Thursday, February 26, 2009

Coen Brothers direct an anti-Clean Coal ad. Enjoy:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Scenes from the New Depression, via BBC:

Most Famous Pundits=Most Wrong. From Stanford Psychologist Philip Tetlock did an analysis of pundit predictions to see if there were any strong correlations between aspects of the pundit and the degree to which they made accurate and inaccurate predictions. Turns out, being more famous had the strongest correlation with being wrong in one's predictions:
He initially looked at whether accuracy was related to having a Ph.D., being an economist or political scientist rather than a blowhard journalist, having policy experience or access to classified information, or being a realist or neocon, liberal or conservative. The answers were no on all counts. The best predictor, in a backward sort of way, was fame: the more feted by the media, the worse a pundit's accuracy. And therein lay Tetlock's first clue. The media's preferred pundits are forceful, confident and decisive, not tentative and balanced.
I didn't need a crystal ball to see that one coming. Blowhards like O'Reilly, Limbaugh, and, yes, Franken, tend to prefer getting a rise to being right.
Testing. What just happened to my blog?
A Fraud Bigger than Madoff. The Independent has a story on the looting of Iraq by American contractors. It's pretty astounding how much the Iraqi people were taken for:
Despite the vast sums expended on rebuilding by the US since 2003, there have been no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline except those at work building a new US embassy and others rusting beside a half-built giant mosque that Saddam was constructing when he was overthrown. One of the few visible signs of government work on Baghdad's infrastructure is a tireless attention to planting palm trees and flowers in the centre strip between main roads. Those are then dug up and replanted a few months later.

Iraqi leaders are convinced that the theft or waste of huge sums of US and Iraqi government money could have happened only if senior US officials were themselves involved in the corruption. In 2004-05, the entire Iraq military procurement budget of $1.3bn was siphoned off from the Iraqi Defence Ministry in return for 28-year-old Soviet helicopters too obsolete to fly and armoured cars easily penetrated by rifle bullets. Iraqi officials were blamed for the theft, but US military officials were largely in control of the Defence Ministry at the time and must have been either highly negligent or participants in the fraud.
As Woody Guthrie said, "Some may rob you with a six gun, and some with a fountain pen."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

Liberals have, for a while, been pointing out how hypocritical it is that people can die for "our" country, but can still be denied citizenship after they fight. Well, that debate is over, because the military is now offering a path to citizenship:
Immigrants who are permanent residents, with documents commonly known as green cards, have long been eligible to enlist. But the new effort, for the first time since the Vietnam War, will open the armed forces to temporary immigrants if they have lived in the United States for a minimum of two years, according to military officials familiar with the plan.
Of course, the fact of the matter is that this creates a huge incentive for military enlistment - people now have a very strong reason to enlist even if they have no interest in the military. Given the army's general views on politics, I would assume that this move on the part of the U.S. military (obviously with the aid of congress) has very little to do with the liberal desire for a global community with free citizenship for all, and quite a bit to do with military expansion and the need for bodies (variable capital) to man the machines (fixed capital).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

This piece by Steve Keen on his Debtwatch blog is very enlightening and also - for the five people in the world who have any faith that massive payouts to banks and the printing of money are going to get us out of recession (or, dare I say it, depression) - very distressing. He argues that we do not live in a world where printed money precedes credit; in fact, it is the reverse, the overextension of credit creates the need for the Fed to print more money. Keen argues that this is the normal functioning of a credit market. His argument is very compelling.

Note Bernanke’s assumption (highlighted above) [that if the feds print massive amounts of money, a "helicopter effect will occur, and inflation will counteract the rampant deflation created by stagnant credit] in his argument that printing money would always ultimately cause inflation: “under a fiat money system“. The point made by endogenous money theorists is that we don’t live in a fiat-money system, but in a credit-money system which has had a relatively small and subservient fiat money system tacked onto it.

We are therefore not in a “fractional reserve banking system”, but in a credit-money one, where the dynamics of money and debt are vastly different to those assumed by Bernanke and neoclassical economics in general.[10]

Calling our current financial system a “fiat money” or “fractional reserve banking system” is akin to the blind man who classified an elephant as a snake, because he felt its trunk. We live in a credit money system with a fiat money subsystem that has some independence, but certainly doesn’t rule the monetary roost—far from it.

Bernanke thinks it's really cute when Geithner stands up with his paws in the air, "like he's people"

Keen, an economist at Western Sydney University, is someone whose work I have just found, but who seems to offer a needed corrective to econometrics. As he says in this description of his method, he is taking a very different approach:
While I am an academic economist, I don’t build nor believe in the type of econometric models that dominate economics these days–generally so-called “New Keynesian” or “Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium” models.

Instead I build nonlinear dynamic models based on Minsky’s “Financial Instability Hypothesis”, and I have started constructing a strictly monetary model of a pure credit economy.

My predictions based on these models are qualitative rather than quantitative, but on the grounds of Minsky’s extremely prescient hypothesis the sheer scale of private debt that has been accumulated, and the abundant historical data on debt with which we can review past economic performance in the light of Minsky’s hypothesis, I have been arguing that this crisis is beyond bailouts.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Toward a better understanding of wikipedia:
Despite warnings from many high-school teachers and college professors, Wikipedia is one of the most-visited websites in the world (not to mention the biggest encyclopedia ever created). But even as Wikipedia's popularity has grown, so has the debate over its trustworthiness. One of the most serious concerns remains the fact that its articles are written and edited by a hidden army of people with unknown interests and biases.

Ed Chi, a senior research scientist for augmented social cognition at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and his colleagues have now created a tool, called WikiDashboard, that aims to reveal much of the normally hidden back-and-forth behind Wikipedia's most controversial pages in order to help readers judge for themselves how suspect its contents might be.
The people who malign wikipedia tend to be blockheads who think that people are completely incapable of filtering information on their own. But I applaud this tool, which significantly aids in the filtering of information. My own experience with wikipedia is that political figures and pharmaceuticals tend to be very scrubbed and full of disinformation; posts in the humanities tend to be too short and lacking a great deal of information; and posts on the sciences and mathematics tend to feature everything you could possibly want to know about a subject with very few organizing principles. The tool is useful, straightforward, and astoundingly simple.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

I found a new blog that some of you (whoever you are) might be interested in. It's, a blog written by Robert Neuwirth, a journalist who spent four years living in squatter communities around the globe, working on a book entitled Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World. The blog Squattercity is a collection of blurbs and news items on squatter towns around the globe. A large portion of the blog focuses on evictions, but there is also a great deal on the nature of squatting, squatter networks, the politics of squatting, and so forth. Check it out.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Judd Gregg: bad cabinet pick or worst cabinet pick? Judd Gregg was such a bad pick. More and more people are sounding off on this. At Open Left, Chris Bowers discusses his lifetime Progressive Punch rating of 10.08 out of 100.00. At Climate Progress, what comes to the fore is, naturally, his terrible record on the climate. To top it all off, it looks like they're not even going to replace him with a Democratic senator, which, it would seem, would be the entire point of putting such a schmuck on your cabinet in the first place. Good grief, says Charlie Brown.

Monday, February 2, 2009

From Mark Bousquet's "How the University Works" blog, I found the following interview with graduate student strikers at NYU (who lost when the NLRB ruled against them; NB: this was under the Bush administration). There's several interesting moments in this interview, but I was particularly interested in when the guy in front points, at the end, that while academia is expanding its understanding of what constitutes work (or labor) - affective labor, domestic work, intellectual labor - corporate legal practice is trying to narrow that definition. I'm not sure this is quite accurate, but the point is very illuminating to me. Instead, he perhaps should have pointed out that, as the labor force becomes increasingly non-industrial, it becomes easier for corporations to deny unionization to those facets of the workforce that try to attain it, by denying their status as workers, etc. There are, of course, a number of other social processes involved here; but the point is nevertheless very illuminating (to me, at least.)

I've compiled all of the Superbowl commercials from this year that either talk about the economic downturn, the misery of working, or downsizing. The most depressing is the first one, an ad for that appeared in the third quarter. Also, although the GM Robot commercial didn't appear in this Superbowl, I thought I would include it to demonstrate how unbelievably insensitive GM advertising executives are to their labor force (second ad down). Granted, when the ad aired in 2007, GM appeared to be doing just fine. In any case, it is far more depressing right now than it was then.