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“What is the Most Useful Idea in Economics?”

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NPR’s Planet Money went to the 2020 American Economic Association conference in San Diego where they asked economists, “what is the most useful idea in economics?” David Autor appears near the end of the episode (minute 16:00) to talk about the lump-of-labor fallacy. Almost exactly 87 years earlier, on January 18, 1933, Arthur Dahlberg appeared […]

For MLK Day: Letter From a Birmingham Jail

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There is no better way to honor Dr. King than to read his Letter From a Birmingham Jail.  It is full of moral insight, deeply moving, and an astonishing piece of political advocacy.  Here are the opening paragraphs: While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present […]

Simpson’s Paradox

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from Asad Zaman Statistics and Econometrics today are done without any essential reference to causality – this is much like try to figure out how birds fly without taking into account their wings. Judea Pearl “The Book of Why” Chapter 2 tells the bizarre story of how the discipline of statistics inflicted causal blindness on […]

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 19, 2020

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by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

Seattle city council bans most political spending by ‘foreign-influenced corporations’

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 1-13-20]

We’re in an age of manufactured nihilism: How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy
(Vox, via The Big Picture 1-17-20]

The issue for many people isn’t exactly a denial of truth as such. It’s more a growing weariness over the process of finding the truth at all. And that weariness leads more and more people to abandon the idea that the truth is knowable.

I call this “manufactured” because it’s the consequence of a deliberate strategy. It was distilled almost perfectly by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon reportedly said in 2018. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

…The press ideally should sift fact from fiction and give the public the information it needs to make enlightened political choices. If you short-circuit that process by saturating the ecosystem with misinformation and overwhelm the media’s ability to mediate, then you can disrupt the democratic process.

Too damn bad the Vox author does not realize this is exactly the political process of demagoguery warned about by Hamilton, Madison, Adams and others at the beginning of the republic. And more – they warned that this process was likely to be initiated  by the rich, such as Leon Black (see below).

Green New Deal – An opportunity too big to miss

Can We Tackle Climate Change and Economic Inequality?
Larry Buhl, January 7, 2020 [Capital and Main, via Naked Capitalism 1-12-20]

A September United Nations report endorsed the general framework for an international green new deal as a way of lifting up poor and vulnerable communities. It concluded that “achieving human well-being and eradicating poverty for all of the Earth’s people—expected to number 8.5 billion by 2030—is still possible, but only if there is a fundamental—and urgent—change in the relationship between people and nature.”

Where the Candidates Stand
And at least one labor group is embracing, not fighting, a Green New Deal. In March, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor touted the broad outline of a Green New Deal that would benefit the environment and the economy. “Economic inequality and threats to the environment are deeply intertwined, and a Green New Deal framework is vital to fighting both,” the statement read. “We don’t have time to pit jobs against the environment. We never did.”

A recent report on decarbonizing California’s buildings from the University of California, Los Angeles, Luskin Center for Innovation projected an increase in renewable construction activity, electricity generation and transmission until 2045. In a webinar explaining the study’s findings, author Betony Jones said these new jobs would more than offset losses in oil and gas distribution and production, but it wasn’t yet clear whether they would all be high wage jobs.

Rachel Golden, deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Building Electrification program….was the lead author in a recent Building Electrification Plan that would not only lower energy bills and reduce the cost of new housing, but also “create roughly 100,000 new jobs in construction, HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] installation, electrical work, energy efficiency and load-management services.”

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

One in four countries beset by civil strife as global unrest soars
[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 1-16-20]

College Degrees Used to Make Families Wealthier. That’s No Longer True

[Worth, via The Big Picture 1-17-20]

 

Disrupting mainstream economics

How Economists Tricked Us Into Thinking Capitalism Works
[AstuteNews, via Naked Capitalism 1-12-20]

The Dismal Forecasts of the Dismal Scientists
James Galbraith [American Prospect, via Naked Capitalism 1-12-20]

…like France’s Bourbons, learn nothing and forget nothing; they cast their omens in terms of parables read in textbooks many decades back. To change ideas now would call into question the very foundation of their careers….

The Times accurately notes that economists are coming around to the view that even under the best conditions economic growth will remain slow—a position argued at book length by yours truly five years ago, but never mind. Part of my argument in The End of Normal concerned the fourth pessimistic pillar, slow productivity growth. I argued that in our age of technological upheaval capital goods have become cheap, therefore business investment as a share of total output has declined, and so the economy relies more than ever on the strength of consumer demand, bolstered by credit cards and student and automotive debt. The evidence since then bears this out. Alas, this means that otherwise worthy calls for new spending on brick-and-mortar infrastructure and on research and development bear no relation to the supposed problem of low productivity growth….

Malinen is a financial economist…. Malinen has a free-market streak, and his main scenario leans toward an Andrew Mellon–style mass liquidation, followed by recovery of the survivors. He would prefer this, for all the carnage, including physical death and destruction, to a “Green-Left fascism, suppressing both individual rights and unpopular economic activities.” Even if it were true that “Nature could be saved … but at the expense of humanity reverting to slavery and oppression.”

And in the next crisis, the United States may finally be moved to free itself from the deadweight of mainstream economic thought, to retire a worn-out generation of policy advisers, and to move on with the great social, economic, and environmental project known as the Green New Deal. There is a history of radical experiment and popular mobilization in this country, from which democracy emerged stronger, not weaker, than it ever was before. And for many Americans, to escape from the debt trap and from domination by bankers and billionaires into a world of work and public purpose would be the very opposite of slavery and oppression. A better word would be liberation, along with a new freedom, and a new hope.

James Galbraith’s memoir of lifelong struggles to make economics a force for good

James Galbraith [Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, via Naked Capitalism 1-12-20]

The rise of finance and technology, disinflation, globalisation, debt peonage and the decline of industry, the rise of bicoastal inequalities, and the rusting away of the Midwest, giving rise first to Clinton and then to Trump – for all of these the course was set by Reagan and Volcker in the early 1980s. And the dogmas too morphed and lived on, shapeshifting zombies reinvented as exportable commodities in the form of the Washington Consensus, inflation targeting and neoliberalism, each eventually squeezed dry of doctrine until only the policy shells remain – tax cuts, central bank independence, fire-sale privatisations, deficit – and debt-aversion, all too useful to require the foundation of thought….

From 1993 to 1997 I was of some use as Chief Technical Adviser for Macroeconomic Reform and Strengthening Institutions to the State Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China, my advice was largely to steer clear of Western economists and above all, not to open the capital account. Those results speak for themselves.

What Is the Point of Economics?
Matt Stoller, January 10, 2020

And this brings me to the point of economics, which has taken me a long time to understand. There are many economists who focus on trying to uncover important truths about the world, and there are many economists who seek to serve concentrated capital. There are smart ones, and dumb ones. But truth or falsehood, or empirical rigor, is besides the point. The point of economics as a discipline is to create a language and methodology for governing that hides political assumptions from the public. Truly successful economists, like Summers, spend their time winning bureaucratic turf wars and placing checks on elected officials.

Let’s start with a basic question. Is it the job of economists to understand the world accurately? The answer is far from clear. As finance professor Paul Pfleiderer notes, many economists use models that are chameleons, designed to launder political assumptions about the world through such aesthetics as “mathematical elegance, subtlety, [and] references to assumptions being “standard in the literature.”

More broadly, prominent leading economists just get things wrong, big things, with no impact on their standing in the profession. This indifference to empirical results is mirrored in the indifference offered by economists to the claims and arguments of non-economists outside the profession, whose views are simply relevant….

There are three main problems with economics as a ‘science’ that can guide public policy choices. The first is that it is a post-mortem discipline. Economists often assert we need data before drawing conclusions… And yet, there was no data in 2000 when the U.S. changes its policies vis-a-vis China, because the consequences were in the future….

The second is that using economics to make judgments about the world can be extraordinarily costly and exclusionary. This may or may not be a big deal when considering macro-economic forecasting, but when economics becomes a key part of institutional legal arguments it shades who can use the law to protect their rights….

The third is that an obsession with quantifying leads to political control by those who have access to data. A well-known example is famous economist Alan Krueger, who was paid by Uber and then wrote widely circulated scholarship based on internal Uber data about the corporation’s wage setting terms. But it’s broader than just one company, most of the big tech platforms work with economists, giving these powerful corporate entities a measure of political control over lines of research….

The actual goal of economics as a discipline is to embed itself as a governing language in our institutions of power.

There are four institutions in which this takes place domestically.

(1) The Congressional Budget Office….
(2) The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs….
(3) Federal Trade Commission / DOJ Antitrust Division….
(4) The Federal Reserve….

Predatory Finance

Nobody Makes Money Like Apollo’s Ruthless Founder Leon Black

[Businessweek, via The Big Picture 1-17-20]

Sarah M. Syed
@SarahMSyed
·
Jan 16

 
Those with money in Apollo funds were given a disturbing reminder of this in July when Jeffrey Epstein, who’d served on the board of Black’s family foundation and been known to visit Apollo’s offices pitching personal tax strategies, was arrested on federal sex-trafficking charge

Leon Black is a central figure in the story of how finance and banking came to be dominated by organized crime. It is a story that appears unknown to most reporters. And is a story about the influence of criminality in the economy that almost all professional economists are frantically desperate to avoid — an academic phenomena that savings and loan investigator William Black has written about many times over the past decade, since the financial crashes of 2007-2008.  

 
Leon Black’s father, Eli M. Black was chairman of United Brands Company (formerly called United Fruit in the 1960s and earlier), which ran much of the illegal narcotics trade in the Caribbean and South America, usually with the knowledge, and sometimes assistance, of the CIA. United Fruit corporate assets were used for moving Israeli-procured arms into covert wars throughout Latin America, which blew up into the Iran-Contra scandal of 1987, nearly taking down the presidency of Ronald Reagan. It thus makes entire sense that it is now being reported that Leon Black was tied to rich pedophile pimp Epstein, who has been identified as an asset of Israeli and British intelligence. 
 

Eli M. Black “fell” to his death from the 44th floor of Manhattan’s Pan Am Building in 1975. Within two years later, Leon Black emerged as head of mergers and acquisitions and co-head of corporate finance at Drexel Burnham Lambert, working closely with Michael Milken to seize control of industrial companies by burdening them with their own debt. In other words, what “private equity” does today. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

New York Fed Considering Becoming Sugar Daddy to Hedge Funds as their Distress Grows
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, January 16, 2020 [Wall Street On Parade]

Here’s How the Fake Unemployment Number Was Created to Subdue Anger Against Wall Street
By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: January 17, 2020 [Wall Street On Parade]

Not just under Trump — Okun’s Law

Restoring balance to the economy

California Bill Would Raise Taxes on Corporations With Large CEO-Worker Pay Gaps
Sarah Anderson [Inequality.org, via Truthout 1-17-20]

The California proposal is similar to legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress last November by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Representatives Barbara Lee and Rashida Tlaib, and 18 other House members.

Under the California bill (SB 37), the wider a company’s gap between CEO and median worker pay, the higher their state corporate tax rate. An estimated 2,000 corporations with annual profits in the state of $10 million or would be subject to the tax, with revenue projected at as much as $4 billion per year….

The California hearing foreshadowed the coming debate over a similar proposal at the federal level — the Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act (H.R. 5066/S. 2849). While the two legislative models’ objectives are the same, they have some differences in design.

Starve the Beast: CEOs now make 361 times more than the average worker.
Jen Sorensen [Truthout January 1, 2019]“Strikes Are Hard Work”

[Labor Notes, via Naked Capitalism 1-13-20]

“Some kind of movement is developing. Perhaps, after decades of lethargy, workers across industries are ready to once again leverage our power to disrupt—by withholding our labor—and win. Certainly, workers are learning from each other, and the strikes are opening up a renewed understanding of what’s possible when we activate the full force of our power. In a recent conversation we hosted about the educators strike in Chicago, some listeners wanted to know when we would talk about a national strike. Big wins in tough times can inspire us to think bigger. But when we hear about successful strikes, we don’t always fully listen to the work it took to get there. Members of the Chicago Teachers and school employees in SEIU Local 73 developed contract action teams and community coalitions to confront a powerful mayor. It took years to build the relationships, trust, and collective power that sustained them through a difficult fight. A national strike will involve a protracted struggle. It will take serious preparation. It will take serious power. It’s something to build towards—one step at a time. One-day strikes that flex our muscles will bring new people into the struggle. That’s great. But we want more than participation; we want transformation. And what transforms us isn’t the highs of excitement and inspiration. It’s keeping on when the struggle gets tough—discovering within ourselves the reservoirs of courage, fortitude, commitment, and rock-solid solidarity. It’s sharing the work of organizing each day, and the next day, and the next.”

Lambert Strether: “So, we are far away from being able to do what France has done?”Understanding France’s General Strike in the Context of the Yellow Vests and Global Class Warfare
[Counterpunch, via Naked Capitalism 1-13-20]“The Teamster Revolt Against the Hoffa Era” 

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 1-16-20]

“Willie Ford listened to the conference call in disbelief from the cab of his tractor trailer on I-95 as the Teamster election monitor announced the results of the contract vote covering 250,000 workers at UPS. Ford, a leader of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), and rank-and-file activists like him, had spent months organizing the UPS Teamster United campaign to win contract improvements. But UPS management and top Teamster officials agreed to givebacks, including a two-tier wage scale for drivers, and spent millions on a coordinated campaign to promote and push through their concessionary deal. Now was the moment of truth. In a monotone voice, the election official announced the results. By a 54 percent majority, UPS workers rejected the givebacks. Dissident Teamster activists had done the impossible. Their Vote No campaign had won. But it wasn’t over yet. The very next speaker on the conference call reversed the rank-and-file victory. Citing an obscure loophole in the Teamster Constitution, Denis Taylor, the union’s chief negotiator at UPS, declared the contract ratified. Just like that, two-tier concessions at the largest union contract in the United States were imposed over the no vote by the members.”

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics – Boeing

Boeing’s tough challenges as civilian aircraft maker 

Marshall Auerback, January 11, 2020 [Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 1-12-20]

Boeing’s new CEO, David Calhoun, is unlikely to solve these multifold problems. Having spent 26 years at General Electric, stripping aviation talent out and replacing real engineering with financial engineering, Calhoun eventually became a director at Boeing in 2009. In 2014, he joined the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm that, as Matt Stoller points out, “is a vector for financializing corporations” as well as being a company well versed in creative accounting shenanigans that enable corporate entities like Boeing to mask their extensive cash-flow problems.

During his tenure as a Boeing board member, Calhoun has been a party to a series of decisions whereby financial machinations of the company’s managerial class have taken precedence over safety culture. Despite many years of affiliation to the aviation industry, then, Calhoun himself is merely another financial “Master of the Universe,” representative of a caste that specializes in outsourcing and stripping out talent, all the while championing practices such as dressing up the balance sheet in a manner that is legal, but has distorted the underlying profits position of the company….

At this point, no one can credibly promise anyone anything, whether we’re talking about Boeing, the FAA or the overall system itself. There is zero empathy in the system, and zero empathy translates into total entropy. Wall Street does not understand this because Wall Street does not understand how to quantify empathy and trust other than in the crude human instrument of goodwill.

“Boeing posts negative commercial airplane orders in 2019 for first time in decades” 

[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism 1-14-20]

“For all of 2019, Boeing lost orders for 87 commercial airplanes, meaning it had more cancellations than new purchases, the company said Tuesday. The final tally included the cancellation of three orders in December when customers changed plans to buy 787 Dreamliners. A Boeing spokesman said he wasn’t sure when the company last lost commercial plane orders for the year, but ‘it definitely has not happened in the last 30 years.’ The negative number is especially painful when compared with European rival Airbus, which logged orders for 768 new planes for 2019.”

How Boeing Lost Its Way: Shareholder value eclipsed safety as a top priority, with catastrophic consequences.

[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 1-17-20]
For decades now I’ve read so many articles by apologists for free trade and neoliberalism in which the writer pointed proudly to Boeing as an example of an industry USA was unsurpassed in. Aerospace was the “crown jewel” of American industry. But, like everything else touched by these idiot savants, it’s turned to shit.

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

Homeless Californians Adapt to Camp Sweeps and ‘The Caltrans Shuffle’
[Naked Capitalism, January 14, 2020]

Their makeshift neighborhood of tarps and tents is built on one of thousands of public spaces across California where people have set up camp. The state’s homeless population has ballooned in recent years; in 2019, there were more than 150,000 homeless people in California, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and 72% of them did not have shelter. A range of health concerns has spread among homeless communities. A few years ago, hepatitis A, spread primarily through feces, infected more than 700 people in California, most of them homeless. Ancient diseases such as typhus have resurged. Homeless people are dying in record numbers on the streets of Los Angeles.

Communities up and down California, increasingly frustrated with the growing number of homeless people living on public property, have tasked police and sanitation workers with dismantling encampments that they say pollute public areas and pose serious risk of fire, violence and disease. The roustings and cleanups have become a daily occurrence around the state, involving an array of state and local agencies.

But the response from officials has prompted a public health crisis all its own, according to interviews with dozens of homeless people and their advocates. Personal possessions, including medicines and necessary medical devices, are routinely thrown away. It’s a quotidian event that Leilani Farha, the United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing, described as a “cruelty” that she hadn’t seen in other impoverished corners of the world….

Chris Herring, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of California-Berkeley, has embedded himself in San Francisco’s homeless community on and off for years, including spending nine months in 2014 and 2015 living on the street and a year studying the police, public health and sanitation workers tasked with cleaning encampments….

Others have lost ID cards and prescriptions, a setback for making appointments or receiving benefits, according to one of the lawyers on the case, Osha Neumann.
Caltrans workers say they hate doing the cleanups. “It’s like 100 times worse than it was just a few years ago,” said Steve Crouch, director of public employees for Local 39 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents Caltrans workers. “One of the biggest gripes they have is having to clean up the homeless encampments. It’s a nasty job.”

The sweeps also cause psychological damage. Ciha and his neighbors talk about how horrible it is when people driving by throw garbage at them. Herring said the trauma of living on the streets is so intense he hasn’t yet figured out how to write about it in his academic work. “[The city will] say we’re just asking people to move, but if you’re being asked that over and over and you have nowhere to go, and people are acting like you’re worthless or they’re scared of you, that affects you fast,” he said.

Health Care Crisis

California considers selling its own generic prescription drugs

[Ars Technica, via Naked Capitalism 1-12-20]

“Taiwan’s single-payer success story — and its lessons for America” 

[Vox, via Naked Capitalism 1-14-20]

“In Taiwan, everybody is covered. The Taiwanese health care system is built on the belief that everyone deserves health care, in Xiulin just as much as anywhere else. The costs to patients are minimal. In the 1990s, Taiwan did what has long been considered impossible in the US: The island of 24 million people took a fractured and inequitable health care system and transformed it into something as close to Sen. Bernie Sanders’s vision of Medicare-for-all as anything in the world.”

 

“A Healing Place” 

Nathan J. Robinson [Current Affairs, via Naked Capitalism 1-14-20]

“Bad experiences at hospitals are incredibly common. A close relative of mine called me today having just been released from the hospital, and having had to fill out papers while in horrible pain, then sitting for hours in a harshly lit room being ignored. What’s strange to me about the bad experiences people have is that they are some of the easiest possible things we could change about medicine. You can’t cure cancer, but you can certainly cure paperwork. You can cure depressing architecture. You can cure indifference and bureaucracy and discomfort. The problems with hospitals are strange, because they violate the first principles we would use to design a ‘healing place.’ The first thing you should do when designing a place to make people feel better is to make sure they suffer no unnecessary stress or confusion or unpleasantness there. In fact, there is apparently hard evidence that this can make a difference to patient outcomes, which is why sensible hospitals have gardens. I’d like to suggest, though, that ‘first person experience’ needs to be put at the center of every single discussion of healthcare.”

Climate and environmental crises

“When It Comes to the Australian Bushfires, Rupert Murdoch is an Arsonist” 

Michael Mann, Newsweek, via Naked Capitalism 1-16-20]

“There was a full court press by the Murdoch media machine, including The Australian, described by Sourcewatch as a paper that “promotes climate change denial in a way that is sometimes…so astonishing as to be entertaining”, The Herald Sun, and Sky News television network in Australia, and Fox News in the U.S., to promote the false claim that the massive bushfires engulfing Australia were primarily a result of “arson”. The distortions were so egregious that a whistleblower from within Newscorp, named Emily Townsend, came forward, condemning the organization for waging a ‘misinformation campaign’ consisting of ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dangerous’ coverage of the current unprecedented bushfire crisis. And in a late-breaking development, Rupert Murdoch’s son James Murdoch is now blasting his father’s media empire, indicating that he is ‘particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence to the contrary.’”

Claire Sandberg


✔@clairesandberg

 

 

I don’t know about you, but when I look at the visualizations of an entire continent on fire and see footage of children fleeing into the ocean to escape encroaching flames, I think to myself, how could both parties have let the national debt get so out of hand in my lifetime?


6,670

10:20 PM – Jan 14, 2020

Lake Chad: A War Fueled By Global Warming

[Der Spiegel, via Naked Capitalism 1-18-20]“Europe Could Lead Way in $10 Trillion Fossil Fuel Capex Ban, UBS Says”
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 1-14-20]

“A $10 trillion ban on fossil fuel capital spending could hold the key to net-zero emissions by 2050, according to UBS Group AG. To achieve such a freeze on emissions, there would need to be enough global restrictions to reduce cumulative fossil capex by two-thirds of the current amount, or about $10 trillion, UBS analysts led by Sam Arie wrote in a note assessing the outlook on energy and climate change. Europe will likely be the starting point for such a move, according to them. ‘We expect to see increasing legal and financing restrictions on fossil capex — taking effect more quickly than any moves towards a global carbon tax, and inevitably accelerating convergence of the energy and utilities sectors,’ the analysts wrote.”

For the first time, the Alarmed are now the largest of Global Warming’s Six Americas

[Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, via The Big Picture 1-17-20]

Our prior research has categorized Americans into six groups – Global Warming’s Six Americas – based on their climate change beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. The “Alarmed” are the most worried about global warming and the most supportive of strong action to reduce carbon pollution. In contrast, the “Dismissive” do not think global warming is happening or human-caused and strongly oppose climate action. [A short “Six Americas” quiz is publicly available online.]

Our latest survey (November 2019) finds that the Alarmed segment is at an all-time high (31%). The Alarmed segment has nearly tripled in size since October 2014.

“Imperial Oil, Canada’s Exxon Subsidiary, Ignored Its Own Climate Change Research For Decades, Archive Shows” 
[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 1-14-20]

“Imperial Oil, Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, is a household name in Canada thanks to its ubiquitous Esso gas stations. Exxon owns 70 percent of the company… The cache of documents shows that as far back as the 1960s, Imperial had begun hiring consultants to help them manage a future public backlash over its environmental record, as well as conducting surveillance on its public critics. The documents also show that, as the company began to accept the implications of a warming planet, instead of acting decisively to change its business model, it began considering how a melting Arctic might open up new business opportunities.”

Information Age Dystopia

The Evil List: Which tech companies are really doing the most harm? Here are the 30 most dangerous, ranked by the people who know 

[Slate, via The Big Picture 1-16-20]

Slate sent ballots to a wide range of journalists, scholars, advocates, and others who have been thinking critically about technology for years. We asked them to tell us which tech companies they are most concerned about, and we let them decide for themselves what counts as “concerning.” We told them to define the category of technology companies as narrowly or broadly as they liked, which is how, say, Exxon Mobil made the list. Each respondent ranked as many as 10 companies—subsidiaries counted as part of parent corporations—with more points going to the choices they placed at the top. Then we added up their votes and got this.

What did we find? While the major U.S. tech companies topped the vote—read on to find out which came in at No. 1—our respondents are deeply concerned about foreign companies dabbling in surveillance and A.I., as well as the domestic gunners that power the data-broker business. No one thinks Twitter is the worst thing that could happen to a planet, but a lot of people worry about it a little. Companies with the potential to do harm can be as distressing as those with long records of producing it. Privacy people care a lot about misinformation, but misinformation people might not be so worried about privacy. Almost everyone distrusts Peter Thiel. And some people don’t have a problem with Amazon or Apple or even Facebook at all—which is why we included dissents for many of the top companies on our list.

Amazon topped the list — “It’s everything” — followed by Facebook, Alphabet (formerly Google), Palantir Technologies, Uber, Apple, and Twitter.  More on Amazon: 

“While other companies may be guilty of some of these, Amazon has: 1) contributed to the death of local stores, services, journalism, music, community, etc. around the world; 2) focused on precarious and deskilled labor, with reportedly terrible working conditions; 3) supported police surveillance with its Ring doorbells and surveillance more generally with Alexa devices; 4) racked up a massive carbon footprint with rapid shipping as well as AWS cloud-based computing; 5) contributed tech to military and intelligence agencies with dubious human rights records, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations separating families at our own border; 5) failed to moderate what is on its platform, resulting in a glut of dangerous fakes such as easily broken counterfeit car seats for children; 6) has a famously hostile workplace culture, which has been shown to contribute to harassment of women and minorities; and 7) evaded taxation with shady categorization of assets and offshore tax havens.”

‘Techlash’ Hits College Campuses

[NYT, via Naked Capitalism 1-13-20]

The share of Americans who believe that technology companies have a positive impact on society has dropped from 71 percent in 2015 to 50 percent in 2019, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey….

… a 19-year-old sophomore at Yale, which sends about 10 percent of each graduating class into tech, said that taking a job in Silicon Valley is seen as “selling out,” no different from the economics majors going into consulting who are “lovingly and not-so-lovingly called ‘snakes.’”

Blackout Bug: Boeing 737 cockpit screens go blank if pilots land on specific runways

[The Register, via Naked Capitalism 1-13-20]

Although full technical details were not given in the airworthiness directive, the FAA said that the seven runways had “latitude and longitude values” that “triggered the blanking behaviour”, suggesting some kind of memory interaction between onboard computers causing the screens to stop displaying any information until a different runway was selected in the flight plan.

The bug affects 737-600, -700, -700C, -800, -900 and -900ER model aircraft, which are running Common Display System Block Point 15 (CDS BP 15) software for their display electronic units (DEUs) together with flight management computer (FMC) software version U12 or later….

Commercial jet airliners are far from immune to software bugs. Infamously, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner needed power cycling every 248 days to prevent the aircraft’s electronics from powering down in flight, while Airbus’ A350 was struck by a similar bug requiring a power cycle every 149 hours to prevent avionics systems from partially or even totally failing to work.

Human error with electronics can also cause problems for commercial aviation: a typo in GPS co-ordinates left an Air Asia Airbus A330’s navigational system thinking it was 11,000km away from its true position, while the captain of another airline’s A330 found out the hard way that hot coffee and electronic hardware really do not mix.

Silicon Valley Abandons the Culture That Made It the Envy of the World

[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 1-16-20]

The case for … making low-tech ‘dumb’ cities instead of ‘smart’ ones Guardian. Important and interesting, via Naked Capitalism 1-16-20]

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Team builds the first living robots

[Techxplore, via Naked Capitalism 1-14-20]

Now a team of scientists has repurposed living cells—scraped from frog embryos—and assembled them into entirely new life-forms. These millimeter-wide “xenobots” can move toward a target, perhaps pick up a payload (like a medicine that needs to be carried to a specific place inside a patient)—and heal themselves after being cut.
“These are novel living machines,” says Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont who co-led the new research. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.” The new creatures were designed on a supercomputer at UVM—and then assembled and tested by biologists at Tufts University.

Two atoms have been captured on film forming a bond, for the first time ever
skralyx [DailyKos 1-18-20]
Chinese to build and operate first Bogota LRT line
[Railway Age 1-14-20]

China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CECC) has won a Pesos 3600bn (US$1.1 billion) contract to design, build, operate and maintain a 39.5km commuter light rail line linking Bogotá with Sabana de Occidente….

CECC, which was the only bidder, submitted a bid which was Pesos 166bn below the budget set for the RegioTram West project. CECC will be responsible for financing the project, studies and design, and environmental management, construction, operation, and maintenance of the entire project including the rolling stock and rail systems. The operation and maintenance element of the contract is for 21 years.

A progressive foreign policy for USA would focus on helping countries around the world build $100 trillion worth of new industries, and energy and transportation systems for a Global Green New Deal. One big problem, though, is that USA has simply lost the ability to build a lot of stuff. Note that no USA companies submitted a bid. The sad fact is that there are no USA companies left that can design and build urban passenger rail systems (see page 8). 

Disrupting mainstream politics

 

Gregory Hardin II 🌹🤘🏾@GregoryHardinII

 

 

I flipped my Aunt from voting for Biden to Bernie by asking her to read this article by @ninaturner. https://www.thestate.com/opinion/article239206718.html …

While Bernie Sanders has always stood up for African Americans, Joe Biden has repeatedly let us down
Nina Turner, January 12, 2020 [The State (Columbia SC), via Naked Capitalism 1-16-20]

“A Guide to the 2020 Democratic Candidates You Should Not Vote For”
[Medium, via Naked Capitalism 1-16-20]
This is from June 2019, but the documentation is devastating. Harris and ORourke are already out, but this is great oppo to use against Biden and Buttigieg.A Progressive’s Guide to Choosing Between Bernie and Warren
[Medium 12-31-19]
Sure seems to me that if Democrats really want to win back voters who went for Trump, Sanders is the obviously the candidate with the most electibility.

Bernie receives far more donations from the working class, Trump’s key demographic, than Warren, whose numbers are more in line with Pete Buttigieg’s. This is further illustrated by Bernie out-raising Trump in five states, including battleground state Wisconsin, while Warren only out-raises Trump in her home state of Massachusetts. Bernie leads amongst the 206 counties that flipped from Obama to Trump as well, earning over 3x the donations in them as Warren.

AOC Is Actually Serious About Building Progressive Power

Ian Welsh, January 13, 2020

The Democratic party is a conservative centrist party (centrist in American terms, conservative in its ideology.) Independents are more left-wing than Democrats are, which is why Sanders did better with them than with Democrats in 2016. Those Democrats who whined about this are right: Sanders isn’t a Democrat, because he’s a left-winger and Democrats aren’t.

So for years, Democrats have constantly put their muscle and money behind centrist candidates and attacked left-wingers. The cry of the old Netroots was “More and better Democrats!” By this we meant, “more left-wing Democrats,” but the party was fanatically hostile to that and eventually crushed the insurgency–with a great deal of help from Obama.

Now another generation is taking their shot, and I’m glad to see they aren’t playing nice. The fight for the Democratic party is a fight, and to the victors goes the policy. People like Pelosi want to sell that policy to Wall Street and so on, people like Sanders and AOC want to use it to help ordinary people. It isn’t more complicated than that, and while tactical alliances can be made against Republicans, Pelosi and Biden have nothing in common with AOC or Sanders. They aren’t friends, they’re enemies.

Ocasio-Cortez creates PAC to push back on the Democratic Party’s ‘blacklisting’ rule”
[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 1-17-20]

“Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) announced she had formed a political action committee on Saturday to help raise funds for progressive primary candidates. The congresswoman has been a vocal opponent of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s policy to “blacklist” vendors and firms that work with candidates mounting primary challenges against Democratic incumbents. Ocasio-Cortez has also not paid her dues to the DCCC during this campaign cycle and said she did not plan to pay. The funds are traditionally provided to the DCCC by House members to redistribute among other important races.”

“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s New PAC Is Already Raising Big Money”
[Huffington Post, via Naked Capitalism 1-17-20]

“Ocasio-Cortez launched Courage to Change to support both progressive incumbent Democrats and primary challengers whose positions are close to her own. (She has thus far endorsed progressives taking on conservative Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar of Texas and Dan Lipinski of Illinois.)…. In two fundraising emails and a tweet, Ocasio-Cortez and her campaign framed the PAC explicitly as an alternative to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is House Democrats’ official campaign fundraising arm.”

We “slaughtered” Jeremy Corbyn, says Israel lobbyist
[Electronic Intifada, via Naked Capitalism 1-16-20]

 

Shaun King


✔@shaunking

 

 

Wow. Just wow.This is a brilliant, nuanced answer from @BernieSanders on how tens of millions of people who sincerely feel abandoned by the political establishment were then easy prey for Donald Trump.

Click here to view Bernie Sanders schooling the staff of the New York Times.

CNN’s Debate Performance Was Villainous and Shameful Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, via Naked Capitalism 1-16-20]“Bernie Sanders Believes in Mass Politics — Something the New York Times Can’t Wrap Their Minds Around”
[Jacobin].
In this era of resurgent left electoral activity, the conflation of left and right populism is one of the preferred tactics of the elite political center.

 

Enemy Actions

“Trumpism After Trump”
[Harpers, via Naked Capitalism 1-16-20]
A long and very informative report on the National Conservatism Conference.

“They were here because of one undeniable fact: Donald Trump was going to die. Trump might be ejected from office or lose the election or win the election—but he was, also, definitely going to die. And Trumpism needed to survive. It was just getting started. If Trumpism were snuffed out with Trump, Republicans would fall back into march with the party lemmings in hock to their donors (hardly any Republican voters agreed with the donors about anything, as Trump had intuited), who would connive with liberals to contaminate the country with more immigration, more Big Tech treason, more “free” trade, more endless wars, more slouching toward nihilism. The ancien régime was threatening to reconstitute itself. Someone had to stand up for Trumpism in the noble abstract.”

….Fox News might well fall into conniptions at the notion, but what was needed was “class warfare”—or perhaps more precisely, a war within the elites—to ensure that the future remained Trumpian and did not revert to the globalist highway to nowhere.

This is a long article, but extremely useful for providing details of what important conservatives and neoconservatives, such as Peter Thiel and Christopher DeMuth, are doing to promote and exploit Trump’s political success for their own benefit. 

….the war to win was within the elite. It was a question of who would exploit the amour propre of the professional-managerial class and enlist it in a battle against the top 1 percent—or top .1 percent. Up until this point, the billionaire class had operated in near perfect conditions, with a Democratic Party that swooned over them and a Republican Party that was so conveniently repulsive to the top 10 percent that it drew their energy away from revolutionary rumbles. Much as the Bernie Sanders strategists wondered about how many Warrenites they could attract to socialism before she embarked on an inevitable voyage back to the center, so Krein and his cadre wanted to make National Conservatism a viable alternative for a new, more politically responsible elite that would not shy from war with the globalists.

“‘You’re a bunch of dopes and babies’: Inside Trump’s stunning tirade against generals”
[WaPo, via Naked Capitalism 1-17-20]

This article is adapted from “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America,” which will be published on Jan. 21 by Penguin Press.

[During a meeting in “The Tank” of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon]

Trump’s first complaint was to repeat what he had vented about to his national security adviser months earlier: South Korea should pay for a $10 billion missile defense system that the United States built for it. The system was designed to shoot down any short- and medium-range ballistic missiles from North Korea to protect South Korea and American troops stationed there. But Trump argued that the South Koreans should pay for it, proposing that the administration pull U.S. troops out of the region or bill the South Koreans for their protection.

“We should charge them rent,” Trump said of South Korea. “We should make them pay for our soldiers. We should make money off of everything.”

[A few weeks later, at a meeting in the Situation Room in the White House]

But there Trump was, struggling to come up with a new Afghanistan policy and frustrated that so many U.S. forces were deployed in so many places around the world. The conversation began to tilt in the same direction as it had in the Tank back in July.

“All these countries need to start paying us for the troops we are sending to their countries. We need to be making a profit,” Trump said. “We could turn a profit on this.”

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Nuclear update: Gen III dies an early death

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 19/01/2020 - 4:53pm in

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One of the more tenacious beliefs on the political right is that their support for nuclear power demonstrates superior rationality and openness to evidence. But the evidence is that, no matter what the structure of energy markets no one is willing to choose (new) nuclear power over any of the alternatives: gas, renewables and coal. That’s bad in the sense that the true costs of new and existing coal far exceed those of even new nuclear. But where those costs are factored in to decisions, it’s renewables (plus storage) that benefit.

Let’s look at the evidence. The World Nuclear Association currently lists “about 50” plants under construction, a number that’s been declining over time. A closer look reveals 47 plants, of which 23 are due to be completed this year or next (most are way behind schedule). The rest are due by 2026 reflecting the fact that hardly any have been started in recent years (a typical project takes 7-10 from initial construction to connection, if all goes well).

Adding in those modern (Gen III or III+) plants already in operation, the total contribution of modern nuclear to the world’s electricity generation capacity is likely to fall short of 100 GW, maybe equal to a couple of years of renewables (adjusted for differences in utilisation rates).

The only real hope is that of Small Modular Reactors, but even here the gap between claims and evidence is striking. Pro-nuclear advocates routinely write as if SMRs are an established solution, rather than a design that has so far not even reached the pilot plant stage.

If those on the political right would accept a market solution to decarbonizing electricity, including a carbon price and an option for SMRs, that would be a good deal for the environment. Sadly, there’s no sign of that happening. Rather, support for nuclear power is little more than an excuse for hippie-punching and intellectual self-congratulation.

The Knowledge of Childless Philosophers

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Continuing from the previous post on The WHY of Crazy Models, I attribute a large portion of the blame to massively wrong theories of knowledge. A little bit of study of epistemology is enough to give anyone a headache. Because of this, instead of investing the time and effort to decipher what the philosophers are saying, the rest of us are willing to take it on faith. No one is aware of the massive amount of damage done by philosophers – most philosophers themselves are unaware the tremendous influence that their failures in the past have had on the real world. Similarly, the non-philosophers are unaware of how deeply their thoughts have been affected by false and obsolete philosophies, now rejected by the philosophers. Keynes summed up the state of affairs nicely in his apt quote:  “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back” –  While Keynes thinks that practical men of affairs are slaves of economists, I believe that the economists and social scientists are slaves of defunct philosophers, without realizing this.

In preparing this post, I decided to review the theories of knowledge, to provide a brief sketch of how epistemology went astray, allowing us to create crazy models and to consider them as an advance on knowledge. I found a dismal historical record of one completely bizarre theory of knowledge opposed by another equally bizarre theory, and the conflicting theories are synthesized into yet another monstrosity by yet another big-name philosopher. Reading through this stuff led me to wonder: Did any of these philosophers have children? Anyone who watches a child grow and acquire knowledge would automatically avoid the monstrous mistakes made by these philosophers. A little research turned up the following amazing fact: Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant and Bentham all went unmarried. These are all the big names who have shaped Western philosophy in general, and the theory of knowledge in particular. We would all have been much wiser if only mothers, who have intimate knowledge of how children learn, would have been permitted to write about how human beings acquire knowledge, and what counts as knowledge. It is too late to implement this rule as the damage has been done, but perhaps burning the books of philosophers without children and expunging them from our collective memories might help make the world a better place. Sigh!

Coming back to the dreary task at hand, of reviewing blunder after bigger blunder in the theories of knowledge, I should acknowledge that it is impossible to cover centuries of speculative philosophy in a few paragraphs. For a serious book length effort, see Manicas: The History and Philosophy of the Social Sciences. Some quotes from his introduction summarize the points that I wish to make:

  1. the very idea of science is contestable“.  This is significant because modern European theories of knowledge all originate in the rejection of Christianity in the West. When Europeans realized that masses could be deluded into believing in false Gods, they decided to study intensively what should be counted as knowledge, and how it can be acquired, so as to avoid such mass deceptions in the future. The collective decision was made to take “science” as the model for valid production of knowledge. See my article on “The Deification of Science, and its Disastrous Consequence“ for more details about this.
  2. There was, for a very long time, a very stable notion of ‘science’, and that this very stable idea of science has been the point of departure taken for granted by all parties“. All Western theories of knowledge (from the post-Newton era to Kuhn) were based on the starting point that “Western science” is knowledge – how do we develop an epistemology which can prove this?
  3. it is only very recently that radically different understandings of the nature of science have become serious alternatives.” T. S. Kuhn is a landmark here, as his historical studies dramatically altered the image of science. Also of great value in this connection is Chapter 1: The Heroic Image of Science in Appleby, Hunt, and Jacob “Telling the Truth About History”.
  4. The upshot is the possibility of a thoroughgoing revolution in the received ideas of science, natural and social. … disastrously, the social sciences (are) based on a misconception about what the physical sciences are.” The necessity of inventing a philosophy which makes “science” the only valid source of human knowledge created a hugely distorted theory of knowledge. The social sciences were created on the basis of this misconception, and as a result have fundamentally flawed foundations.

While it is impossible to provide a brief sketch of the twists and turns in Western epistemology, we can identify three flawed schools of thought, which are described below. Amazingly, modern economic methodology is based on accepting the central defects of all three opposing philosophies — this must be seen as a tremendous feat, made possible only by deep ignorance of the philosophical backgrounds. The three schools of thought about human knowledge, together with their flaws, are briefly described below:

  1. The Rationalist School – (Descartes, Spinoza, Liebniz) – These philosophers wanted to derive all knowledge from reason. Start with incontrovertible hypotheses (axioms) and use logic to derive certain conclusions. Kant noted that one can only get analytic truths by this method. The conclusions are logically contained in the premises, and nothing new can be added. Synthetic truths, which depend on examination of external reality, cannot be deduced from an axiomatic approach.
  2. The Empiricist School – (Locke, Berkeley, Hume) – These philosophers thought that our observations (sensory impressions) are the sole source of reliable knowledge. Against them, Kant argued that there are many things we know about external reality (such as causality) which cannot be observed.
  3. Transcendental Idealism: Kant noted that science was impossible on empiricist or rationalist basis for knowledge. One cannot discover (synthetic) truths about external reality, starting from self-evident axioms and applying deductive logic. Also, many important structures of external reality, essential to science,  are not part of the observational data, and indeed, are inherently unobservable. As a solution, he proposed to equip the mind with powers to organize inchoate sense data into a coherent picture of reality.  

All three of these philosophies of human knowledge are mistakes. All three mistakes are incorporated in the methodology currently in use in economics. The Rationalist mistake is that a hypothetico-deductive system cannot generate knowledge which is not already contained in the axioms. Thus, such a methodology is incapable for learning from experience. As noted by Manicas, the social sciences are based on a misconception about what the physical sciences are.  This (Rationalist) misconception about scientific theory is explicitly stated by Lionel Robbins, the founder of the modern positivist approach to economics:

The propositions of economic theory, like all scientific theory, are obviously deductions from a series of postulates. And the chief of these postulates are all assumptions involving in some way simple and indisputable facts of experience…” (See past post on Methodology of Modern Economics).

The second mistake is the Empiricist misconception that observables are part of science, while unobservables cannot be. A simple illustration of this is the attempt to reduce preference to choice under the misconception that the invisible preferences of our hearts cannot be part of a scientific theory. For a sketch of Samuelson’s mistake in equating choices with preferences see my post on Foundations of Probability 7.  Denial of the existence of uncertainty (as opposed to risk) has been one of the more disastrous consequence of denying the the existence of the underlying preferences (and differentiating them from the choices which are guided by them, but distinct from them). For a detailed explanation of this, see my sequence of posts on the  Foundations of Probability .

Denial of the unobservable is the “epistemic fallacy“, or the ostrich fallacy in less polite terms. If I cannot see it, it does not exist. Anyone who reflects on the nature of science will come the realization that scientific theories depend deeply on unobservable objects and effects. Kant realized that scientific theories provided us with knowledge which was neither “empirical” (facts we can perceive by sensory experience) nor “rational” (logical deductions from self-evident axioms). His mistake was a sophisticated version of the epistemic fallacy. He argued that if we cannot observe it, we can ignore it (bad advice for the ostrich).  He argued that even if reality has complex unobservable structures, we have no access to these structures. So, the unobservable structures that we imagine to be a part of external reality (like causality, persistence of objects in time and space, and many others) are actually projections of our mind onto the observable reality (It seems that ostriches have read Kant). These complex structures are “ideas” in our minds, and have no correlation with external reality.

This third (Kantian) mistake is manifest in the vast majority of models created by economic theories. Arrow and Debreu imagine a world of consumers and commodities where frictionless trade takes place across time and space.  Economists feel free to imagine that we are all engaged in a game with rules and payoffs that they can make up, as long as the outcomes calculated by theoretical means correspond to the observable. The fact that these rules and payoffs exists only in the mind of the theorist, and they have no correspondence to any structures of external reality is of no importance.

Philosophers have made substantial progress in their understanding of the nature of science. Bhaskar’s Critical Realism is able to account for two aspects of scientific knowledge which previous philosophies could not. One is the social nature of science, and the second is the depth of discoveries about unobservable objects and effects in external reality. The propagation of knowledge across disciplines in the social sciences appears to take place with enormous lags. Economists are still using methodologies based on philosophies of science which were discarded and forgotten by philosophers a long time ago. Progress in economics requires abandonment of obsolete philosophies, but the task is made much more difficult by the fact that these philosophies are buried in the foundations of how the subject is formulated and presented to students. These are passed on from generation to generation, and remain unexamined, and unquestioned.

 

 

 

 

 

Yes Minister Fan Fiction

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I have been rather unwell this last week with atrial fibrillation, and at 5am last Sunday morning had the paramedics out and puzzling over the ECG results. This particularly severe episode was a result of being out in the cold and storm for hours on the AUOB march, and I felt so guilty at being a self-inflicted drain on the NHS that I declined their offer to take me into hospital and decided to recover at home.

I did however get to thinking about whether, had I indeed toddled off on my next great adventure, I would regret holding information which I had not imparted to you. Well, I couldn’t in those circumstances regret not having imparted it as I would be deid, but you know what I mean. As it happened the thing I found I was most worried about not being able to impart was not, at least on its surface, a case of world sweeping importance, but rather of individual injustice. Though the surface often hides a great deal.

Anyway, having recovered I was saddened by the death of Derek Fowlds, who to me was always Mr Derek of Basil Brush. In fact I remember my confusion when Mr Derek replaced Mr Rodney, who I only learnt this week was in fact Rodney Bewes, another great comic actor of whose wider work I was at primary school unaware. Derek Fowlds of course became most famous in his brilliant role as Bernard in Yes Minister. Lying in bed getting better, I decided to while away the time by writing some Yes Minister fan fiction in tribute.

As with the original series, although based on a realistic civil service scenario dealing with similar events to those the civil service actually deals with, this conversation between a Minister and Permanent Secretary is purely fictional. No real situation is alluded to and any resemblance between the people and situations portrayed here and anything that is happening in real life is entirely accidental. Please do not attempt in the comments section to relate this entirely fictional hommage to Yes Minister to any actual events involving any actual court cases. Because you might wander into contempt of court.

This is of course my first Yes Minister effort.

FIRST YES MINISTER

Perm Sec. You see Minister, all you have to do is destroy your predecessor’s reputation. In the modern “Me Too” atmosphere, you accuse someone of sexual offences and politically they are finished. In fact you can do what you like to him.
Minister Like Julian Assange?
Perm Sec Exactly, Minister. Like Julian Assange. We yelled “rape” at him and then had to do nothing else. The left themselves destroyed him, led by the feminists of course. You see Minister, we feminists can be useful sometimes. (Canned Laughter)
Minister Yes, by the time they had finished with him, the government could torture him to death in plain sight and nobody cared.
Perm Sec Precisely Minister, and the hilarious thing was that there never was any rape and we never had to produce any evidence in court.
Minister Yes, brilliant. But it’s not an exact parallel with Orpheus though, is it Permanent Secretary? We don’t have any extradition request for Orpheus once any sexual charges fall.
Perm Sec The charges won’t fall, Minister, they won’t fall. We will get him found guilty.
Minister But he isn’t actually a rapist, you know. Not one of these incidents looks anything like rape. In fact they are all very flimsy. There isn’t one single independent witness and I don’t think any of them could be proven in court.
Perm Sec Please don’t worry yourself. It doesn’t matter, Minister. All we need is the word “rape” in the newspaper headlines. “Attempted rape” will do. You just tell the prosecutor to get the word out there, spread it in the media and Orpheus is finished.
Minister Even if he is not guilty?
Perm Sec He will be guilty. Whether he is guilty is irrelevant, he will be found guilty. This is where we use “more of”.
Minister “More of”?
Perm Sec Yes, “More of”. It’s not an official legal term, but all the lawyers know it as the oldest trick in the prosecutor’s book.
Minister What do you mean, Permanent Secretary?
Perm Sec Well look, we have the canoodling episode, the kiss in the office and a couple of suggestive remarks about sexy clothes.
Minister The sexy remarks are hardly illegal, are they?
Perm Sec Good God, Minister, what century are you in? (Canned Laughter). Sexual harassment, Minister. Kiss someone at the office party and tell someone else their figure looks good in that blouse, and you have established a pattern of behaviour. “More of” you see, Minister. The “more of” this stuff you throw, the better chance some of it will stick.
Minister But we don’t have that many instances. We went through absolutely everything. We had a team of 24 policemen working on it for 10 months and this was all we can find.
Perm Sec It is time to get creative then, Minister. We need more women to make allegations. In these circumstances it is always best to keep things close. Activate the women you know, Minister, activate the women you know.
Minister I don’t have that many friends, Permanent Secretary. I spend all my time reading books. (Canned Laughter).
Perm Sec Oh really, Minister, think. You must have some women very close to you.
Minister Well, there is Miss Barclay, my own Private Secretary.
Perm Sec Perfect, Minister perfect! Miss Barclay should be good for at least four allegations! Get her to say he tried to kiss her. Often.
Minister But surely nobody will believe my own Private Secretary – and she was involved in putting the dossier together and in discussions on handling the case. Nobody is going to believe her. And (gasps in horror) it really leads straight back to me being behind it, doesn’t it?
Perm Sec It can’t be traced back to you, Minister.
Minister Phew, that’s a relief. It can’t be traced back to me you say. How does that work?
Perm Sec Accuser anonymity, Minister.
Minister Accuser anon… oh yes! Oh yes! I am beginning to see!! They are sexual allegations so…
Perm Sec The identities of the accusers can be kept hidden by the court under penalty of severe jail sentences for anybody who reveals them so…
Minister …the accusers can just be my closest political cronies and the public will never be aware of that! That’s brilliant, Perm Sec!
Perm Sec Thank you, Minister (Canned Laughter)
Minister And thank God for that, because if the party faithful thought that I was trying to stitch up my predecessor they would have my guts for garters (Canned Laughter).
Perm Sec Heaven forfend, Minister!
Minister What? Oh too right. I was just thinking, Permanent Secretary, you know I am starting to get the hang of this. What about old Marmalade? He is very keen to get back into parliament and sees himself as a potential successor.
Perm Sec Marmalade? Well I suppose if we start adding in gay allegations, it does give a slightly more exotic tinge for the tabloids.
Minister I was thinking more of his wife, Permanent Secretary. If the old Marmalade family want a nice safe seat in the capital, let them do something to earn it.
Perm Sec Indeed, Minister. And is the wife not a former Special Adviser?
Minister Yes, is that a problem?
Perm Sec On the contrary, Minister. You see it is very useful. A SPAD is of course only a particularly spotty political hack whom politicians have conned the taxpayer into paying, but technically a SPAD is still a form of civil servant.
Minister Yes, and what of it?
Perm Sec Well, the words “civil servant” convey integrity, honesty and trustworthiness. (Canned laughter). We can leak to the tabloids that one of the accusers is a civil servant, and people will believe it must be genuine and independent. Very cunning idea if I may say so, Minister.
Minister Was it? Oh yes, I am cunning, aren’t I. (Canned laughter). But I still worry that none of the accusations is going to be individually convincing.
Perm Sec Doesn’t matter, Minister, doesn’t matter. Remember “More of”. Quantity not quality, Minister, quantity not quality. They don’t have to be individually convincing, just to give the impression of no smoke without fire.
Minister Oh well, I understand that now. In that case I can think of three or four more women very close to us indeed who can make allegations, if independence or credibility are not important and nobody will ever know who they were.
Perm Sec Volume is important, Minister, volume. It does not have to be heavy stuff. Just get them to allege an attempted kiss here, a brush of the hand on the bum as they were going out the door there.
Minister To build a pattern of behaviour.
Perm Sec Precisely, Minister, precisely. To build a pattern of behaviour. I see you have got it.
Minister But isn’t there a problem here, Permanent Secretary? If this man was a sexual predator on a large scale, there would be whispers for years and people in political circles would surely know. But he doesn’t have that reputation at all.
Perm Sec Don’t worry, Minister, he soon will have that reputation. (Canned Laughter). The media will believe it because we will tell them to believe it. And once the media believe something, the population will believe it too. Every politician has enemies, Minister, Orpheus more than most.
Minister But isn’t there a potential danger here, Permanent Secretary? I mean all of this is nonsense, so won’t he be acquitted and emerge possibly stronger than before?
Perm Sec Don’t worry, Minister, he won’t be acquitted. We have a legally invincible alliance on our side. “More of” is powerful, but “more of” combined with “home” becomes an irresistible force.
Minister (puzzled) “More of” and “home”.
Perm Sec Yes Minister. Answer me this. What does a jury want more than anything?
Minister To do justice?
Perm Sec Wrong, Minister, wrong. Home. A jury wants to go home. (Canned Laughter) Jurors are ripped away from their homes, jobs and families for weeks. At the end of it they are locked in a stuffy room with other jurors they don’t like, and not allowed to go home until they have all reached a verdict. So what do they do to reach agreement?
Minister Aaah, I see now. They compromise.
Perm Sec Exactly, Minister. They will compromise. It’s a natural human instinct to avoid conflict. There will be some people who think him totally innocent as nothing was individually proven, but there will be others who will think he must have done something wrong or there could not possibly be so many accusations. The power of “more of”. Of course they will chuck out the “attempted rape” very quickly as obvious nonsense. In the end they will find him not guilty on nearly all counts, but as a compromise will convict him of stroking someone’s hair, patting their bum or saying they look sexy.
Minister But surely he will hardly be jailed for that?
Perm Sec Doesn’t matter, Minister. “Rapist” will already be firmly printed on the public mind, and so long as we have the magic word “guilty” it does not matter what he is guilty of. And it can’t fail. With so many charges, the jury is simply bound to find him guilty of something so they can compromise and all go home.
Minister Brilliant, Permanent Secretary, brilliant.
Perm Sec Thank you.
Minister So that’s finally going to put a stake through his heart. No more Frank Sinatra comebacks and no more Quixotic campaigns chasing unicorns.
Perm Sec Yes, Minister.

The post Yes Minister Fan Fiction appeared first on Craig Murray.

Economic growth and carbon emissions are closely linked.

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Bolsonaro, Under Fire, Dismisses His Culture Minister For Giving a Nazi Speech, But It Is Still Representative of Brazil’s Governing Ethos

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 19/01/2020 - 1:09am in

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, under severe pressure from multiple corners, on Friday fired his Culture Minister, Roberto Alvim, for recording and publishing what can only be described — with no hyperbole — as a Nazi speech about Brazilian art. Indeed, the speech, published by Alvim on Thursday, plagiarized Hitler’s Minister of Culture and Communications Joseph Goebbels and deliberately copied his style and aesthetic when decreeing what Brazilian art must be in the years to come:

“The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and national. It will be endowed with a great capacity for emotional involvement and will be equally imperative, since it is deeply linked to the urgent aspirations of our people, or else it will be nothing” — Roberto Alvin, Brazil’s Culture Minister, January 15, 2020.

“The German art of the next decade will be heroic, romantic, objective and free of sentimentality, national with great pathos and equally imperative and binding, or nothing” — Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Culture Minister, October 8, 1933.

The Nazi content, style and aesthetics of the 6-minute speech, set to the score of a Wagnerian opera, are impossible to overstate or even adequately describe in words. It has to be seen to be believed. For that reason, the Intercept has translated the video of the speech and is publishing the first English-subtitled copy of it because it should be seen by everyone:

Brazil’s O Globo newspaper featured this surreal headline on its front page: “Bolsonaro fires Culture Minister after he copies Nazi speech.” The German paper Deutsche Welle featured the photo of the 1933 speech of Goebbels which Alvim copied next to the one delivered by the Brazilian Culture Minister to juxtapose how similar it was on all levels, beyond just the words:

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Deutsche Welle

The content of Thursday’s speech was nothing new for Alvim, once a respected theatre director who re-invented himself as a far-right religious fanatic. In his short stint as Bolsonaro’s Culture Minister and in the months leading up to his appointment by the Brazilian president, he has issued a series of similarly shocking comments, just not quite as shocking as blatantly and deliberately mimicking the speech, style and mannerisms of Adolf Hitler’s most notorious propagandist. 

On social media, he has declared himself fighting a “cultural war” in favor of “conservative artists”; denounced one of Brazil’s most beloved actresses, the 90-year-old Fernanda Montenegro, as a “dirty liar” for whom he harbors “contempt”; and attacked the Brazilian filmmaker Petra Costa, whose documentary “Edge of Democracy” was just nominated for an Academy Award, as a leftist propagandist disseminating lies.

Notably, Alvim was fired only after the embassies of Germany and, far more importantly to Bolsonaro, Israel issued condemnations containing harsh language rare for diplomatic communications. The Israeli Confederation of Brazil said: “Such a person cannot command the culture of our country and must be removed from office immediately.” The German Embassy in Brazil said: “The period of National Socialism is the darkest chapter in German history, bringing infinite suffering to humanity….We oppose any attempt to trivialize or even glorify the era of National Socialism.” The center-right presidents of the Brazilian Senate and House also demanded Alvim’s firing, leaving Bolsonaro with little choice. When announcing the firing, Bolsonaro called the speech “an unfortunate pronouncement.”

But it is difficult to believe that absent those reactions, Bolsonaro would have fired his Culture Minister, whom he has repeatedly defended and praised, including in a Facebook live chat immediately prior to the instantly notorious Nazi speech, hailing him as representative of “the real culture.” Sitting with Alvim prior to his speech, the Brazilian president said: “Beside me, here, Roberto Alvim, our Culture Secretary. Now we do have a real Culture Secretary, that serves the interest of the majority of the Brazilian population, conservative and Christian population.”

Whatever else is true, Alvim’s speech, though more stylistically extreme and indelicate in how crassly it copied pure Nazisms, is consistent in content with the posture of the Bolsonaro government toward artistic expression and cultural norms generally. Bolsonaro — though currently on his third wife while still claiming to be devoutly Catholic — has also adopted a form of evangelic fanaticism, a rapidly growing political force in the country, as part of his public identity and ideology (his current wife is evangelical).

Bolsonaro, somewhat ironically in light of the current controversy, has also made unyielding devotion to Israel critical to his political and religious identity (he has traveled to Israel repeatedly, offered unstinting support for the Netanyahu government against Palestinians, and was baptized in 2016 in the Jordan River while the Brazilian Senate voted to impeach the center-left president Dilma Rousseff). 

 

While all of this has caused many of Brazil’s small Jewish communities in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to support him, it has little to do with affection for Jews. Like many evangelicals, Bolsonaro appears to believe in some form of the Rapture (which, in its crudest form, holds that Israel must be united in order for Jesus to return and send all non-believers (including Jews) to hell), and like many authoritarians, adores Israel’s capacity of military and intelligence superiority and its animus towards Muslims, and wants as much of its surveillance technology as he can get for domestic purposes. As is true of many far-right leaders, Bolsonaro worships Israel but not necessarily Jews.

Aggressive and harsh public morality is a central prong of Bolsonaro’s political appeal. He featured as part of his 2018 campaign cultural themes similar to Alvim’s speech — including a false but highly effective warning that elementary school teachers were using something he calls “gay kits” to convert young children in order to allow homosexuals to recruit them as sex partners — and generally has waged a war on any art or artists who diverge from Bolsonaro’s vision of what pure nationalist art is. One of Alvim’s predecessors as Culture Minister resigned after the Bolsonaro government cut funding specifically to LGBT-themed art. 

Earlier this week, Academy Award nominations were unveiled and one of the five contenders for Best Documentary was a Netflix film by the Brazilian director Petra Costa called “Edge of Democracy,” which warns of the dangers faced by Brazilian democracy. Though the film principally focuses not on Bolsonaro but on the impeachment of Dilma and imprisonment and election-barring of Lula, it has become a target of contempt by the Brazilian Right. After it received its Oscar nod, both Alvim and Bolsonaro publicly denounced the film as leftist agitprop “fiction” (though Bolsonaro, when asked, acknowledged he never saw it).

A far graver assault on artistic expression occurred on Christmas Eve when a member of the right-wing party to which Bolsonaro belonged until recently threw a Molotov Cocktail at the building that houses Porta das Fundos, the production company responsible for a Netflix film that features a gay Jesus with a boyfriend. Bolsonaro’s Congressman-son had inveighed against the film as “trash.” Last week, a Bolsonaro-linked right-wing judge stunned the country, and Netflix, by issuing a censorship order forcing Netflix to remove the film from its streaming platform, a ruling overturned by a Justice of the Supreme Court.

Nazi-style nationalism and crude public assaults have been repeatedly featured by Bolsonaro in his remarks to journalists. On Thursady, addressing a new book critical of his government by a Brazilian reporter of Japanese descent, Thaís Oyama, Bolsonaro said he does not know what she is doing in Brazil, adding: “This journalist … In Japan she was going to starve to death.”

Last month, in response to a reporter’s question about the still-unfolding scandal involving his Senator-son’s corruption and the family’s links to violent paramilitary militias, the president said “you have a terribly gay face,” and told another reporter to “ask your mother about your father.” When questioned earlier this week about a scandal involving his Communications Minister who has private contracts with the same television outlets whose public budget he is responsible for determining, the president responded: “are you talking about your mother?”

A report issued earlier this week by a press freedom group documented that Bolsonaro is directly responsible for the majority of the attacks on journalists and media outlets. It cited, among other things, Bolsonaro’s repeated public incitements against journalists as well as his public threats that I might be imprisoned for the series of exposés published this year by the Intercept about his Justice Minister and his accusations that my marriage to a Brazilian Congressman and adoption of Brazilian children was a fraud.

Earlier this month, Bolsonaro pronounced that books in schools have too much content and need to be made “softer” and warned that “beginning in 2021, all the books will be ours,” proclaiming that they will have the Brazilian flag and national anthem on their cover. He added that “they will be made for us. The country will vibrate…. There will be the Brazilian flag on the cover, there will be the national anthem there.” He claimed that the “idiots” who have been in charge of Brazilian education have been propagandizing children with the “gender of ideology” that “encourages boys to wear skirts” and “other things that I don’t want to talk about here.” On Thursday, he said leftists “do not deserve to be treated like normal people.”

In sum, Bolsonaro has spent years spouting classically fascist ideology. The manifestation of undisguised Nazism by his Culture Minister was just a slightly more crass and naked expression of his ideology and mentality. Many Brazilian elites who supported Bolsonaro largely because of their admiration for his Chicago-trained, austerity-loving Economics Minister Paulo Gedes and his corrupt law-and-order Justice Minister Sergio Moro (the subject of the 2019 Intercept’s exposés) are now feigning shock and outrage. But Alvim’s speech simply shined a light on the true face of the Bolsonaro movement — one which all to many political and media elites decided to ignore, or pretend was just a game, because they were eager for the parts of Bolsonaro’s ideology that served their interests.

The post Bolsonaro, Under Fire, Dismisses His Culture Minister For Giving a Nazi Speech, But It Is Still Representative of Brazil’s Governing Ethos appeared first on The Intercept.

Nonviolent Protest Groups Placed on Anti-Terrorism List

Last week it was revealed by the Groaniad that the environmentalist group, Extinction Rebellion, had been put on a list of extremist organisations, whose sympathisers should be treated by the Prevent programme. Extinction Rebellion are, in my view, a royal pain, whose disruptive antics are more likely to make them lose popular support but they certainly aren’t violent and do keep within the law. For example, in one of their protests in Bristol last autumn, they stopped the traffic for short periods and then let some cars through before stopping the traffic again. It was a nuisance, which is what the group intended, and no doubt infuriating to those inconvenienced by it. But they kept within the law. They therefore don’t deserve to be put on an anti-terrorism watch list with real violent extremist organisations like Islamist and White fascist terror groups such as the banned neo-Nazi group, National Action.

But Extinction Rebellion aren’t the only nonviolent protest group to be put on this wretched list. Zelo Street put up a piece yesterday revealing that the list also includes Greenpeace, the campaigners against sea pollution, Sea Shepherd, PETA, Stop the Badger Cull, Stop the War, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, CND, various anti-Fascist and anti-racist groups, as well as an anti-police surveillance group, campaigners against airport expansion, and Communist and Socialist parties.

I can sort of understand why Greenpeace is on the list. They also organise protests and peaceful occupations, and I remember how, during the ‘Save the Whale’ campaign, their ship, the Rainbow Warrior, used to come between whalers and their prey. I also remember how, in the 1980s, the French secret service bombed it when it was in port in New Zealand, because the evil peaceful hippies had dared to protest against their nuclear tests in the Pacific. From this, and their inclusion on this wretched list, it seems they’re more likely to be victims of state violence than the perpetrators of violence themselves.

Greenpeace’s John Sauven said

“Tarring environmental campaigners and terrorist organisations with the same brush is not going to help fight terrorism … It will only harm the reputation of hard-working police officers … How can we possibly teach children about the devastation caused by the climate emergency while at the same implying that those trying to stop it are extremists?”

And Prevent’s independent reviewer, Alex Carlile, said:

“The Prevent strategy is meant to deal with violent extremism, with terrorism, and XR are not violent terrorists. They are disruptive campaigners”.

Zelo Street commented that this was all very 1960s establishment paranoia. Which it is. You wonder if the list also includes anyone, who gave the list’s compilers a funny look once. And whether they’re going to follow the example of Constable Savage in the Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch and arrest gentlemen of colour for wandering around during the hours of darkness wearing a loud shirt. This is a joke, but the list represents are real danger. It criminalises any kind of protest, even when its peaceful. About a decade ago, for example, Stop the War held a protest in Bristol city centre. They were out there with their banners and trestle tables, chanting and speaking. Their material, for what I could see where I was, simply pointed out that the invasion of Iraq had claimed 200,000 lives. They were on the pavement, as I recall, didn’t disrupt the traffic and didn’t start a fight with anyone.

As for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, this is a knee-jerk attempt to link pro-Palestinian activism with terrorism. But wanting the Palestinians to be given their own land or to enjoy equal rights with Israelis in a modern, ethnically and religious diverse and tolerant state, does not equate with sympathy for terrorism or terrorism itself. Tony Greenstein, Asa Winstanley and Jackie Walker are also pro-Palestinian activists. But as far as I know, they’re all peaceful, nonviolent people. Walker’s a granny in her early 60’s, for heaven’s sake. They’re all far more likely to be the victims of violence than ever initiate it. In fact, Tony was physically assaulted in an unprovoked attack by an irate Israeli, while one woman from one of the pro-Israel organisations was caught on camera saying how she thought she could ‘take’ Jackie.

I realise the Stop the Badger Cull people have also physically tried to stop the government killing badgers, but this is again disruption, not violence. And one of those against the cull is Brian May, astrophysicist and rock legend. Apart from producing some of the most awesome music with Freddy Mercury and the rest of Queen, and appearing on pop science programmes with Dara O’Brien showing people round the Jodrell Bank radio telescope, he has not, not ever, been involved in political violence.

This shows you how ludicrous the list is. But it’s also deeply sinister, as by recommending that supporters of these organisations as well as real terrorist groups should be dealt with by Prevent, it defines them as a kind of thoughtcrime. Their members are to be rounded up and reeducated. Which is itself the attitude and method of suppression of totalitarian states.

Zelo Street pointed the finger for this monstrous shambles at Priti Patel. As current Home Secretary, she’s ultimately responsible for it. The Street wanted to know whether she knew about it and when? And if she didn’t, what’s she doing holding the job? But there’s been no answer so far. And a police spokesperson said it was unhelpful and misleading to suggest the nonviolent groups on the list had been smeared.

The Street said it was time for Patel to get her house in order, but warned its readers not to bet on it. No, you shouldn’t. This is an attempt to criminalise non-violent protest against capitalism and the actions of the authorities and British state. It’s the same attitude that informed the British secret state’s attempts to disrupt and destroy similar and sometimes the same protest movements in the 70s and 80s, like CND. And it will get worse. A few years ago Counterpunch published a piece reporting that the American armed services and police were expecting violent outbreaks and domestic terrorism in the 2030s as the poverty caused by neoliberalism increased. They were therefore devising new methods of militarised policing to combat this. We can expect similar repressive measures over this side of the Atlantic as well.

This list is a real threat to freedom of conscience, peaceful protest and action. And the ultimate responsibility for it is the Tories. Who have always been on the side of big business against the rest of society, and particularly the poor and disadvantaged.

They’re criminalising those, who seek peaceful means to fight back.

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