Friday, November 30, 2012

Japan fights deflation

This was like predicting the dawn.  The BOJ probably had a "serious" meeting with Abe.  And he says he will behave if elected and not make public pronouncements on monetary policy.  But it is clear what he wants.  Of course, this is exactly what the Central Bank's defenders do NOT want.  The reason is obvious—Abe's plan has a 100% chance of success and its good example would humiliate the bankster defenders for a generation or two.

Japan threatens to do something about its overvalued Yen

I have been arguing for most of my adult life that so long as folks are doing something clever with their resources, money pumped into the system would produce prosperity rather than trigger inflation.  If ever a nation could so regularly prove my point, it is Japan.  They crank out world-class products with such frequency, the rest of us can only watch and marvel.  Not surprisingly, the rest of the world wants to buy these superb products.  I grew up in a world where 400 yen traded for a dollar.  Two generations of build excellence later, and the yen trades for something like 81 to the dollar—an increase in value of something near 500%.  If Japan's central bankers were actually worried about their Producer Classes, they should have done something to halt the yen's rise at somewhere around the 200 level.

Japan's expensive yen has nearly priced them out of every market there is.  The obvious solution would be to do something to drive down the yen's value.  The best way would be to do something that pisses off the inflation hawks—like going toe-to-toe with their conservative central bankers and demanding they put a bunch of money into public investment.  And after Fukushima, they have PLENTY of places that need investment.  In other words, they want to raise their inflation targets.  All of this is perfectly logical.  And someone running for high office in Japan is demanding their central bank change course.

But you can count on the purists who maintain that central banks must be "independent" and that any goal besides "price stability" is worse than heresy to write impassioned articles condemning Japan's unorthodox understanding of their economy.

Isn't that spayshul? Investors discover climate change

From the department of "you can't make this shit up" we see a group of investment fund managers issuing a document calling on governments to stop that ebil ol' climate change.  I mean, here's a group of people who could actually DO something about climate change by channeling their fabulous wealth into replacing the carbon-fired infrastructure that is causing the problem.  But no—they want to retain the status quo that made them rich and so are reduced to signing petitions like a bunch of powerless lefty community activists.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Carbon taxes?

I am old enough to remember when Brookings was a reliably "liberal" institute / think tank.  Now it is reliably Neoliberal in economics and Neoconservative in foreign policy.  The following carbon tax proposal is theirs.

Here's the deal on carbon taxes.  They make the costs of burning carbon more like the planet values it.  Serious people have done major studies that show pretty conclusively that the only way to get people to reduce their energy consumption is to raise its price.  But here's the problem.  It doesn't much matter why you raise taxes, everyone gets in line to spend the additional revenue.  Now IF carbon taxes would go into a fund dedicated exclusively to building the infrastructure necessary to reduce carbon emissions, the idea would be pretty good.  But even such a fund has potential for a lot of leaks.  Superfund—the program that was supposed to address the most toxic chemical dumping sites put roughly 15% of their funds into actual remediation and 85% into renting offices and giving each other Powerpoint presentations.

Then there is the problem that taxation is just another way of sucking purchasing power out of the economy.  I would prefer to see the efforts to reduce carbon emissions come from pure economic stimulus.  After all, every time a buck goes into capturing our energy income from the sun and replaces a buck now being spent on the planet's stored energy capital, the society grows richer.  In other words, if such a project were properly run, it would be self-financing in a real economic sense.  In such a scenario, carbon taxes would be reduced to merely regulating demand.

Toting up the disaster's costs

As the folks who calculate these things tote up the costs of the billion-dollar weather disasters of 2012, some are reaching a rather astonishing conclusion—that Hurricane Sandy was NOT the most expensive.  That "honor" goes to the great Corn Belt drought.  Hurricanes may be the most spectacular weather events but for wrecking things, nothing beats old-fashioned drought.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Plouffe says cut Medicare and Medicaid? No! Hell NO!

Plouffe's betrayal on earned benefits is exactly the crap that lots of people warned against when they argued that Obama is not really a progressive. How many times do we have to repeat this? What's driving the deficit is not Medicare or Medicaid. Over half the deficit is caused by the Bush tax cuts, which by now have proven they do not, will not, can not pay for themselves.

Desertec—another victim of austerity?

Desertec is going through a rough patch—actually most Producer Class enterprises in Europe are.  But I am reasonably certain this is one of those projects that will not die.  Why?  It make thermodynamic sense.  If that were not enough, when it comes to powering our societies without fire, there are probably no solar sources more reliable than the Sahara.

So why is Desertec on hiatus if it is such a good idea?  The question is answered with another by Desertec's backers, "Where is the tax money?"  Of course, government funding is all going to bail out the crooks of the financial world.  Projects like Desertec are so large, they can realistically only be built by governments.  So long as we believe the neoliberal doctrine that nothing useful can be built by governments, we are seriously constrained in what sorts of projects can be accomplished.

Ah yes! Neoliberalism—the perfect doctrine for people with small imaginations.  Too bad the rest of have to suffer from their pinched worldviews.

German ennui over climate change

After years of nearly universal agreement that climate change was a significant problem that required coordinated action and the spending of billions of euros, it looks like the Germans are pretty fed up with the whole subject.  One can hardly blame them—it's hard to get out in front of a subject and even harder when no one seems to want to follow your lead.

My guess is that the real decline in interest in climate change is less driven by weariness over the subject and more by the incessant clamoring by the financial sector that only they must be paid—everyone and everything else must wait.  There are damn few problems that can be solved without financial resources—building a world that runs without most of its fires is certainly not one of them.

Unfortunately, the climate change problems will not disappear even though everyone really wants to stop thinking about them.  And when the next disaster rams climate change to the front of the line again, those who have used their time to think deeply about what must be done next will have a considerable advantage over those who have done no planning whatsoever.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Milk protests in Bussels

The main reason I first learned agricultural economics is that the advisor of my model airplane club had a day job trying to sell memberships for the National Farmer's Organization.  I soon discovered that I would rather listen to him talk about the NFO because I could easily solve my own model-building problems and so much preferred to hear his explanation of how farmers made a living—and he had a well-organized rap.  The NFO had a lot of dairy farmers in its membership so was pretty radical and concentrated all their efforts towards raising the prices and keeping them consistent.

The main problem facing dairy farmers is that their product, while very desirable, it also highly perishable.  This means that if they wish to reduce their excess supply, the only realistic option is to dump their milk.  So the goal of dairy farmers facing a price crunch is to waste their milk in dramatic ways.  There were many incidents of violence associated with dumping actions during the Depression.  But what the dairy farmers pulled off in Brussels would warm the heart of any NFO organizer.  Those fancy European Parliament offices will probably smell like spoiled milk for a while because the farmers sprayed milk with some high-pressure hoses.

All this points to a global problem.  The prices for grains go up because of climate change.  The prices for milk products don't have room to rise because incomes in most markets are falling for most people.  So folks like dairy farmers get caught in the middle.  They have fixed operating expenses.  I cannot imagine very many of them are covering their costs these days.

Drought and the Mississippi

The absolute worst thing that could happen after last summer's drought was an extra-dry fall.  Much of the corn and beans that were planted contained many "drought-resistant" varieties that were designed to suck out the last molecule of water from the soils in an attempt save themselves.  And while these characteristics probably saved something like 1/4 of the crop, it left the ground bone dry by harvest.  To show how dry, I got a pretty good picture of the amount of dust just one combine stirred up last fall.  It is dry!  This is Minnesota—it doesn't get this dry.

A nice wet fall would have recharged the soil.  But as can be seen from the story below—that did not happen anywhere throughout the Mississippi / Missouri River Basin.  And it's not like we don't ordinarily get rain in the fall—in 2010 we actually had fall flooding.  (LOVE those weather extremes, huh?)  Of course, this extra-dry fall means we have a head start on next summer's potential drought.

Whether or not suspending barge traffic will have much effect on the real economy is actually a very interesting question.  Even though shipping by river is extremely energy efficient and therefore very cheap for shipping bulk goods, barge traffic on the Mississippi is down dramatically over the last 30 years for a wide assortment of reasons.  Here in Minnesota, the long trip to New Orleans, plus the damage to Louisiana terminal facilities from Katrina, plus the delays caused by the rebuilding of the Panama Canal, plus a dramatic shift in grain markets to Asia means that much of the grain that used to barge down the Mississippi now gets hauled to the Pacific northwest docks by train.  In any case, barge traffic stops when Lake Pepin freezes over so we don't count on this form of transportation in the winter anyway.

But whether the problem is dry soils or low river flows shutting down barge traffic, this continuing drought in the middle of North America has serious implications for the global food supply.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Doha—what to expect

So long as criminals run the global financial system, it is impossible for anything meaningful to come from the Doha climate talks.  People who cannot afford to do anything rarely get anything accomplished and now the thieves have run off with all the money.  Of course, there is something very sad about people who think that a large meeting room full of harried bureaucrats arguing the minutia of the trillions of fires set every day by the earth's 7+ billion inhabitants can lead to any meaningful progress anyway.  But remove any authority to actually make large-scale changes and the resources to make those changes happen and the recipe for getting nothing done is baked into the event.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Toward a Political Economy of Oligarchy

From his lifetime study of the pamphlets, speeches, sermons, and newspaper commentaries that fueled the American Revolution, one of the conclusions Bernard Bailyn (the Harvard historian who was twice awarded a Pulitzer Prize, including for The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution)  reached was that “To the colonists the most important of these publicists and intellectual middlemen were those spokesmen for extreme libertarianism, John Trenchard (1662-1723) and Thomas Gordon (d. 1750).” According to Bailyn, in the colonies, the entire corpus of their work were
republished entire or in part again and again, ‘quoted in every colonial newspaper from Boston to Savannah,’ and referred to repeatedly in the pamphlet literature, the writings of Trenchard and Gordon ranked with the treatises of Locke as the most authoritative statement of nature of political liberty and above Locke as an exposition of the social sources of the threats it faced.
I emphasize the last part of that quote, because I have been trying to revive the original founding era idea that the rich are as much a danger to the survival of a republic as is a standing army. This is especially important now, as it we need desperately to repair the ideological foundations for taxing the rich as a means of redressing the great economic imbalances the they have created with their near monopoly on political power. In the Founding era of the United States, the Founders had developed a "political economy of aristocracy, as Professor James L. Huston explains in "The American Revolutionaries, the Political Economy of Aristocracy, and the American Concept of the Distribution of Wealth, 1765-19000" (The American Historical Review, Vol. 98, No. 4 (Oct., 1993), pp. 1079-1105):
The revolutionaries’ concern over the distribution of wealth was prompted by a tenet in the broad and vague political philosophy of republicanism. In contrast to nations in which monarchs and aristocrats dominate the state, republics embodied the ideal of equality among citizens in political affairs, the equality taking the form of citizen participation in the election of officials who formulated the laws. Drawing largely on the work of seventeenth-century republican theorist James Harrington, Americans believed that if property were concentrated in the hands of a few in a republic, those few would use their wealth to control other citizens, seize political power, and warp the republic into an oligarchy. Thus to avoid descent into despotism or oligarchy, republics had to possess an equitable distribution of wealth....
The answer to how the social system of aristocracy generated wealth inequality was easily found. American political leaders applied the labor theory of property or value; an unjust distribution resulted when a few were able to transfer the fruits of other persons’ labor to themselves. Aristocrats (non-workers and therefore non-producers) stole the fruits of labor from the masses of toilers (laborers and therefore producers). Aristocrats effected the transference by political means. It was control of politics that enabled aristocrats to steal the fruits of labor, to enrich themselves and pauperize the multitudes. By the time of the writing of the Constitution, literate Americans had clearly voiced the idea that a misdistribution of wealth was almost entirely a political act.
So it is more than merely interesting, especially given our times of financial and economic crises, that Gordon’s and Trenchard’s Cato’s Letters, were “a searing indictment of eighteenth-century English politics and society written in response to the South Sea Bubble crisis…”  In other words,, one of the most important works of English political theory that inspired the American Revolution, was written in response to the world's largest financial fraud and crisis up to that time.

In The Machiavellian Moment,: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: 1975, reprinted 2003), (See also my Machiavelli and the survival of republics) J.G.A. Pocock observes that Cato’s Letters and The Independent Whig (a weekly periodical founded in 1720 by Trenchard and Gordon), “formed some of the most widely distributed political reading of the contemporary American colonists. Cato was mainly bent on diagnosing and proposing to remedy the state of national corruption revealed by the failure of the South Sea Company…”  (p 468) Further, Pocock writes, “It was neither accidental nor surprising that an old adversary of the standing army should find himself denouncing a gigantic job of the “monied interest” since the two were taken to be at bottom one and the same phenomena."

Back in December 2008, I wrote Need to be ruthless and punitive toward Wall Street. But, I'm not one of President Obama's advisers, and what we got instead was the President praising  JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein as "savvy businessmen."

Obama's acceptance of these vicious financial predators as acceptable models of business acumen underscores the urgent need to revive the Revolutionary republican (with small "r") understanding of the political economy of oligarchy, and how the rich destroy a republic from within.

But we need to update and strengthen that understanding to fit our own times, by bringing together the idea of economic rent, with modern scientific understanding of our natural environment, and the limitations and constraints that environment imposes on economic activity. It is in any individual's self-interest to preserve that in which they are most invested; but the rich pose a particular danger because their self-interest often leads them to attempt to protect and preserve entire modes of economic activity that society needs to move past in order to avoid colliding with the limitations of natural resources inherent in any specific mode of technology. No more clear example can be imagined that the Koch family interest pouring hundreds of millions and billions of dollars into conservative think tanks and political lobbies that not only deny global climate change, but also actively oppose the development of clean energy technologies. But a more instructive example may be the Walton family interests, which seek to avoid the development of public understanding of how the Wal-Mart business model shifts much of its employment costs onto the government - a modern twist on the methods by which the wealthy "pauperize the multitudes" identified in the Founders' political economy of aristocracy.

The first line of defense of today's rich oligarchs is the conservative movement, which refuses to recognize the moral turpitude of the economic practices of speculation, rent-seeking, and usury. Just how dangerous the conservative movement is can be judged by the recent candidacy - for the higesth office in the republic - of Mitt Romney, a "private equity" scoundrel who conservatives rallied around and defended as a "job creator." It is in this light that I offer you the following quote, from the first few pages of Cato's letters; or, Essays on liberty, highlighting the fury of Trenchard and Gordon at the monied interests of their time. How much of it is polemical hyperbole is for you to judge, but as Chris Hedges has repeatedly noted, it used to be that financial speculators actually were hung. Remember, as noted at the beginning, Trenchard and Gordon were writing in reaction to the financial and economic crises caused by the South Sea Bubble.  
…. Nations should be quick in their Resentments, and severe in their Judgments. As never Nation was more abused than ours has been of late by the dirty Race of Money Changers; so never Nation could, with a better Grace, with more Justice, or greater Security, take its full Vengeance, than ours can upon its detested Foes. Sometimes the Greatness and Popularity of the Offenders make strict Justice unadviseable, because unsafe; but here it is not so; you may, at present, load every Gallows in England with Directors and Stock Jobbers, without the Assistance of a Sheriff's Guard, or so much as a Sigh from an Old Woman, though accustomed perhaps to shed Tears at the untimely Demise of a common Felon or Murderer. A thousand Stock Jobbers, well trussed up, beside the diverting Sight, would be a cheap Sacrifice to the Manes of Trade; it would be one certain Expedient to soften the Rage of the People; and to convince them, that the future Direction of their Wealth and Estates shall be put into the Hands of those who, will as effectually study to promote the General Benefit and Publick Good, as others have, lately, most infamously sacrificed Both to their own private Advantage. Something is certainly due to both the former. The Resurrection of Honesty and Industry, can never be hoped for, while this Sort of Vermin is suffered to crawl about, tainting our Air, and putting every thing out of Course, subsisting by Lies, and practising vile Tricks, low in their Nature, and mischievous in their Consequences.

… A free People are kept so by no other Means than an equal Distribution of Property; every Man who has a Share of Property having a proportionable Share of Power; and the first Seeds of Anarchy, which for the most part ends in Tyranny, are produced from hence, that some are ungovernably rich, and many more are miserably poor; that is some are Masters of all Means of Oppression, and others want all the Means of Self-defence.

…. they are manifest Enemies to God and Man, no Man can call them his Neighbours: They are Rogues of Prey, they are Stock Jobbers, they are a Conspiracy of Stock Jobbers! A Name which carries along with it such a detestable and deadly Image, that it exceeds all human Invention to aggravate it; nor can Nature, with all her Variety and Stores, furnish out any Thing to illustrate its Deformities; nay, it gains visible Advantage by the worst comparisons that you can make. Your Terror lessens when you liken them to Crocodiles and Canibals who feed for Hunger on human Bodies.

….These Monsters therefore stand single in the Creation: They are Stock Jobbers; they have served a whole People as Satan served Job, and so far the Devil is injured, by any Analogy that you can make between him and them.

Well; but Monsters as they are, what would you do with them? The Answer is short and at hand, Hang them; for, whatever they deserve, I would have no new Tortures invented, nor any new Death devised. In this, I think I shew Moderation; let them only be hanged, but hanged speedily. As to their Wealth, as it is the manifest Plunder of the People, let it be restored to the People and let the Publick be their Heirs: the only Method by which the Publick is ever like to get Millions by them, or indeed any Thing.

But, say some, when did you ever See Rogues Covered with Wealth, brought to the Axe or the Gallows? I own that the Example is rare, more is the Shame of this Nation, which has had such rich Temptations, and such frequent Opportunities; we have had publiek Guilt in abundance, God knows often protected by Party, and often by Money. Faction on one Side, and Riches on the other, have, as it were made a Lane for the Great Criminals to escape...
What delicious historical irony that the financial vehicles created to rescue Wall Streeter from the crisis they created, was named for the alley behind Wall Street, Maiden Lane.

Doha conference on climate change starts Monday

So Obama is going to send his minions Doha to do what?  Who knows?  According to this article, the main expectation is that he must recommit USA to a 2°C target.  Why this matters is left unasked but we can guess the answer is, "Not much."  And why is that?  Because Obama comes from a political world where everything is negotiable, and climate change is NOT one of those negotiable subjects.

Doing Obama's heavy thinking on climate change is a guy named Todd Stern who is the State Department's climate envoy.  Recently, he said in a speech:
"[2C] makes perfect sense on paper. The trouble is it ignores the classic lesson that politics – including international politics – is the art of the possible.  If countries are told that, in order to reach a global goal, they must accept targets their leadership sees as contrary to their core interest in growth and development those countries are likely to say no."

And to think we actually pay money for such "expert" advice.  Todd Stern is one of those guys who is just smart enough to be dangerous.  He thinks climate warming targets are negotiable.  Of course, they are not—if 3C makes the planet uninhabitable, it matters not one whit whether our climate expert thinks some sort of economic growth targets are more important.  The ONLY possible reason he thinks like this is he obviously believes he lives in the world where scientific laws can be appealed.  If the guy fell off a cliff, he would spend his last moments wondering if he couldn't reopen the laws of gravity.

Surrounded by such reality deniers, probably in depth, I think it will be almost certain that Obama will show up as the skunk at the Doha garden party.  It will be a surprise if he makes a big public stand supporting 2C.  Of course it matters not at all if he DOES support 2C because no one he seems to listen to has any idea how USA would meet those targets anyway.  So he could support 2C knowing that when nothing gets done, he'll just have to say "Ooops" (while the earth cooks.)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Not moving on climate change

It turns out that the new emphasis on climate change over at the World Bank has an institutional explanation.  Their new president, Jim Yong Kim, has actual scientific training.  Apparently, this helps when it comes to deciding on what is important.  Because if you are a typical banker or politician, climate change is just another issue clamoring for your attention.  And for most pols, the loudest noises are being made by the banksters who are shouting about the needs of the credit markets.  And so austerity becomes a favored strategy over the quite necessary spending needed on industrial redesign.

One other note, I am in fervent agreement with Hans Joachim Schellnhuber below who claims we need nothing less than a "new industrial revolution" to cope with climate change.  The idea that conversion to a sustainable society is a project just as large as the original industrial revolution pretty much describes the second half of Elegant Technology and most especially Chapter Ten.  I notice he expresses frustration ("We've stressed time and again...but many politicians haven't listened.") that such a powerful statement fails to wake up the pols.  Well Hans, while your situation in Germany may be better than here in USA, I have discovered that such statements describe nothing for most people because in order for such a warning to have any meaning, the listener must have a fairly comprehensive understanding of technology and the history of industrialization.  Such people are exceedingly rare—I have only met a handful of them in my life.  Tony's one—which is reason #1 I asked him to write for this blog.

Did Anonymous give USA an honest election?

Living in Minnesota, I tend not to worry about fraudulent vote counting.  We have a system the good government types agree is virtually hackproof.  We fill out a paper ballot that gets scanned by a machine reader.  In theory, the readers could be tampered with, but it would hardly seem worth the effort because the paper ballots still exist in case the election is contested.  Between good-government purists and extensive case law, hand recounts can be extremely thorough.  Although there are some cranks who can still find flaws with this system, Minnesotans trust it to the point where we are comfortable with same-day registration and just rejected a photo ID requirement in the last election.  All of this works extremely well.  Not only is Minnesota at or near the top of voter turnout almost every election, but voting is almost hassle-free.  It only took me about seven minutes this year from sign-in to when a volunteer slapped an "I voted" sticker on my jacket.

Even so, I DO follow the voter chaos in places like Ohio and Florida and am quite contemptuous of folks who cannot organize an honest election.  It's obviously not so hard to do.  So if there are disputed ballots and 8-hour lines to vote, obviously someone is screwing with the process on purpose.

And now we have a tale where a group of hackers claims they thwarted an attempt to flip the results of the Ohio election.  I have NO way of checking out this story but there is one very public piece of evidence that suggests this story might be true—the meltdown of Karl Rove on election night when Fox called Ohio for Obama.  He had the look of a crooked lobbyist who has just discovered the politician he thought he had bought didn't stay bought.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

I come from a long line of folks who believe that gratitude is probably the ultimate sign of civilized person.  In our family, the Thanksgiving feasting didn't begin until everyone around the table had been given a chance to explain what they were truly thankful for.  Since we kids knew this was coming, we had thought about it for several days and usually had some pretty decent answers.

Today, I want to thank the people in my life who love me no matter how wound up I get with my weltschmertz.  Writing about the subjects I do, it would be easy to let the various major catastrophes in this world get me down.  And I will admit, there are times when my life force starts to flicker and sputter under the stress.  But I am reasonably healthy, I live in an area of the world that still produces WAY more food than we can possibly eat, and am warm and dry.  I have this wonderful toy that allows me to connect to like-minded people around the world.  But most of all, I have friends who are happy to see me show up and usually are interested in what I have to say.  What a gift!

So Happy Thanksgiving.  And here's to those hard-working members of the Producing Class who still make sure we have enough to eat.

World Bank on Climate Change

In one more tiny bit of evidence that the debate over climate change may FINALLY be shifting (at least a bit) we see the following evidence that the World Bank (yes!) has a new leader that understands that economic development and the climate catastrophe must be addressed simultaneously.  We Institutionalists who believe that bankers will at the end of the day act like bankers will tend to curb our enthusiasm until we see more than this little window dressing.  But on this day designated for giving thanks, we must celebrate such signs of progress no matter how small.

Now if the World Bank will just stop funding the construction of coal-fired electrical generation.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

WTO renews its evil credentials

Since the crash of 2007-8 introduced crises thinking to the world of finance capitalism, many of us have been tempted to forget about some of the folks that were worthy of large and organized protests not so very long ago.   The most famous in USA were the Seattle protests in 1999 against the WTO (World Trade Organization).  This was one of those few protests that actually worked in the sense that they stopped a meeting called to rubber-stamp a bunch of neoliberal craziness.  The police rioted and lots of hippies got their heads busted, but the WTO was forced to withdraw and wait for another day.  The police have learned their lessons—no one has been able to delay the evil work of the WTO by one minute ever since.

The biggest beef people had with WTO was that it prohibited people from organizing to fight any invasion of outside big money.  They were not allowed to protect their factories, or mines, or their public resources like running water.  The anti-WTO types have a point—many locally owned and organized enterprises vastly outperform outside multinationals because knowing the local environment means something.  Add this to the fact that a local coop (or whatever) retains a much higher percentage of their revenue for the local community than a multinational that must repatriate profits to a faraway locale, and small enterprise has an astonishing track record of engendering prosperity.

But the bad guys are back.  This time, the WTO has jumped their own shark.  This time they have told us we cannot organize community and regional responses to atmospheric carbon overload.  Stupid, pinheaded bureaucrats should not be allowed so much power.  It appears the only qualification needed to work at WTO is a demonstrated fealty to the religious principles of neoliberalism.  In their madness, they are telling us that it isn't even LEGAL to organize to save the freaking planet.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

CO2 hits new record levels

We have now reached the stage where increases in climatic CO2 are pretty much baked into the system.  Doing something different (going solar) is a possibility but is hampered by pre-industrial economic thought.

A new age of steam?

There is arguably no subject that has been more thoroughly studied than steam and how we use it.  Yes, The Age of Steam is behind us and so the vast majority of humans have never seen an operating steam engine.  Yet steam is still incredibly important—mostly because the overwhelming majority of electrical generation comes from turbines powered by steam.  Even more importantly, most of that steam is produced by burning coal—a process that is the #1 producer of CO2.

With a couple hundreds years of research into making and using steam, it would be easy to imagine that not much new is left to learn on the subject.  Well watch the video below—that really is a demonstration of producing steam from ice water!!  Like all new inventions, the discussion of what this means is probably pretty silly.  But Bill Gates is interested.  This technology was invented at a very serious university.  So even if no one exactly knows how this invention can be used, some seriously smart people think it's important.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hostess stories show hostility of conservatives to labor unions and workers

In reporting the bankruptcy of Hostess, the unremitting hostility of conservatives to labor unions and working people is fully evident. Redstate's LaborUnionReport titled his or her article, A Eulogy: The Sad Day A Ding Dong Union Killed Twinkie The Kid. It quotes extensively from the company's statement on the company's website, then from a statement by the Teamsters Union, which had advised the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers International Union not to strike without first trying to find alternatives. This is probably the largest quote from a labor source you will ever find on Redstate. But what is most interesting is the one paragraph in the Teamsters statement that LaborUnionReport did not include in his or her extended quote:
In fact, when Hostess attempted to throw out its collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters in court, the Teamsters fought back and won, ensuring that Hostess could not unilaterally make changes to working conditions during the several months’ long legal process that recently ended. Teamster Hostess members were allowed to decide their fate by voting on the final offer conducted by a secret mail ballot.  More than two-thirds of Hostess Teamsters members voted with 53 percent voting to approve the final offer.
The problem for LaborUnionReport, of course, is that this single paragraph demolishes his or her preferred alternative reality that it is the labor unions and the greedy workers whom are solely to blame for the destruction of Hostess. The paragraph shows that the company tried to illegally renege on its contract with the Teamsters, and, furthermore, the company was rebuffed in a court of law. Rather difficult to pin the blame solely on labor unions and the workers with those kind of facts!

Betting with trillions

When one imagines the amount of good a few $Trillion spent hardening the nation's infrastructure, or some other worthy cause, the fact that the global banking system plays with those sorts of sums all the time and have only hardship and destruction to show for it.

The following is an excerpt from a much longer essay on the social paralysis caused when debt service and obligations paralyze a society so it can no longer perform the necessary functions of survival.  It is VERY German and underlines a notion that our most crippling problems with money are the traps we set because we cannot think clearly about what money is supposed to be used for.

Street protests and climate change marches on the White House

Last week, a friend sent me a notice that Bill McKibbon would be speaking at the University of Minnesota for the reasonable price of $12.  Friend knows I read him on occasion and this would be a good chance to hear him live.  But the truth is, I didn't feel much like going.  It's not so much the $12 to hear a speech on a subject I have been following pretty religiously since the 1980s, or the fact that I have long ago set a high bar of where I will drive at night during the winter, it's the drive.  McKibbon is calling these speaking gigs his "Do the Math!" tour.  Good idea Bill!  My math tells me I would drive about 95 miles round trip—a distance that as recently as 100 years ago was a two-day trip on a horse.  The CO2 output of my car is roughly 1 kg (2.2 pounds) every 4 km (2.5 miles) so I would pump approximately 38 kg. (84 pounds) of CO2 into the atmosphere to make my little trip.  Hardly enough to change the climate, but when millions of people take drives like this—it adds up.

So today, I was delighted to discover that McKibbon's kickoff event would be livestreamed.  I could check out the action without the CO2 guilt.  I had some pretty high expectation considering how much I like his writings.  What I got was an almost prefect representation for how utterly irrelevant the Gandhian demonstration / civil disobedience model for social change is for addressing a problem as basic to the real economy as climate change.  When McKibbon announced that they had enough demonstrators to encircle the White House, I wanted to go "Bill!  Baby! This isn't 1930s India and climate change isn't the Salt Tax."  But don't take my word—watch the video linked above.

Time for the USA environmental movement to grow up!

My basic difference from most folks who write about climate change is that I believe that merely acknowledging its existence barely qualifies as a good start. I am only impressed by people who have reached the stage: Of course climate change is real—now what are we going to do about it?  I am especially impressed by those individuals, companies, and countries who have actually made some part of the solution work.

The amount of reality one must deny to deny that the climate is changing is so great, the deniers can be categorized as clinically delusional.  So let's not even engage such people in conversation.  They are simply wasting our time.  (And causing substantial intellectual damage because they are delaying the switch to the conversation about how we accomplish the necessary conversion to a solar-powered future.)

But even when we choose to ignore the delusional, this doesn't even begin to address the bigger problem—which is that even most of those who accept that the climate is changing have only a vague understanding of what that means.  They are in a form of denial too.  They know the climate is changing but somehow it's not them causing it.  It's those bad-guy coal companies, greedy automakers, right-wing know the drill.  It's not their car starting 4000 fires per mile. It's not their cheaply-built energy-wasting homes built thousands of miles from farms and water sources.  Etc.  How can they take responsibility for their own actions—they haven't even thought about these issues?  Besides they "cannot" be at fault because they have been sorting their garbage since 1987 and have an endangered-habitat license plate on their SUV.

It dawned on me the other day that the real obstacle to doing anything meaningful about climate change was not the mouth-breathing yahoos who deny that anything is happening (or if it is, it isn't being caused by human actions but is probably god's will).  My guess that these folks will soon be marginalized like the members of the flat-earth society.  Unfortunately, even IF you ignore the mouth-breathers, you are still stuck with the sincere people who believe that climate change is a problem but somehow the effects can be mitigated with simple solutions—air drying the laundry, caulking up the leaks in old homes, etc.  You know, the "50 easy ways to save the planet" crowd.  The tea-baggers may have been replaced as the problem children by the NPR-listening totebaggers.

So I decided to conduct an small experiment.  I would write a deliberately provocative piece commenting on the uselessness / wickedness of totebag liberalism as it concerned climate change.  I posted it on a thread attached to one of those aren't-the denialists-stupid-and-naughty dairies over at DailyKos (which is arguably the epicenter of totebag liberalism in these United States.)  I wanted to see if I could get the totebaggers angry with me.  I was not disappointed.  You can see the comments it generated here.  This is what I wrote.
"Liberal" climate change denialism

Or Al Gore denialism, if you please. You remember our pal Al—the guy who made a reasonably serious movie about the climate change problems and then screwed up the ending with some of the lamest suggestions known to the human race. And then to prove he really didn't get it, takes the money he made from the movie and built one of the most irresponsible energy-hog MacMansions in Tennessee.

Also remember, his "BIG" cure for climate change was "cap and trade" which is nothing more than an update on the idea of indulgences—the disgusting notion that you can redeem your sins by spending money. An idea so outrageous it triggered the Protestant Reformation in 1517.

See, Liberals like to think they are morally and intellectual superior because they accept the idea that the climate is changing. But their denialism is just as profound because they refuse to acknowledge just how massive the problem is or how expensive and socially disruptive it will be to solve it.

When someone starts talking about climate change, I usually ask them how much they think it will cost to fix it. Any figure less than $100 Trillion and I just assume they aren't serious.
The totebag denialism was thick on the ground.  Some folks wanted to defend Al Gore although serious environmentalists in the rest of the world blame him for sabotaging the Kyoto Protocols of 1997.  I was blasted as ignorant for comparing cap-and-trade to religious indulgences.  I was reminded that cap-and-trade was legitimate because it was a right-wing free-market idea that had a pretty good track record for reducing the sulfur dioxide that was causing acid rain.  Nobody seemed to notice that a strategy for controlling sulfer dioxide emissions caused by a handful of sources may not work when applied to the production of carbon dioxide which is produced by absolutely everyone.  And of course, I was blasted because supposedly Al Gore's home wasn't the energy hog I made it out to be.

(I find this last claim particularly galling because I have been writing about energy-efficient homes since 1974 and know folks who have built net-zero structures with a tiny fraction of the resources available to Mr. Inconvenient Truth.  If Gore was serious about climate change, he could have built a home using all the state-of-the-art energy-saving devices.  Just imagine the hardware suppliers lining up to be part of Al Gore's "perfect" energy-efficient home.  But Al chose to pass on this golden opportunity to set an example.  Yet read the comments linked above—some Kos liberals wrote that those criticisms of his house were simply a right-wing attack on our noble Al.  Totebag environmentalism—defending the indefensible...again.)

Not surprisingly, no one chose to make an issue of my $100 Trillion figure—which was disappointing since I have been defending that number off and on since 1991.  They have not even thought about what building a society that has figured out how to survive without fire might actually cost.  But I can assure you, they KNOW we cannot afford THAT.  I mean, haven't you seen the debt clock in Times Square?

I wonder if that particular piece of nonsense survived Sandy.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Naomi Klein on Bill Moyers discussing climate change

In this clip, Klein and Moyers dance around with an extremely important notion—that climate change is the inevitable outcome of neoliberal economics.  Klein's money quote is "In fact, climate change is, I would argue, the greatest single free-market failure."

I'll leave you folks to decide whether these two come up with ideas that could actually outperform neoliberalism.  Personally, I get a little suspicious whenever discussions like this skirt the issue of what solutions will cost and how long it will require to implement them but they are right—there is NO possibility of a meaningful solution so longs as the economy is run by people who think like vandals and thieves.

Naomi Klein on the Links Between Capitalism and Climate Change from on Vimeo.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Systematic corruption

In case anyone believes that there is not a huge skills difference between the Producers and Predators, note that the following crooked schemes were only possible because someone built an electrical grid and some other hardworking geniuses figured out a telecommunication system that allowed these useless hunks of protoplasm to take more out of the real economy than the laws allow—from the comfort of an air-conditioned office somewhere.  Of course, in this era of economic decriminalization, such laws are barely acknowledged.

What must be regulated

One of the more interesting outcomes of last week's election was the success of pot legalization in Washington and Colorado.  This is going to change politics because it can change the outcomes of elections.  Of course, I love it when people start getting the hang of Big=regulate, small=deregulate.  The ban on same-sex marriage is about to crumble too.

The boomers just want to make sure they can get their medical pot in the nursing homes.  C'mon guys, you can do it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Worse than banksters?

Yes Virginia, there IS something worse than Jamie Dimon and J.P.Morgan Bank for the health of the real economy—the absolutely unregulated world of hedge funds.  Here we have a serious look at these funds by a German magazine who really cannot believe such financial mischief is possible.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Solar can work!

By far the best summation I ever heard for the challenge facing anyone who claims we can have a sustainable future without returning to the caves came from a young German student who had consumed some very large beers.  "I want to live a civilized life with less of an environmental impact than an Indian villager."  This was in 1970.  The Germans are still quite a ways from that goal, but they are making some serious progress towards it.

While we in USA are still debating whether climate change is real, the German are actually executing large plans for not only phasing out coal and other carbon sources of energy, they plan to give up their nukes.  And while everyone and their uncle can find fault with their plans, the German have already started to export solar power.  In 1970, USA was perfectly positioned to be the nation that led the way.  Got lost, didn't we.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tesla S wins MT car of the year award

It has taken awhile—probably much longer than it should have—but the pieces for a sustainable society are falling into place.  Wind turbines and photovoltaics are either already cost-competitive with traditional (and highly subsidized) fossil fuels or are within shouting distance.  This means that soon there will be few excuses for anything that can be plugged into a grid to be powered by non-solar sources.

The stuff that cannot be plugged in face much larger hurdles.  We are not about to see battery-powered airliners, container ships, over-the-road trucks, or farm equipment anytime soon.  Even cars, which are by far the easiest vehicles to run on batteries, have seen most examples fail because they are unworkable or highly impractical.  Of course, the big problems are that batteries still don't store a lot of electricity (which limits range), are damn expensive, and require significant time to recharge.

Personally, I still believe the best idea so far is the Chevy Volt.  It solves the range and recharging problems by using a gasoline engine as range extender to get folks home even if they have miscalculated their battery resources.  It uses the existing refueling infrastructure to cover for emergencies or just damn-I-forgot-to-plug-in-my-car-last-night carelessness.  Motor Trend awarded it their 2011 Car of the Year.  The Volt is interesting because it is a middle-class car that assists it owners in the process of learning how to be electric car owners while not subjecting them to some frightening experience if they get it wrong.

There are those who believe cars like the Volt are merely transitional vehicles—that eventually if we are going to have cars, they will have to be all-electric.  Their strategy is to build a car with serious driving ranges.  This means they will need a bunch of batteries which makes them both heavy and expensive.  But hey, there are already heavy and expensive cars out there.  They are VERY nice cars so if an all-electric car must compete with them, it had better be a fine set of wheels.

Meet the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year—the Tesla Model S.  Because it needs around 7000 lithium-ion batteries to provide it with its nearly 300 mile range, it will weigh over 4500 pounds and cost nearly $100,000.  Since you can buy the latest Lexus LS for less than $85,000, the new Tesla is up against some serious competition.  Check out the numbers.  The Tesla can compete with anything in its price range in terms of performance.  And while we know nothing about its reliability and build quality, the pictures show an extremely handsome car that won't embarrass it's owner at the country club.

There are plenty of social reasons why nobody should be building a $100,000 car.  But there is one good reason why this is a fine idea.  New technology is very expensive so there is some value in recouping some of those R&D expenses by charging the early adapters a premium price.  Tesla promises that its next models will have lower prices which demonstrate they believe this strategy.  Now if only they can sell enough model S's to keep the doors open until their middle-class cars hit the street.  This is a formidable task.  There is vast unused automotive production capacity out there.  Cars are insanely difficult to build and there are already many companies that do it very well.  Tesla is getting help from both Mercedes and Toyota, so powerful actors want them to succeed.  Even so, Tesla will be very fortunate to make it.

While Karl Rove get a bonus like Vikram Pandit's?

The day after the election, Bloomberg reported some numbers calculated by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group fighting for greater transparency in campaign spending. The numbers are based on the number of races that Rove's groups helped finance in which Rove's choice actually won, compared to the total amount Rove's groups spent.
By the group's measure, 1 percent of the more than $100 million spent by American Crossroads achieved its desired results. Thirteen percent of the more than $70 million spent by Crossroads GPS did the same, the Sunlight Foundation said.... Only 5 percent of the money spent by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce resulted in its desired effect, as measured by the Sunlight Foundation.
Bloomberg quotes wrong-wing activist Richard Viguerie, which is rich irony indeed, as Viguerie is the patriarch of modern conservative political fundraising, and hence directly responsible for the corrupted system now in place.  
Conservative activist Richard Viguerie said in a statement Wednesday that "in any logical universe," Rove "would never be hired to run or consult on a national campaign again and no one would give a dime to their ineffective Super PACs, such as American Crossroads."
Of course, with usurers, speculators, and other assorted banksters running things, this is not a logical universe. Most recent evidence:
Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit was pushed out the door of his company in October after overseeing a precipitous decline in his bank's value. Overall, Citigroup lost nearly 90 percent of its stock price during Pandit's tenure. But that won't stop Pandit from walking off with $6.7 million for his last year on the job.
I would really like some wrong-wing pundit to step up and explain why Citigroup needed to so richly incentivise Pandit's departure. I understand the argument that Wall Street has to pay large fortunes to attract the best talent (which obviously is not working, judging by business results; the billions the banksters are shoveling into their accounts from the U.S. Treasury should not be dignified by calling it "business"). But why pay so damn much to someone to get their less than useless butt off the premises? Just strengthens the argument that wrong-wingers refuse to respond to: the mythical "job creators" are really financial vampires destroying our economy by outright looting.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Saving the planet or paying down the debt

The moneychangers have been having quite the run.  These days, they are jerking around democratically-elected governments as if debtors have no rights at all.  But the choice being faced by USA politicians is especially grim—do we pay off the investors or do we save the planet from climate change.  And since Hurricane Sandy sent a storm surge to sink lower Manhattan, even the moneychangers are beginning to understand this is the existential choice.


When a guy named Evans-Pritchard at the Telegraph starts using a term like Sado-Monetarists, it is time for the rest of us to play attention.  It is no accident that the very kinky best-selling book "50 Shades of Gray" was written by a British woman because apparently, these folks have turned the combination of pain and sex into an art form.  So when someone with a British boarding-school background (where the ritualized beatings often combined with buggery continue to this day) argues that the ideas about money that are currently guiding public economic policy are no more than just twisted ways of causing pain, you may be reasonably sure he has a point.

USA military on climate change

It has been my experience that there is literally no group more institutionally insensitive to environmental concerns than the military.  There are exceptions, of course, but when you have an organization designed as its primary function to kill and destroy, you tend not to attract too many circle-of-life types.  The military locates its bases to meet its mission needs—not at avoid disrupting some fragile habitat.  If the choppers need a solvent to keep flying, no one is especially concerned what happens when those solvents get into the water supply. Weapons production sites like Hanford Washington are notorious for their toxic brews that have seeped into surrounding soils and waters. Etc.

But because the military has access to big money budgets, an intimate working knowledge of some of the most serious environmental problems, and long-standing relationships with highly skilled scientists, it has long seemed to me that they are the ones who would be best qualified to address some of the biggest environmental dilemmas.  And why not?  After all, if an enemy had inflicted the damage to this country that the military has done by doing nothing more than its routine operations, we would consider it an act of war.  Bingo!  We should give the task of saving the planet to our armed forces.

Right!  When Elegant Technology was first published in Finland, word got back to me that many reviewers found my book to be funny.  Truth be told, I was sort of insulted by this because except for a couple of sentences, everything was written to be as serious as a heart attack.  Finally one reporter who had written a LONG review tried to answer why folks may have found it funny.  The best example she could think of was my suggestion that the armed forces should be tasked with environmental clean-up.

With this in mind, try to understand my amused reaction to the following story.  It has taken a generation but it seems there are folks in the military who now believe they should at least understand threats to the environment.  They are still a long way from beating their swords into plowshares, but its a start.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The sorrow of empires

Or, Why we can't afford nice things.

As the celebration of Armistice Day rolls around again, the tiny fraction of the population that has any idea what is being remembered grows ever smaller. The argument that World War One was the greatest act of human insanity evah is actually pretty easy to make.  All that was amazing about European civilization came together in a spasm of violence and terror.  Millions died to prove that the great advances of scientific rationalism only exacerbated the savage nature of human violence.  Germany gets blamed (with some justification) for starting this outburst of madness but the same institutional forces sucked in damn near everyone on the planet before it was over.

When Veblen tried to describe how Germany had become this über-villian he in fact gave the world its first great demonstration of Institutional Analysis.  He claimed that Germany's role in starting WW I was driven by two powerful cultural currents.  There was "genius" Germany which had by 1900 become the technological leader of Europe (if not the planet).  If a country can make the best steel, it will certainly soon have the best guns if that is what she wants to have.  Which leads to the other cultural current—that Prussian need to go around kicking your neighbor's butt.  Germany had become a major nation under the leadership of the Prussians who liked to plan battles for their own amusement.  She had the ability to mass-produce world-class guns.  With those elements in place, the triggering mechanism for war was irrelevant.

And oh the excitement of war!  This was going to fun!  In Britain, young men at fancy colleges marched down to recruiting offices as a class.  In Germany, Social Democratic parliamentarians who had only weeks before passed a resolution condemning war as a tool for worker-class oppression, signed up for the war as a group.  And who could blame them?  War for Europeans had for a couple of generations meant these lopsided affairs where they would kill 20,000 natives armed with slingshots at a cost of a tiny handful of men.  Unfortunately for these Europeans, both sides now had machine guns and an industrial system that allowed them to keep firing until there were no more fools to shoot.  The result was Verdun and the Battle of the Somme and over 16 million murdered.

And when the armistice was put into effect, the same forces of predatory greed that had enabled the Europeans to involve the rest of the world in their calamity came together to forge a treaty so vile, it would trigger another war even more murderous only one generation later.

The casualties of World War One did not all pile up at Verdun.  Here in the American midwest, war fever was used to crush the progressive movements.  A serious historical case can be made that USA was well on its way to becoming the glorious republic its founders wanted it to be—until it was sidetracked by the temptations of the disintegrating British Empire.  In Minnesota, most of the senior leadership of the Non-Partisan League found themselves under arrest.   Their publications were deemed subversive so they lost their ability to use the mails.  Of course, the repression had to be severe because entering the Great War on the side of UK made no sense whatsoever. The largest single ethnic group in Minnesota were the Germans.  The USA had been formed by people who violently objected to British colonialism and the primary aim of the Brits in WW I was to keep their empire.  It required a LOT of lying, propaganda, and physical intimidation to get USA to sign up for that war on the side of the Brits.

British propaganda is still amazingly successful.  Read what the inimatable war nerd has to say about the Brits.

Friday, November 9, 2012

When is Obama going to learn?

gloriasb on DailyKos points to the a buried paragraph in a New York Times article:

After his speech, Mr. Obama tried to call both Mr. Boehner and the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, but was told they were asleep. 

Well, duh! The President should have said it was Davey or Chuckey Koch calling! With new ideas for seizing control of the Senate in 2014! 

Ole' Boner and McCuckle would've sprung out of bed like a teen-aged recruit at Marine boot camp.


The saga-tellers of the Viking past would much approve of crowd-sourced epic poetry.  Ever wonder why Vikings are occasionally grim?  Just remember that for some very, very long winter nights for centuries, epic poetry was the only entertainment these folks had.  And I am quite certain that while some of the keepers of the great historical lessons were a lot better bards than others, everyone knew how to tell a good story.  Add that collective impulse to the internet and you have crowd-sourced epic poetry.  This is good stuff!

Math works

For those into statistics enough to truly enjoy the movie Moneyball, the performance of Nate Silver during this latest presidential campaign was especially fun to watch. Silver got his game together analyzing baseball so the idea that his polling analysis was merely Moneyball applied to politics is not the least far-fetched.  Here a guy named Bob O'Hara describes just how Silver got it so right.  The whole article is pretty involved but then, statistical analysis is not for the faint of heart.

Wheat supplies—oh goody

For those not old enough to remember, 1972-73 saw a grain deal with USSR to cover one of their wheat shortages.  They bought so much wheat, it disrupted the internal USA market and set off a food price spike that would trigger inflation for the rest of the decade.  The Harvard Crimson called it "an economic Bay of Pigs for the Nixon administration" in an article named America Gets the Shaft.  Then, the failed USSR wheat harvest was usually blamed on the corruption surrounding Brezhnev and the errors of Marxism.  Now the Russian grain shortage is just another sign of climate change in the northern hemisphere.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Solar panel trade war heats up

On one hand, the fact that nations are getting involved with trade wars over solar panels means that at least folks are serious about PV.  On the other hand, it would be better if the demand for solar cells was so great, there would be a global scramble to fill the demand.  And since China is still building coal-fired generation like there was no tomorrow, wouldn't it be better if China filled her own needs before she started exporting into a world that already resents her trade surpluses.

Weather on steroids

As much as I love the precision that scientists use to describe the world, I have never been convinced that they should actually talk that way to the general public.  So long as you can back up your sweeping pronouncements with precision, I say use the language of politics or a religious revival when debating public policy.  This isn't a matter of dishonestly.  This is about getting out of your comfortable circle of professional jargon and using the language of persuasion when it is appropriate.

When the subject is climate change, the time has long since past for the scientists to sharpen up their debate terms.  After all, world-class scientists have been accused of perpetrating a hoax.  The deniers have even coined the expression "climategate."  The world-class scientists have so far mostly hemmed and hawed and looked at their shoes.  Fortunately, this looks to be changing.  I just hope it isn't too late.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Being thankful for little things

I don't want my readers to get the impression that I woke up this morning, saw that the Democrats still didn't have a supermajority in the Senate and were still the minority party in the House and concluded that the election was mostly a waste of time.

There were a few things to warm my heart.

1) Two people I know personally won their elections last night.  Both quite easily.  Minnesota still has some serious nutjobs in our House delegation (Michelle Bachman, anyone?) but the teabaggers lost control of state government!  Yay!

2) A skinny little stats geek named Nate Silver may have permanently shamed the nation's pundit class.  They have had it coming for a long time.  I have known stats had this power since I took my classes in 1973-74.  So I am thrilled sabremetrics got such a fine demonstration last night.  Moneyball just crushed the old scouts.  Silver got 50 out of 50 state predictions right.  Boom!

3) The culture "wars" are almost over.  Gay marriage has gone from a wedge issue that the wrong-wing used to turn out their base to a clear loser for them.  Reproductive rights are now a "third rail" issue.  And it looks as though the boomers are going to get legal pot before they make it to the nursing homes.

4) Mitt Gekko lost.  Cleaning up on Wall Street by destroying the real economy is a loser.  Turns out that all you must do is hang the term "vulture capitalism" around the necks of the practitioners and they are destroyed.

5) No matter what the village tools say, the USA is NOT a "center-right" nation.  Turns out, a giant part of the electorate is considerably to the left of Obama.  And while they are happy he beat Mitt Gekko, they want the Wall Street criminals in jail, they want solutions for the crumbing infrastructure, they want the New Deal preserved, they want jobs for people who want to work, they want the wars to end—and this most emphatically includes the "war" on drugs.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day 2012

Four years ago, I got the assignment of driving around some friends out to celebrate the victory of Obama and a lot of other Democrats.  It was actually a lot of fun because everyone was so damn happy / drunk.  The crowd at the official St. Paul celebration was especially joyous.  At one point I began to wonder if the joy wasn't going to morph into a spontaneous orgy because some of the passion had gotten pretty brazen.  Think election night in the movie "Shampoo."

As a sober observer, a lot of this revelry was pretty ridiculous to watch.  As I rounded up my passengers for their rides home, it began to dawn on me that most of these drunks actually believed that they had voted for serious change—and that the throbbing hangovers and the who-are-you-and-did-we-really-have-sex questions the next day were going to be far from the biggest disappointments of that election night.

I wanted my happy friends to be right—even though I personally did not expect to see any of the hope and change promised by Obama.  So I am not so much disappointed by Obama's first term as utterly furious that four more years have been wasted and NONE of the major problems facing the country have been meaningfully addressed.  Yet, I voted again today—not because I harbor any illusions about the national Democratic Party but because I had made promises to some down-ticket candidates.

I would try to be more profound than this, but considering how much energy I have put into political activism over the years, I find I no longer have the necessary fire for this sort of thing.  I put a LOT of energy into this blog so I must apologize to absolutely no one if I don't want to sit through boring meetings or pounding lawn signs as a sign of my civic engagement.  Been there.  Done that. Got the T-shirt.  Besides, I found two brilliant essays I want you to read on the reality of this absurd and largely meaningless election.

If Augstein's idea of "total capitalism" sounds a bit clumsy to your ears, just try to understand it as a description of what happens when capitalism loses its moorings in the real economy and becomes an unhinged example of purest runaway greed.  I love the way he mentions wooden utility poles—because for me, there is a no more perfect example of a corner-cutting, slum-landlord mentality than overhead wires.  I mean, who really thinks that electricity is a temporary thing to be hooked together with such a flimsy bubble gum and baling wire grid?  How long are we going to allow the "total capitalists" stand in the way of doing the job right?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Beyond whether Obama wins or loses

 A week ago, Matt Stoller provoked a lot of discussion with his The Progressive Case Against Obama, a masterful accounting of this administration’s dismal policy record “on the grounds of economic and social equity.” Income and wealth inequalities, Stoller points out, have not just continued under Obama, but have actually become some fifty percent worse than during the Bush regime.

Sam Seder had Stoller on Majority Report, and it was a lively, often heated, discussion, as Seder tried to argue that a Romney administration would actively harm many millions more people than a second Obama term would. But in all the shouting, and screaming, and general imprecating, everyone – including Stoller –  missed a key point. If American political history is any guide, focusing on the White House race is a huge waste of time, money and effort for progressives. The fulcrum for leveraging power to achieve real political change are down-ticket offices: local and state offices, and especially the U.S. House of Representatives.

That’s the way it’s worked in the past – and that’s the way it’s working now, with astro-turfed movement conservatism, such as the Tea Party these past three years, yanking the United States further and further to the wrong-wing. Targeting local and state races for attention is exactly what the wrong-wingers and the Tea Partiers have done. We all see and bewail the results. And, there is simply no parallel on our side for the depth and breadth of wrong-wing local electioneering. Emulating the conservative targeting of down ticket offices is what we have to do if we want to force through real, progressive change.

On not worshipping the powerful and connected

Yes, I know that I rarely quote Paul Krugman even though I agree with him at least 80% of the time.  He already has the pulpit of the New York Times so I figure he needs no exposure help from me.  But today's subject is so near and dear to my heart, I have to post a quote.  The subject is: How much do our experts actually know?

I got an astonishing insight into this problem at an absolutely lovely dinner in Washington DC.  I have recounted the details of that party here.  But essentially, it was a gathering of some of the people I call the "permanent government"—the GS16 and higher bureaucrats who make the daily calls on how policy is executed.  Several of the guests were State Department and a couple were NSA / CIA.  I was excited beyond words.  I had this notion that no matter the official Cold War pronouncements that appeared in the press over the years, there had to someone in the important offices who had the "real" story.  And I had some questions I wanted to ask.

When I was a child, the relentless war-mongering, atomic drills, fallout shelters, high-altitude bombers, etc., had their desired effect—I was terrified of the Soviet Union to the point of having vivid nightmares.  When Sputnik was launched, I was afraid mostly because I could hear the naked fear in the voices of the newscasters.  I am not sure that anyone who was minimally aware during the Cold War actually ever fully recovered from the trauma.  But I started feeling a whole lot better about sharing the planet with the USSR when I discovered that MOST of the tales that had so traumatized my childhood were these incredibly ridiculous lies.

My great dinner party was held in 1981.  The Reagan people had been in town for 10 months and some of the guests were tasked with the threat inflation necessary to justify his massive arms build-up.  Soon we would be told that the economy of the Warsaw Pact was growing at an astonishing 3+% a year. (See, because western intelligence had decided there was a fixed ratio between the size of the Warsaw Pact economies and their defense spending, we could exaggerate the size of their military capabilities by simply exaggerating the growth of their economies.  No, you cannot make this shit up!)

Of course, this fictional economic growth was utterly preposterous as anyone could see if they spent 12 seconds in Warsaw or Prague or Leningrad.  But since virtually no one actually got see the inside of the actual Warsaw Pact, official Washington could say anything they wanted about USSR and the vast majority of citizens had NO way of checking out the story.

When I began to quiz my host and his friends about Eastern Bloc issues, I quickly discovered that these people had reached the upper levels of the bureaucracy precisely because they never questioned the official story.  In fact, they took great pride in having developed communication channels that would allow them to get the party line more quickly than someone else in their department.  They had a great deal invested in their inside track—they had no reason to question the accuracy of the information that came through such channels.  There was no "real story" because everyone wanted so badly to believe the bullshit.

When the insiders are wrong, they are usually all wrong for the same reasons.  So when the Warsaw Pact came apart in 1989, this event was predicted by absolutely no one—at least no one above a GS15 in Washington.  They were all wrong about Iraq.  They are wrong to ignore climate change.  Astonishingly, they are wrong about just about everything—this in spite of the fact they live in a world awash in information that could easily lead them to more enlightened conclusions than, for example: climate change is a subject so trivial it isn't even worth discussing during a presidential election.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Natural disasters and public banking

When the camera crews leave after a natural disaster, there is a tendency for most of us to believe that somehow things will get better.  Well, things may get rebuilt but the process is far from automatic, it takes far longer than expected, and there is a lot of suffering in the meantime.

In the best case scenario, the rebuilt city is a lot better than the one destroyed.  But this only happens with superior organization and institutions.  In the following story, we see how the State Bank of North Dakota helped the city of Grand Forks recover from a flood that absolutely wiped out the town in 1997.

Everyone knew the flood was coming because the snow pack was incredible.  Even so, there were variables like how fast the snow melted and how heavy the spring rains would be.  Well it got warm quickly and the rains came.  Soon it became obvious that a record flood crest would overwhelm the city's defenses included a massive sandbagging effort.  The mayor ordered the evacuation of the city's citizens.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Another cautionary tale about Germany's green energy

One of the strategies of a solar-powered society is to give price breaks to folks who can "make hay while the sun shines."  When the wind is blowing and the sun shining, there is an abundance of solar power—so much that a lot of it is wasted.  Of course, storage would be the solution but in truth, no one really knows how to do storage on that sort of scale.  So until this can be figured out, the fallback strategy is to financially favor those industries that can ramp up their demand on sunny / windy days.  Not surprisingly, those industries who cannot vary their demand are bound to resent the folks who are getting a lot of cheap energy—especially in Germany where most customers are paying a premium for their renewable electricity (the second highest prices in Europe.)

In this story, the beneficiary of the cheap electricity is Norsk Hydro, an unbelievably rich Norwegian company that uses the electricity to smelt aluminum.  The small to medium-sized German industries that are struggling to keep their doors open are probably not at all happy to subsidize a wealthy foreigner—no matter how much sense this sort of load-balancing strategy may make from an energy point of view.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Meanwhile, the global economy still blows

What a complete surprise.  I mean, who could have predicted that pulling money out of the real economy would lead to unemployment?  That hasn't ever happened before. /snark

I believe the time has come to compile as list of the "economists" who actually told the various world governments that Neoliberalism would lead to prosperity and make sure they are NEVER listened to again—sort of an intellectual boycott of stupid.