Month: October 2013

The NSA is the Inmate Running the Asylum

Eugene Robinson says that the, “NSA, in its quest for omniscience beyond anything Orwell could have imagined, is simply out of control.”

He’s right, and he is right when he says that their, “This is not just a massive invasion of privacy that the people of France, Spain and other countries understandably resent. It’s also a mistake.”

The problem here is that the NSA, By Design wants it all. It is their organizational imperative.

This is why Obama’s fondness for “bringing in stakeholders” has failed.

They are not a reasonable stakeholder whose needs to be heard, they are akin to the barbarian warriors hired by the Romans toward the end of their empire.

They are a tool that must be kept on a tight leash.

It is also clear that the NSA is pushing back aqainst Obama, because even as they officially deny that Obama was notified, anonymous sources are saying that their wiretapping were authorized:

The White House and State Department signed off on surveillance targeting phone conversations of friendly foreign leaders, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said Monday, pushing back against assertions that President Obama and his aides were unaware of the high-level eavesdropping.

Professional staff members at the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies are angry, these officials say, believing the president has cast them adrift as he tries to distance himself from the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that have strained ties with close allies.

Think about this: Is there anyone in the NSA who would even talk to a reporter without assuming that the NSA was listening?

This is the NSA sending a not so subtle message, “Don’t f%$# with us,” and if be it’s not NSA director General Keith Alexander, he gave tacit approval to the leak.

Economists Finally Get a Clue

I called for this at the start of the financial crisis, and finally many economists have begun to realize that there is such a thing as inflation is too low:

Inflation is widely reviled as a kind of tax on modern life, but as Federal Reserve policy makers prepare to meet this week, there is growing concern inside and outside the Fed that inflation is not rising fast enough.

Some economists say more inflation is just what the American economy needs to escape from a half-decade of sluggish growth and high unemployment.

The Fed has worked for decades to suppress inflation, but economists, including Janet Yellen, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Fed starting next year, have long argued that a little inflation is particularly valuable when the economy is weak. Rising prices help companies increase profits; rising wages help borrowers repay debts. Inflation also encourages people and businesses to borrow money and spend it more quickly.

The school board in Anchorage, Alaska, for example, is counting on inflation to keep a lid on teachers’ wages. Retailers including Costco and Walmart are hoping for higher inflation to increase profits. The federal government expects inflation to ease the burden of its debts. Yet by one measure, inflation rose at an annual pace of 1.2 percent in August, just above the lowest pace on record.

“Weighed against the political, social and economic risks of continued slow growth after a once-in-a-century financial crisis, a sustained burst of moderate inflation is not something to worry about,” Kenneth S. Rogoff, a Harvard economist, wrote recently. “It should be embraced.”

Low inflation favors the rentiers over the producers.

Of course, the economists, are talking about maybe moving the targeting from 2% to 3%, and I think that we should target 6%, but I’m an engineer, not an economist, dammit!*

*I LOVE IT when I get to go all Doctor McCoy!!!

What, You Mean that Gazillionaires Won’t Leave New York City for Orlando, Florida for Lower Taxes

So not surprised.

Studies show that the idle rich do not relocate over their tax levels:

It is not news that New York’s political and media elites worship the extremely rich. You can see this when in a tough economy the New York Times publishes a “Wealth” section fronted by a how-to piece on buying Irish castles. You can see it when you hear the city’s billionaire mayor insisting that critics of wealth inequality should be quiet because they interfere with his dream to “get all the Russian billionaires to move here.” And you can see it when you behold Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., slamming a modest initiative to slightly increase taxes on the Big Apple’s millionaires.

Again, none of this unto itself is all that newsy because it isn’t all that new. New York’s “let them eat cake” culture has been around for a long time in a city where almost half of all residents live below or near the poverty line. However, what is news is the extent to which this wealth-obsessed environment helps strengthen the mythologies that distort economic reality.

Cuomo’s attack, in particular, perfectly illustrates this trend. Fresh off raising millions from wealthy donors for his political front group, the governor slammed Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio’s tax hike proposal, claiming it will drive Cuomo’s beloved millionaires out of the state.

“What they fear is that they’re in a place where the taxes will continually go up and there will be a ceiling and they’ll say, ‘I’m going to Florida,’” Cuomo said of the rich. “I believe that.”

Before you join Cuomo in weeping for the Manhattan fat cats supposedly forced to flee from economic persecution, remember that his story is a fantastical fact-free fable — one that conveniently serves the political interests of the aristocracy, but has nothing to do with reality.

Rich people leaving New Jersey and California actually fell after taxes rose, and the decrease in millionaires in New York happened because their wages fell after the financial crisis.

Holy Sh%$

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is now officially way worse than Chernobyl, because 3 of the reactor cores burned through the bottom of their containments:

There are three major problems at Fukushima: (1) Three reactor cores are missing; (2) Radiated water has been leaking from the plant in mass quantities for 2.5 years; and (3) Eleven thousand spent nuclear fuel rods, perhaps the most dangerous things ever created by humans, are stored at the plant and need to be removed, 1,533 of those are in a very precarious and dangerous position. Each of these three could result in dramatic radiation events, unlike any radiation exposure humans have ever experienced. We’ll discuss them in order, saving the most dangerous for last.

Missing reactor cores: Since the accident at Fukushima on March 11, 2011, three reactor cores have gone missing. There was an unprecedented three reactor ‘melt-down.’ These melted cores, called corium lavas, are thought to have passed through the basements of reactor buildings 1, 2 and 3, and to be somewhere in the ground underneath.

Harvey Wasserman, who has been working on nuclear energy issues for over 40 years, tells us that during those four decades no one ever talked about the possibility of a multiple meltdown, but that is what occurred at Fukushima.

It is an unprecedented situation to not know where these cores are. TEPCO is pouring water where they think the cores are, but they are not sure. There are occasional steam eruptions coming from the grounds of the reactors, so the cores are thought to still be hot.

The concern is that the corium lavas will enter or may have already entered the aquifer below the plant. That would contaminate a much larger area with radioactive elements. Some suggest that it would require the area surrounding Tokyo, 40 million people, to be evacuated. Another concern is that if the corium lavas enter the aquifer, they could create a “super-heated pressurized steam reaction beneath a layer of caprock causing a major ‘hydrovolcanic’ explosion.”

I knew that there had been multiple meltdowns, but I though that the core damage was contained.

I did not realize that we had the f%$#ing China Syndrome times 3.

A Key Part of the “Grand Bargain” Does not Wporkl

It turns out that upping the medicare eligibility age does not save a meaningful amount of money:

Raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 saves far less than previously projected, a revelation that makes the policy far less attractive in upcoming deficit reduction negotiations in Congress.

The long-debated policy now cuts the deficit by just $19 billion over a decade, according to a report released Thursday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Last year, the same policy — of gradually lifting the eligibility age by two months every year until it reached 67 — was found by the CBO to save $113 billion over the same time period.

The idea has been floated since 2011, when President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner nearly agreed to a broad debt deal that adopted it. But while conservatives still support the policy, along with deeper long-term cuts to retirement benefit programs, the White House and top Democrats have since cooled to it.

“This would have been a tough sell when it raised $100 billion. It’s hard to imagine making such a drastic change now that we know it saves far less,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide, in response to the CBO report.

Of course, this is not really about is an attempt to incrementally destroy the program.

As the age goes up, the people get progressively sicker, and the per capita cost goes up, and the population served shrinks, and the program enters a political and fiscal death spiral.

This is the real goal of people who really want this.


H/t PP at the Stellar Parthenon BBS for passing along this cartoon.

Economists are Douchebags

A business school professor at Wharton has found that not only are economists more selfish and more likely to cheat, but that even just the study of economics and business has a criminogenic effect.

The quick bullet points are:

  • Less charitable giving
  • More deception for personal gain
  • Greater acceptance of greed
  • Less concern for fairness

He wonders if there is a problem with how we teach economics.

Gee,  you think?

Go read the rest.

H/t Salon.

Religion as an Excuse for Mindless Hate

A South Carolina soup kitchen has refused to allow atheists to volunteer:

A group called the Upstate Atheists in Spartanburg, South Carolina were rebuffed in their efforts to volunteer at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen.

“I told [the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen] we wouldn’t wear our T-shirts. We wouldn’t tell anyone who we are with. We just want to help out,” Upstate Atheist president Eve Brannon told the Spartanburg Herald-Jounal. “And they told us that we were not allowed.”

Lou Landrum, the Soup Kitchen’s executive director, told the same paper that allowing the atheists to work at the facility would be a “disservice to this community.”

“We stand on the principles of God,” she said. “Do [atheists] think that our guests are so ignorant that they don’t know what an atheist is? Why are they targeting us? They don’t give any money. I wouldn’t want their money.”

I have repeatedly quoted Bishop Shelby Spong saying too many people use religion as a, “Veil under which anger can be legitimatized.”

Ms. Landrum who cannot see beyond religion as a club to justify her hate while maintaining her thoroughly undeserved sense of moral superiority.

The Daily Show Draws Blood

They decided to cover voter suppression efforts in North Carolina, and the find a precinct chairman who is an unrepentant racist who admits that the new laws are purely for partisan political advantage.

Perhaps, we should say former precinct chairman.

He got canned the day after the broadcast.

I guess that saying that some of the people who were complaining about the barriers to voting were, “lazy black people that wants the government to give them everything,” was not good for his future in politics.

It’s arguable that the above quote was not the most offensive thing that he said.

Even better, this happened just before the DoJ suit against the voter suppression laws is to go to trial.

Today’s Must Read

Felix Salmon has a nice survey on how the proposed new process for sovereign debt restructuring that the IMF is considering represents a major shift:

………The paper raised quite a few eyebrows, since it marked the first time in a decade that the IMF has talked in public about changing the international financial architecture around debt restructuring. Its last attempt to tackle the subject, known as the Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism, or SDRM, died ignominiously, bereft of any US support.


Lipton, in his speech, said that he was worried that “official resources, including from the Fund, would be used to pay out other creditors”. He also said that “in cases where the need for debt reduction may be unclear at the outset, in our view the key is to keep creditors on board while the debtor’s adjustment program is given a chance to work”.

This idea is very close to the “standstill” that was originally proposed as part of the SDRM; another name for it is “default”. And as veteran sovereign debt advisor Rafael Molina patiently explained later on in the panel, sovereign debt managers will, as a rule, do anything to avoid defaulting on their debt. As a result, tensions are naturally very high whenever this idea is brought up, despite the upbeat spin that the IMF puts on it in its paper:

The primary objective of creditor bail-in would be designed to ensure that creditors would not exit during the period while the Fund is providing financial assistance. This would also give more time for the Fund to determine whether the problem is one of liquidity or solvency. Accordingly, the measures would typically involve a rescheduling of debt, rather than the type of debt stock reduction that is normally required in circumstances where the debt is judged to be unsustainable. Providing the member with a more comfortable debt profile would also have the additional benefit of enhancing market confidence in the feasibility of the member’s adjustment efforts, thereby reducing the risk that the debt will, in fact, become unsustainable.

Translating into English, the IMF here is essentially saying this: “Sometimes we don’t know whether a country’s debt is too high. We need time to work that out. But if we’re lending, during that period, then while we’re deciding whether or not the country’s debt is sustainable, we’re going to force it to default on its private debt.”

Read the rest.

Signs of the Apocalypse, Richard Cohen Edition

I’ve been rather hard on him.

I’ve called him a sociopath, a racist, an idiot, and a bad writer.

I stand by these assessments, but in the same way that a stopped clock is right twice a day, he can’t get everything wrong every time.

On the matter of Edward Snowden, he has admitted that he was wrong, and that Snowden is a whistle-blower, not a traitor.

What are we to make of Edward Snowden? I know what I once made of him. He was no real whistleblower, I wrote, but “ridiculously cinematic” and “narcissistic” as well. As time has proved, my judgments were just plain wrong. Whatever Snowden is, he is curiously modest and has bent over backward to ensure that the information he has divulged has done as little damage as possible. As a “traitor,” he lacks the requisite intent and menace.

But traitor is what Snowden has been roundly called. Harry Reid: “I think Snowden is a traitor.” John Boehner: “He’s a traitor.” Rep. Peter King: “This guy is a traitor; he’s a defector.” And Dick Cheney not only denounced Snowden as a “traitor” but also suggested that he might have shared information with the Chinese. This innuendo, as with Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, is more proof of Cheney’s unerring determination to be cosmically wrong.

The early denunciations of Snowden now seem both over the top and beside the point. If he is a traitor, then which side did he betray and to whom does he now owe allegiance? Benedict Arnold, America’s most famous traitor, sold out to the British during the Revolutionary War and wound up a general in King George III’s army. Snowden seems to have sold out to no one. In fact, a knowledgeable source says that Snowden has not even sold his life story and has rebuffed offers of cash for interviews. Maybe his most un-American act is passing up a chance at easy money. Someone ought to look into this.


Snowden is one of those people for whom the conjunction “and” is apt. Normally, I prefer the more emphatic “but” so I could say “Snowden did some good but he did a greater amount of damage.” Trouble is, I’m not sure of that. I am sure, though, that he has instigated a worthwhile debate. I am sure that police powers granted the government will be abused over time and that Snowden is an authentic whistleblower, appalled at what he saw on his computer screen and wishing, like Longfellow’s Paul Revere, to tell “every Middlesex village and farm” what our intelligence agencies were doing. Who do they think they are, Google?

But (and?) I am at a loss to say what should be done with Snowden. He broke the law, this is true. He has been chary with his information, but he cannot know all its ramifications and, anyway, the government can’t allow anyone to decide for himself what should be revealed. That, too, is true. So Snowden is, to my mind, a bit like John Brown, the zealot who intensely felt the inhumanity of slavery and broke the law in an attempt to end the practice. My analogy is not neat — Brown killed some people — but you get the point. I suppose Snowden needs to be punished but not as a traitor. He may have been technically disloyal to America but not, after some reflection, to American values.

Stopped clock, I guess.

I’ll need to wait for a 2nd non wanktastic article before I claim that we are seeing an actual learning curve here.

OK, I’m Really Beginning to Like Pope Francis a Lot

He is now talking about how excessive focus on doctrine is a “serious illness in the Churgh”:

Speaking at daily Mass last Thursday, Pope Francis warned Christians against turning their faith into a rigid ideology.

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology,” he said, according to Radio Vatican. “And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid.

“And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

I’m wondering where this is all going to lead.

Notwithstanding the cries of outrage sure to arise from conservatives, I see this as an unalloyed good.