prominent Latino Republican in the nation. When the Republican Party has no choice but to try to woo the Hispanic vote as the demographics of the nation shift — while at the same time not alienating the overwhelmingly white populist right wing, Marco Rubio will be the answer. He will serve the same function to the party in the future as Michael Steele does now — except Rubio likely won’t be the screw-up Steele has been.

Notice how Rubio couches his opposition in populist right-wing grounds — that it would undermine the liberties of American citizens, that it puts police officers in a difficult position, that it represents encroaching government power.

It’s very well-done — and compared to the other statements by Republicans against the law — it’s masterful. This ability to position himself so well — added to his life story of how his parents escaped Communist Cuba to come to the land of opportunity — makes him a top-tier Republican presidential or vice-presidential candidate in the near-future. The fact that he’s Latino guarantees him a spot on a national ticket by 2020. I’d bet a presidential run in 2016 leads to him getting the Republican nomination for Vice President and/or lays the groundwork for his successful effort to in 2020 to get the Republican presidential nomination.

[Adapted from an image by DavidAll06 licensed under Creative Commons.]

Volker’s Paradox

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

In response to long-time commenter John Rose who asked for a link to some tangible data proving that profits for financial firms have increased markedly since deregulation began:

From the same paper as the above chart, comes the observation which prompted my post on how Wall Street’s enormous profits are evidence of a poorly functioning market:

In 1997, former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volker posed a question about the commercial banking system he said he could not answer. The industry was under more intense competitive pressure than at any time in living memory, Volcker noted, “yet at the same time, the industry never has been so profitable.” I refer to the seemingly strange coexistence of intense competition and historically high profit rates in commercial banking as Volcker’s Paradox.

Deregulation of the economy in general began in earnest under Jimmy Carter — but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the deregulation of the financial industry began to gain steam under Ronald Reagan. Then of course, in 1999 came the (in)famous Gramm-Leachley Act which seems to precede the sharpest rise in real profits of the financial sector.

[Chart from this paper by James Grotty (pdf) published by PERI.]

Greenwald v. Larison & Douthat

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

I had felt compelled to respond to Glenn Greenwald’s slander of Ross Douthat in his trademarkable relentless and dogmatic style — but thankfully, Daniel Larison had a thoughtful but sufficiently angry response.

Greenwald, stuck in his ideological wind tunnel, is extremely sloppy in this piece. He confuses all matter of “discrimination” and “censorship” and “threats of violence,” lumping them all together into one undifferentiated mass. His main thesis is supposedly about the equivalence of Christian censorship and Muslim censorship — but his real aim seems to be to slander Ross Douthat as an anti-Muslim bigot based on the fact that Douthat is more outraged over the prominent example of bowing to censorship regarding South Park than over an obscure case of a play in a particular Texas town.

Greenwald — in his ressentiment – loses his sense of the forest as he focuses on the trees. Larison though makes the essential point that Douthat does miss:

The far greater problem we have today is not that we are too inclined to yield to Islamist demands in Western countries, but that we are far too ready to disregard the lives, property, dignity and political rights of Muslims in their own countries if we think it might marginally enhance our physical security.

[Image by Pink Fluffy licensed under Creative Commons.]

Arizona’s Illegal Immigrant Problem Is Shrinking Even As The Hysteria Grows

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

John P. Judis at The New Republic pointed me to a relevant fact that hasn’t been covered much in looking at illegal immigration into Arizona — the number of unauthorized immigrants has been decreasing in the past 2 years and the rate of illegal immigration was at its lowest point in the past decade nationally. See for example this chart from the Office of Immigration Statistics (pdf) in the Department of the Homeland Security Department:

For the more visual, I charted the data to demonstrate the drop:

And of course, the national data as well:

As the Wall Street Journal explained:

The larger reality is that border crossings track the economy. The recent downturn has meant fewer illegal entries and more immigrants going home. Before the law, Arizona’s illegal population had fallen 18% in the past year.

If the undocumented immigrant population is falling — including in Arizona — how then do you account for the increasing hysteria? For all the talk of the thousands killed by illegal immigrants, virtually all of these are mere car accidents which are no different than the car accidents thousands of Americans get into every day. For all the talk of an “increasingly violent” border — and there is some justification for this given the struggle going on in Mexico as the military is waging war on the drug cartels with corruption, violence, and abuse apparently rampant on both sides  – the violence on the American side has been minimal.

The exploitative use of the rancher Robert Krentz’s murder — like the use of the young boy killed in a car accident, Dustin Inman — is a pure propaganda tactic meant to focus anger. Where is the Marcelo Lucero Society dedicated to the immigrant stabbed to death by a group of high school students who had decided to go, “beaner hopping”? Marcelo Lucero was killed a short drive from where I grew up on Long Island — and his case only came to my attention because the FBI was investigating the Suffolk County Police Department for ignoring hate crimes against Latinos and undocumented immigrants.

But why the surge in anger and hysteria now?

The flip side of the Wall Street Journal‘s point is that even as undocumented immigrants leave during economic hard times, the resentment of them grows. As John P. Judis explains:

During the Great Depression, immigration to the United States from Mexico virtually ceased, but states began arresting and deporting Mexicans, many of whom were in the country legally. The Mexican population of the United States fell by 41 percent during the 1930s. And the same kind of thing is happening again.

Keep these numbers in mind as we hear again and again over the coming months of the “invasion” and of how the problem is getting worse.

[This beautiful image of the Arizona-Mexico border fence by ThreadedThoughts licensed under Creative Commons.]

Wingnuts

Monday, April 26th, 2010

I try to focus my reading on people I find reasonable and intelligent who write about a world in which I recognize. But I also check in with some more right wing and progressive blogs that are further out there. What I often find are rather opposite takes on Obama with the final conclusion being the same: He’s not one of us.

To take 2 somewhat random examples – John Hinderaker of Powerline:

For some reason, liberals seem surprised that Americans have not warmed to the Obama administration’s policies, like government takeover of health care; bailouts and government ownership in multiple industries; wasteful and ineffective “stimulus” spending; unheard of deficits; massive tax increases slated for next year; and a foreign policy that perversely alienates our allies and caters to our enemies. There has never been a time in our history when most Americans would have approved of such policies, yet liberals are somehow convinced that today’s manifestation of longstanding voter attitudes represents a unique and sinister animus against Barack Obama and his administration….

52 percent of likely voters disapprove of his performance. Note that many of these people voted for Obama. They have been surprised and disappointed by his leftist agenda…

I think what Klein has in mind here is that Obama’s policies would make the U.S. much more like western Europe, so it is “nativist” or “isolationist” to oppose them…

Conservatives are making, every day, serious public policy arguments on issue after issue that resonate with most Americans. Liberals like Klein, meanwhile, can’t formulate an argument to save their lives, but fulminate impotently against conservatives, with invective substituting for analysis at every turn.

The evidence of bad faith in this passage is pretty clear: Bailouts are Obama’s policy? Government takeover of health care? Describing the scheduled expiration of some Bush tax cuts as “massive tax increases.” And of course, his main thesis entirely misses the point Joe Klein was making. Joe Klein was saying the anger towards the Obama administration was rooted in a “classic American…populism” (to quote from the single sentence Hinderaker does)– and then invoked a number of historical precedents. Hinderaker takes this as evidence that Klein sees the populist right’s animus towards Obama as…”unique.”  Aside from this idiocy or bad faith, the overarching message is clear: Obama is far left and alienating the country because he is so far left.

On the other side, Kirk James Murphy, M.D. over at FireDogLake takes Obama’s talk of tackling the deficit and the health care reform law as an attack on entitlements:

If someone you care deeply about depends on Social Security – or will depend on Social Security – call them up today and tell them you love them. Because Team Obama has targeted Social Security…and your loved ones are just the MOTU’s version of collateral damage.

In this telling, Obama has sold out to corporate interests and is following a stealth right-wing agenda because…well, I’m sure that was tackled in previous posts.

The underlying premise of each is that Obama and those who support him must clearly be acting in bad faith — and what they say should be discounted. So, if Obama claims he is trying to bring down the structural deficit in order to save entitlements — most everyone could agree with that goal even as they disagree with the individual steps to get there. However, who can agree with Obama attempting a radical reshaping of America into a totalitarian welfare state? Or the elimination of that most beloved entitlement, Social Security?

The crazy thing about all this is that what Obama is clearly focused on is protecting and modestly improving America’s status quo – which neither these insensate right-wingers or progressives will acknowledge.

Yglesias Award Nominee

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Andrew Sullivan’s creation of the “Yglesias Award” is actually what led me to Matt Yglesias in the first place. Now, in my Google Reader, Matt Yglesias and Jonathan Chait (and Ezra Klein) all commingle in a single feed folder as my essential reading — and so, when reading this, I actually mistook it for a Yglesias post. But it was by Jonathan Chait:

As for bad faith, Graham is a Republican Senator from South Carolina. His highest risk of losing his seat, by far, comes from the prospect of a conservative primary challenger. Indeed, I’d say that prospect is far from remote, and Graham is displaying an unusual willingness to risk his political future. He has little incentive to negotiate on these issues except that he believes it’s the right thing to do. So when Democrats put climate change on the backburner to take up immigration, and so so for obviously political reasons, Graham has every right to be angry. He’s risking his political life to address a vital issue, and Harry Reid is looking to save his seat.

This isn’t to say I disagree with the move to tackle immigration. The Republican Party’s obstructionism makes their defeat more necessary than if they were willing and able to work on areas in which they share common ground. You could bet that if they take back the House they will be incentivized to cooperate, but I wouldn’t count on that. Bringing up immigration will raise the level of rhetoric though — as it will be the first controversial issue Obama has addressed. Health care was made controversial after being popular; the stimulus as well.

By taking on immigration now, the conventional wisdom (on the left) is that the Republican Party will marginalize itself in the future in order to achieve some temporary gains today — and the Democratic Party will become the party of the fastest growing ethnic group. The Republican coalition of business and cultural conservatives will be aggravated as a bonus.

Aside from political calculations — it clearly is an issue that we must tackle as a nation — and the new draconian Arizona law demonstrates this further.

But Chait’s right that Graham has a right to be angry. Even if Graham does shamelessly play deficit politics while pushing America towards a fiscal catastrophe. Making common ground with people you disagree with is hard. And Graham is the only one in the Republican Party who seems to be trying, at a political cost to himself even.

[Adapted from image by isafmedia licensed under Creative Commons.]

Brief Thoughts for the Week of 2010-04-23

Friday, April 23rd, 2010
  • Nikon: It detects up to 12 faces……http://i.imgur.com/BQ3W9.jpg

    Whoa… #

  • This time around it doesn’t seem to be working nearly as well, perhaps b/c people realize we’ve seen this movie before. http://bit.ly/cXFtey #
  • One of the Coolest Baseball Plays I’ve Ever Seen. http://2parse.com/?p=5082 #
  • Must-reads of the Week. http://2parse.com/?p=5079 #
  • Top Right Wing Magazine Demonstrates How Not To Prove Someone Is NOT a Racist. http://2parse.com/?p=5075 #
  • You ever think about how in a TomHanks movie, everyone lives in a reality in which there’s no such person as Tom Hanks? http://bit.ly/dzLSYW #
  • Reason magazine's Full Disclosure of its conflicts of interest… http://bit.ly/bB1qwO #
  • Is It Better to Buy or Rent? (graph) http://nyti.ms/c2R0iy #
  • Wall Street's enormous profits are evidence of a poorly functioning market. http://2parse.com/?p=5060 #
  • How To Identify a Member of the Tea Party. http://2parse.com/?p=5052 #
  • I just met some real life Tea Partiers who claimed I wasn't a real American and that Obama was Hitler. You bet this will be blogged about. #
  • It is unanimous among mainstream economists that stimulus has helped economy, though among rw there's debate over whether cost was worth it. #
  • Right wing idiot on radio dismisses caller saying stimulus helped economy: "Not a single mainstream economist I know of agrees with you." #
  • ONE! One sparkly vampire's jaw broken! HA-HA-HA! http://bit.ly/dDcvWR (from @reddit) #

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