What’s In A Name?

17 Nov 2010, Ar Raqqah, Syria --- Sheikh Ghazi Rashad Hrimis touches dried earth in the parched region of Raqqa province in eastern Syria, November 11, 2010. Lack of rain and mismanagement of the land and water resources have forced up to half of million people to flee the region in one of Syria's largest internal migrations since France and Britain carved the country out of the former Ottoman Empire in 1920. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri (SYRIA - Tags: AGRICULTURE ENVIRONMENT) --- Image by © KHALED AL-HARIRI/Reuters/Corbis
17 Nov 2010, Ar Raqqah, Syria — Sheikh Ghazi Rashad Hrimis touches dried earth in the parched region of Raqqa province in eastern Syria, November 11, 2010. Lack of rain and mismanagement of the land and water resources have forced up to half of million people to flee the region in one of Syria’s largest internal migrations since France and Britain carved the country out of the former Ottoman Empire in 1920.

What’s in a name? That which we call a turd by any other name would smell as rank.
William Shakespeare [with apologies thereto]

In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attack on Paris last week, GOPer presidential candidates are wetting themselves over the opportunity to change their image as clueless opportunists to macho champions of national security. A pissing contest has developed among the majority over whom would be tougher on the terra’ists than the feckless, petulant, secret Muslim in the White House. The centerpiece  of this emerging strategy is to put tens of thousands of combat troops into the Syrian meat grinder. (Time for a reprise of  The Who’s Teenage Wasteland?) Thus far, Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and celebrity entertainer Donald Trump have resisted putting “boots on the ground,” but don’t be surprised if they start walking that back as the campaign heats up.

Another refrain emanating from the right wing noise machine is to attack anyone that won’t accept their rhetorical construction, radical Islamists, to describe terrorists that use a distorted interpretation of the Muslim religion to justify their actions, and to recruit impressionable and disaffected youth. (For a counter-view, see Juan Cole’s Top Ten Ways Islamic Law Forbids Terrorism.)  That includes Senator Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and President Obama. Framing the conflict that currently exists between less than 0.01% of the world’s Muslims and the largely Christian world as a Clash of Civilizations is part of The New American Century promoted by some of the same neocons that are part of  Jeb Bush‘s foreign policy team— you know, war criminals— like neo-conman Paul Wolfowitz, who helped “liberate” Iraq by toppling Saddam Hussein, setting into motion the very chaos responsible for the crisis that now infects the entire Middle East. (ISIS is the direct descendant of al-Qaeda in Iraq, created in 2004 to fight the US invasion.)

Naturally, the current batch of GOPer presidential candidates are too dense to realize that they are playing directly into the hands of the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh propaganda noise machine. Its operators would love nothing more than to get the non-Muslim world to condemn, by association, one of the world’s great monotheistic religions.

In conjunction with 1) the well-nigh hopeless economic situation facing the vast majority of young Arab Muslims, impoverished by the massive concentration of wealth into the hands of a few autocratic oil sheiks and their families (the ultimate example of wealth inequality); and 2) the history of Western military intervention in the Middle East that included putting military bases in the holy land of Saudi Arabia (which gave birth to the original Al Qaeda), together they provide a terrorist recruitment bonanza.  As former top aide and speechwriter to President George W. Bush and Washington Post opinion writer Michael Gerson writes:

Rejecting a blanket condemnation of Islam is not a matter of political correctness. It is the requirement of an effective war against terrorism, which means an effective war against the terrorist kingdom in Syria and western Iraq.

Not to be outdone by their Congressional colleagues, currently some 28 Republican governors and one Democrat have stated that, despite President Obama’s pledge to accept ten thousand Syrian refugees, a paltry sum compared to the commitment of individual European countries (Turkey is already hosting two million), they’re going to pull a Lester Maddox and block the “golden door ” of immigration with a big fat pick ax handle.  At least thirteen governors,  12 Democrats and one Independent, have said they would accept the refugees. While the Refugee Act of 1980 prevents states from refusing admittance, that won’t stop the Republican governors from posturing the hell out of the issue. Look for them to dump the mechanics of changing the law on Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Since 9/11/2001, none of the 784,000 refugees admitted into the country, some 35-40% of which are children, have ever been arrested on terrorism charges. Thus far, the federal government’s vetting procedures have worked just fine, thank you. (EDIT: By another accounting of approximately 785,000 refugees, a dozen have either been arrested or removed; none were from Syria.)

Furthermore, Wingers are attacking Bernie for saying Climate Change is the USA’s number one national security issue, despite reports from the national security community affirming same. (See also On the Record: Climate Change as a National Security Risk According to U.S. Administration Officials.) Instead of acknowledging that these reports even exist, Wingers resort to outrage and personal attacks, accusing Sanders of being weak on defense.

Most wars are the product of resource scarcity. In the case of Syria, a devastating drought forced rural farmers to abandon their farms and migrate to the big cities to feed their families. This created social pressures that resulted in a number of peaceful demonstrations that asked for greater governmental support. These pleas for humanitarian assistance were met with extreme violence from the government of Basshar Al-Sadad, and rapidly devolved into a catastrophic civil war. Initially, Sadad sent in his goon squads to suppress the protesters. When that didn’t work, he upped the ante. Among other war crimes, he denied food and medicine to desperate civilian enclaves, and dropped barrel bombs on them from helicopters, some of which are believed to have contained chlorine gas, according to the Syrian American Medical Society.

Funny how one thing leads to another. The same mindset that denies anthropogenic climate change as a factor leading to regional wars, denies that US the Exceptional is no longer capable of being the world’s policeman. They’d rather pursue their own ideological crusade. Some day maybe they’ll reach the same level of  insight that the great philosopher Pogo reached when he observed: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

If Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz had their way, they’d amend Emma Lazarus‘s poem affixed to the Statue of Liberty as follows:

“Give me your tired, your poor,  (so long as they’re Christian)
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free (except the chlorine gassed, who might be terrorists in disguise),
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. (maybe not Anders “I’m 100% Christian” Breivik, though)
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me: (Muslims need not apply, despite what the Constitution says about religious tests)
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” (Sorry, out of order)

 

Climate Changelings

But when it comes to avoiding catastrophic climate change (if you think we have a refugee problem now, consider what would happen if tens of millions of coastal dwellers start heading inland), I have to consider myself a curable optimist.

Avatars of Austerity: Won’t Get Fooled Again

Lost amid the tidal wave of media coverage over the Boston Marathon bombings this week was the destruction of a foundational argument of the Avatars of Austerity, aka “deficit hawks.”

Thanks to a little fact checking and spreadsheet analysis by a U Mass grad student and his associates, they proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that key economic data used by the Austerians to justify their slash and burn budget prescriptions is full of shit.

The bogus data is enshrined in a paper by two Harvard economists, Reinhart and Rogoff, frequently cited as Holy Writ by everyone form Erskine-Bowles to Paul Ryan to Fux News. Details to follow, but first, an overview.

Following the collapse of the international financial system during the George W. Bush Administration, deficits worldwide exploded as former tax paying workers were laid off in the tens of millions. Instead of putting them to work building infrastructure and the like, the strategy chosen by FDR during the last Great Depression to re-start the economy and thereby raise government revenues, the uber rich offered their own re-cycled remedy of trickle-down economics, with  a twist– tax cuts for them and budget cuts for everyone else.

While the subtext of the Austerians’ campaign to slash government budgets, which overwhelmingly disadvantage the poor and middle class, is obvious: the One Percenters resent having to pay taxes that benefit society as a whole (see Willard Romney’s attack on the 47% as parasites demanding “free stuff”); and while the actual real world results of austerity regimes currently in place in Europe have resulted in deeper economic dislocation and misery — Great Britain is in the middle of a triple dip recession despite deep cuts in vital government institutions like the BBC — one would think that the Austerians would accept reality and admit their anti-Keneysian belief system is wrong.

Fat chance. Depression levels of unemployment in Greece, Spain, and Portugal, accompanied by negative GDP, the contagion effect of austerity is being felt in even healthy exporting countries like Germany, to the extent that even the IMF came out this week against austerity. Despite irrefutable facts, the Austerians remain convinced of the rightness of their crusade. Ignoring Einstein’s definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result — they argue for even greater cuts, and more time for them to work their expected magic.

Just what is behind their rationalization, the keystone upon which the Austerians<a href=”http://news.firedoglake.com/2013/04/19/austerity-economics-takes-a-major-blow-as-key-research-paper-discredited/#comments“> base</a> their unshakable faith?

[T]he Rogoff-Reinhart paper entitled Growth In A Time Of Debt became the intellectual backbone for the austerity movement/plutocrats and their apparatchiks in Washington and elsewhere. The big take away was that a high government debt to GDP ratio – past 90% – would hurt economic growth. Hence, the austerity movement’s central claim that cutting government spending is necessary to restore higher growth levels. And if you are following along, you probably realize why this argument does not even work in its own context. Cutting spending does not eliminate debt – which increases perpetually with interest. Nor is debt itself a reflection of spending levels, debt merely represents borrowing. The government can spend as much as possible and avoid high debt to GDP ratios if taxes are levied to pay for the spending. In fact, the highest growth period in the history of America was during one of its highest tax periods. Neither taxes, debt, nor government spending are, in and of themselves, determinative of economic growth.

Sounds reasonable enough on the surface, assuming that the data they used and its analysis reflect reality. But Houston, we have a problem:

Thomas Herndon, a 28-year-old economics grad student at UMass Amherst, just used part of his spring semester to shake the intellectual foundation of the global austerity movement.
Herndon became instantly famous in nerdy economics circles this week as the lead author of a recent paper, “Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff,” that took aim at a massively influential study by two Harvard professors named Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. Herndon found some hidden errors in Reinhart and Rogoff’s data set, then calmly took the entire study out back and slaughtered it.

What Herndon had discovered was that by making a sloppy computing error, Reinhart and Rogoff had forgotten to include a critical piece of data about countries with high debt-to-GDP ratios that would have affected their overall calculations. They had also excluded data from Canada, New Zealand, and Australia — all countries that experienced solid growth during periods of high debt and would thus undercut their thesis that high debt forestalls growth.

Oopsie. Paul Krugman in his Friday column asks the logical, resulting gobsmacking question:

So, did an Excel coding error destroy the economies of the Western world?

Informed of the mathematical mistake that undergirded his and his BFF Alan Simpson’s whole austerity thesis, Democrat deficit hawk Erskine Bowles in essence replied that he didn’t care–he still believes in its viability, the facts be damned.

“I have obviously read the report and have referenced it a number of times,” Bowles said. “I know they had a worksheet error in the report and my understanding is that does make a difference.”

But what it doesn’t change is the common sense and my own personal experience in both the public and private sector that when any organization has too much debt that is an enormous risk factor and your risks go up then people lending you money will want more money for their money,” Bowles said.

Translation: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

So, Bowles is reduced to playing the “common sense” card so popular among conservatives these days when one of their pet ideologically driven crusades fails an objective analysis of its underlying facts. Sure, there is evidence that debt in excess of 90% of GDP retards economic growth by a measurable percentage. But it doesn’t drive it down anywhere near the level the Austerians maintain, making their Chicken Little The Sky Is Falling routine absurd on its face.

(Reminds me of the cognitive dissonance I used to see operating inside the criminal justice system. As advocacy groups like the Innocence Project has shown, not everyone convicted of a crime is guilty, as post-hoc DNA tests regularly show. You’d think that the original police investigators and prosecutors would eat a little humble pie for being proven wrong, but you’d be wrong. Like chest thumping politicians, they are geniuses at rationalization, maintaining that the victim was guilty for some other reason, because, well, just because. After all,  they are professionals, experts who know their stuff.)

Other problems with R&R’s analyses includes the counterfactual case of England, which despite violating the 90% threshold for 19 continuous years, still maintained positive economic growth; and worse, cancelling its influence on the overall data set by giving it equal weight with a single year of severe negative economic growth in New Zealand in the early 1950s. Furthermore, economic conditions change over the decades, and when one analyzes R&R’s data from the beginning of the 21st century forward, the presumed relationship between the 90% level of economic stagnation becomes even more tenuous.

The question now is whether this cold slap of mathematical reality will be enough to end the hysteria of debt obsession that has the Serious People is D.C. so enthralled, and whether the far more critical and economically productive emphasis on job creation is once again the subject of serious policy debate.

I wouldn’t bet on it, since this isn’t a debate about economics but politics. Just as the Ryan Budget, which cited as its only academic justification the now discredited R&R paper, isn’t about deficit reduction but an ideological crusade to roll back the New Deal. As DSWRight over at the Lake <a href=”http://news.firedoglake.com/2013/04/19/austerity-economics-takes-a-major-blow-as-key-research-paper-discredited/#comments“>puts it</a>:

Democratic accountability has been sucked out of the nation-state system and deposited into the hands of a planetary bureaucracy of transnational corporations and central bankers. And from their perspective there is no crisis, at least not anymore, just a continued redistribution of wealth up and the necessity of building a police state to protect it. Austerity forever.

As the Master of Disaster W. once said: “Fool me once, shame on, shame on, you. Fool me–you can’t get fooled again!

Mad To The Max: Paul Ryan, Beyond Blunderdome

Paul Ryan Beyond Blunderdome

The barn door has closed on yet another episode of CPAC’s Wingnut Woodstock, the annual conclave of conservaschism‘s most extreme proponents. (See our archives for previous entries.)

Among the 70+ speakers were the party’s last two failed GOP Veep candidates, Rep. Paul Ryan (R- Gault’s Gulch), who couldn’t be bothered to even mention his former running mate, Mitt Romney, who was also there;  and Sarah Palin (R-Alaskan Quitter), who couldn’t resist sucking up some sugar water poison from a Big Gulp and throwing some red meat to the Birthers while attacking Karl Rove:

“If these experts who keep losin’ elections and keep gettin’ rehired and gettin’ millions — if they feel that strong about who gets to run in this party, then they should buck-up or stay in the truck.”

Rand Paul, who won the presidential straw poll beating Marco Rubio, 25%-23%, also implicitly took a shot at Rove and the establishment wing of the party, calling it “stale and moss covered,” in need of a complete do-over.  Rubio took the opposite tack, saying that the party just needed better packaging, everything else is just fine… except maybe their attitude toward immigration, a word that curiously never passed his lips.  Ted Cruz responded politely to GOP’s “grey eminence” John McCain, after McCain called him a “whackobird” for supporting Paul’s 13 hour filibuster against extra-judicial targeted killings, ala drone strikes.

All told, over 70 speeches were given.  And while Donald Trump said nothing of substance, he will be remembered for making a further investment in self-parody, talking to a room full of empty chairs after tweeting enthusiastically about how the sponsors were expecting a standing room only crowd for the pleasure of his company.

Empty chairs TrumpSquint real hard and you might see Trump holding court for a handful of starstruck suckups

Noticeable for their absence were Past GOP luminaries New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Virgina Governor Bob McDonnell weren’t invited this year because they had committed the unforgivable sin of, you know, actual governance, an activity antithetical to the overriding mission of modern conservatism— the wholesale dismantling of the US government (except as it benefits the 1%).

Which brings us to the substance of Paul Ryan’s speech, his proposed 2014 budget confabulation. The zombie eyed granny starver once again tried to disguise his Ayn Randian flavored social Darwinism as deficit reduction, framing his argument as the only rational approach to a country teetering on the edge of the apocalypse:

Unless we change course, we will have a debt crisis.  Pressed for cash, the government will take the easy way out:  It will crank up the printing presses.  The final stage of this intergenerational theft will be the debasement of our currency.  Government will cheat us of our just rewards.  Our finances will collapse.  The economy will stall.  The safety net will unravel. And the most vulnerable will suffer.

But it’s not too late.  This budget provides an exit ramp from the current mess— and an entry ramp to a better future.  Unlike the President’s last budget, which never balanced, this budget achieves balance within ten years.

Washington Post and MSNBC economic policy wonk Ezra Klein comments:

These are tremendously important paragraphs. They’re emphasized a few pages later, in the first real section of the budget, which is entitled “The Debt Crisis Ahead.”  These paragraphs matter because they serve as Ryan’s justification for his budget.  They are why we need to throw 35 million people off health insurance.  They are why we need to cut deep into education and infrastructure and food stamps and housing assistance.  They are why this budget is an act of mercy rather than cruelty — because if this future is the only alternative, then this budget is painful but necessary medicine.

But it’s not.  Ryan’s nightmare scenario isn’t likely even in the absence of new policy.  A reasonable assumption of future debt is about 112 percent of GDP come 2037 — and that’s assuming the repeal of the sequester.  That’s too high for comfort, and there’s some evidence that debt at that level could harm the economy.  But there’s no evidence that it would create the kind of Mad Max-style scenario Ryan paints.

Ryan’s GOP budget takes a meat ax to the social safety net for the old, poor, and infirm, all the while sparing the military/medical/prison/financial industrial complex or any other corporate interest group from any sacrifice whatsoever. Ryan ignores deficit expanding tax expenditures that overwhelmingly favor the wealthy, which in 2009 cost the federal government a cool trillion; says nothing about eliminating tens of billions of dollars in direct taxpayer subsidies to hugely profitable industries like the oil companies and Big Ag, many of whom don’t even pay any income tax thanks to lobbyist provided loopholes; and lowers tax rates across the board, which again, overwhelmingly favors the rich.MORE. . .

Back To Brazil

 

If you look at the background to the left or the right of our front page, you may think you’re looking at a small part of the Carina Nebula.  Well.  That’s really cyberspace, and we’ve been out there soaring around for the past few weeks, perambulating the volatile gases, sorting out server issues, enjoying the fine cuisine of the local eating establishments, dancing the rumba, practicing good dental hygiene, and of course, barking at all the really fine moons out there.

But we’re back now.  And baby, it looks like the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Prepare for heavy rolls.

As the Paul Ryans, Ted Cruzes, and Donald Drumpfs of Repuglican World doubledown on crushing the last vestige of sanity out of our nation’s political dialogue, we’re ready to get back into the crazy;  right up to our carotid arteries.

Please join us.

Teh Stupid Party

bobbyjindalLouisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who slams government spending except when it benefits his state, is begging his party for a little less stupidity

The party that lost the last four out of five national elections, and whose electoral tent accommodates racists, misogynists, neocons, gun nuts, social Darwinists, plutocratic sociopaths, and nativists of the Know Nothing Party stripe, is setting out to rebrand itself as— wait for it— a party of populists.

“We are a populist party” declared Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, during a speech last Thursday to the Republican National Committee in Charlotte, N.C.

Jindal, a leading contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, said of the Teh Party of Stupid:

“We must stop being the stupid party.

Good luck with that. You would think that after getting their butts kicked during last November’s national elections over issues like women’s reproductive rights, health care reform, and disaster relief, they would begin the 2013 legislative session with a lessons learned attitude. You’d be wrong. On the issue of women’s control over their own bodies, no less a party leader than Paul Ryan, who Charlie Pierce has christened “the zombie eyed granny starver”, co-sponsored another “personhood” bill. Feminst.org reports:

“Conservative Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), along with 16 other representatives, have co-sponsored the “Sanctity of Human Life Act,” which would give full person rights to a human embryo. The “Sanctity of Human Life Act” was originally introduced in 2011 by Representative Paul Broun (R-GA). Broun reintroduced the bill early in the new congressional session. The bill establishes that “the life of each human being begins with fertilization, …, at which time every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.” The bill extends this protection even to any “one-celled human embryo.”

The practical effect would make abortion not only illegal but a federal civil rights crime.  On the state level,  Teh Stupid is taking even more bizarre turn.

Via ThinkProgress:

Should a recently introduced bill in New Mexico become law, rape victims will be required to carry their pregnancies to term during their sexual assault trials or face charges of “tampering with evidence.” Under HB 206, if a woman ended her pregnancy after being raped, both she and her doctor would be charged with a felony punishable by up to 3 years in state prison: Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime. Sexual assault trials are infamously grueling for survivors, who are often subjected to character assassination and other attempts to discredit their accounts. State Rep. Cathrynn Brown’s (R) bill would add the forced choice between prison or an unwanted pregnancy to these proceedings.

Apparently, rape kits are so expensive in New Mexico that it is cheaper to test for the rapist’s DNA by bringing a baby to term than it is to test his sperm gathered at the time of the crime. MORE. . .

Insane Repugs We Have Known

Here in no particular order, are some of our all-time favorite Insane Repugs, depicted in our favorite way: