Friday, October 30, 2009

Wall Street got it wrong and very nearly threw the world into Great Depression II

Now we are traveling through the Great Bush Recession with no real economic road map to get us out of it. The free market in investment banking failed and there is no alternative yet. To compound the problem the media is spreading happy talk again about how the recession is over, and the economists have been touting the fact that for the first time in a year the GDP increased rather than decreased. The stock market went up Thursday based on the happy talk.

Then we got the news that consumer confidence is down badly. Today the stock market lost all the phantom gains it made yesterday. Why is consumer confidence down? Consider this.
Cities in California, Florida and Nevada accounted for the 10 highest foreclosure rates in Q309 among metro areas with more than 200,000 people. However, five of those cities reported decreasing foreclosure activity from Q308, offset by many other markets reporting spikes in foreclosures, according to the report.

Sharga sees the foreclosure crisis coming in three waves, and with this new data, the market is showing signs of the second one.

“That first wave of foreclosures cratered the economy, which created job losses, which created the second wave. Now, we’re seeing prime rate loans affected by unemployment. And the third wave will be really a repeat of wave one, except this time we’re going to see a switch of Option ARM and Alt-A loans out for the subprime loans. It will probably be as big but somewhat shorter lived,” Sharga said.

Sharga said that he expects a peak in foreclosures in 2010, only a marginal improvement in 2011 and a return to normal monthly foreclosure activity sometime in 2012.

“Rising unemployment and a new variety of mortgage resets continued to gradually shift the nation’s foreclosure epicenters in the third quarter away from the hot spots of the last two years and toward some metro areas that had avoided the brunt of the first foreclosure wave,” said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. “While toxic subprime mortgages drove much of that first wave of foreclosures, high unemployment and exotic Alt-A Option ARMs are spreading the foreclosure flood to more metro areas in 2009.”
Those increased foreclosures are caused by the increase in unemployment.

But wait! Hasn't the media happy talk been saying that unemployment isn't that bad? No, what they have been doing is spinning the fact that unemployment is no longer falling off a cliff as it was early in 2009. The stimulus money has slowed job loss, but not stopped it. Happy talk means the media is taking not-so-bad news and spinning it as good news.

Want an example? So-and-so stock beat analyst's expectations, so it rose in the market. That just means the analysts thought it would lose more money than they actually did, but they still lost money. That's taking not-so-bad news and spinning it as good news. Don't forget that consumer spending makes up 70% of the total GDP, and investment spending is not going to increase until the consumer markets are growing for the investors to plan to sell to.

Krugman addresses the unemployment problem.
Just a quick note on the GDP report. Obviously, 3.5 percent growth is a lot better than shrinkage. But it’s not enough — not remotely enough — to make any real headway against the unemployment problem.


Basically, we’d be lucky if growth at this rate brought unemployment down by half a percentage point per year. At this rate, we wouldn’t reach anything that feels like full employment until well into the second Palin administration.
So the only solution is Keynesian stimulation of the economy, and the stimulus pushed by both Paulson and by the Obama administration simply wasn't big enough. Krugman told us so, and he was right. The problem is, the economists don't have any real idea how to deal with this, and until they do, the government is not going to be able to get its act together and get something through Congress that will provide any more help than the current inadequate stimulus. (Inadequate for recovery, but thank god for what there is. Otherwise we would be deep in the first year of Great Depression II. Instead we are only in the Great Bush Recession, also brought to us by Alan Greenspan.)

More ideas from economists are badly needed. George Soros is planning on setting up a foundation for dissident economists who ignored the free market boys who got it wrong. Michael Hirsh in Newsweek describes the state of the community of Macro Economists right now.
[W]ith no rules of the road, we have entered a Mad Max world of economics in which even the most eminent of our top regulators and central bankers can't seem to agree on the fundamental nature of financial markets. One clash of titans is occurring between Paul Volcker and Ben Bernanke. Volcker, the former Fed chief, wants commercial banks barred from heavy proprietary trading. "I don't want them to be Goldman Sachs, running a zillion proprietary operations," he told me recently. Bernanke, the current Fed chairman, doesn't want to tamper nearly as much with the structure of the Street; instead, he wants to restrain the big banks through changed incentives, such as by tying compensation to long-term performance, and through increased capital requirements. Across the Atlantic, Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, is engaged in a fierce debate with Britain's chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, over breaking up big banks. King says breaking them up is the only way to prevent another catastrophe; Darling says King doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Even Alan Greenspan appears to be engaged in a fierce argument ... with his own younger self. "U.S. regulators should consider breaking up large financial institutions considered 'too big to fail,' " he said earlier this month. But for most of his life, Greenspan was an Ayn Rand libertarian who abhorred the idea that government should break up anything; he once wrote that "the entire structure of antitrust statutes in this country is a jumble of economic irrationality and ignorance." Bigger was better, he said, and that way of thinking largely governed his stewardship of the Fed from 1987 to 2005. "The control by Standard Oil, at the turn of the century, of more than eighty percent of refining capacity made economic sense and accelerated the growth of the American economy," Greenspan wrote in Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal in 1961. But Greenspan now has this to say about banks: "If they're too big to fail, they're too big. In 1911, we broke up Standard Oil—so what happened? The individual parts became more valuable than the whole. Maybe that's what we need to do."
So we don't know what to do, but anyone with a background in Macroeconomics 101 will know when we are finally coming out of the craptitude. It will be when consumer sentiment starts up, and then when consumer spending starts up. And that will not happen until at least half a year after employment starts climbing again.

Personally I think that will require a return to Glass-Stegall and the hard separation of consumer banks and investment banks. The current talk out of Treasury of making the big Wall Street Banks plan for how the government will take them over when they fail is a start. But anti-Trust should also be considered. As Greenspan said - "Too big to fail is just too big."

Jon Stewart on how FOX handles "news."

Jon Stewart describes FOX's perpetual revulsion machine. Not only is is funny, it is extremely educational.

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Were humans evolved to be runners?

The New York Times offers an interesting speculation on the evolution of the human body.
The scientific evidence supports the notion that humans evolved to be runners. In a 2007 paper in the journal Sports Medicine, Daniel E. Lieberman, a Harvard evolutionary biologist, and Dennis M. Bramble, a biologist at the University of Utah, wrote that several characteristics unique to humans suggested endurance running played an important role in our evolution.

Most mammals can sprint faster than humans — having four legs gives them the advantage. But when it comes to long distances, humans can outrun almost any animal. Because we cool by sweating rather than panting, we can stay cool at speeds and distances that would overheat other animals. On a hot day, the two scientists wrote, a human could even outrun a horse in a 26.2-mile marathon.

Why would evolution favor the distance runner? The prevailing theory is that endurance running allowed primitive humans to incorporate meat into their diet. They may have watched the sky for scavenging birds and then run long distances to reach a fresh kill and steal the meat from whatever animal was there first.

Other research suggests that before the development of slingshots or bows, early hunters engaged in persistence hunting, chasing an animal for hours until it overheated, making it easy to kill at close range. A 2006 report in the journal Current Anthropology documents persistence hunting among modern hunter-gatherers, including the Bushmen in Africa.

“Ancient humans exploited the fact that humans are good runners in the heat,” Dr. Bramble said. “We have such a great cooling system” — many sweat glands, little body hair.

There is other evidence that evolution favored endurance running. A study in The Journal of Experimental Biology last February showed that the short toes of the human foot allowed for more efficient running, compared with longer-toed animals. Increasing toe length as little as 20 percent doubles the mechanical work of the foot. Even the fact that the big toe is straight, rather than to the side, suggests that our feet evolved for running.

“The big toe is lined up with the rest, not divergent, the way you see with apes and our closest nonrunning relatives,” Dr. Bramble said. “It’s the main push-off in running: the last thing to leave the ground is that big toe.”

Springlike ligaments and tendons in the feet and legs are crucial for running. (Our close relatives the chimpanzee and the ape don’t have them.) A narrow waist and a midsection that can turn allow us to swing our arms and prevent us from zigzagging on the trail. Humans also have a far more developed sense of balance, an advantage that keeps the head stable as we run. And most humans can store about 20 miles’ worth of glycogen in their muscles.

And the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the human body, is primarily engaged only during running. “Your butt is a running muscle; you barely use it when you walk,” Dr. Lieberman said. “There are so many features in our bodies from our heads to our toes that make us good at running.”
This makes a good case, and it is well-known in medical circles that a human in training can run down a horse given several days. The horse can always sprint away at first, but the human continues to run and catches up when the horse stops to rest. After a day or so, the horse will simply stop running away and the human catches it. The human, if trained, is capable of greater long term endurance than the horse does.

Interesting, no?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Health care reform looks more likely to include the public option

Steve Benen writes of favorable signs towards the passage of health care with a public option built in. He provides two articles, one on health care reform in the Senate and one on health care reform in the House.

Most of the recent news has been on the movement of health care reform through the Senate where the Blue Dogs have been building on the intransigent refusal to deal on health care in any way to shift the bill to the right and kill or water down the public option. What is beginning to happen now, though, is that Nancy Pelosi is beginning to set up the health care reform bill in the House so that it becomes a stronger platform to negotiate with the Senate when committees from the two houses get together to reconcile the different bills before sending the joint bill to the President for signature.

The public option has recovered from the days in August when it appeared nearly dead. It is now a lot more likely that it will be included in the final bill.go read the two articles. Start with the one on health care reform in the House.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Best take on the GOP web site failure; Jon Stewart, Natch.

What can I say? The GOP website pushed by Michael Steele is.... well here's Jon Stewart.

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When anyone is going to be totally out of touch with modern times, the Republicans will demonstrate the greatest degree of "out of touchness" and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele will be there to show them the way.

The strange world inhabited by the conservative right

Stan Greenberg, James Carville & Karl Agne conducted some very interesting focus group studies with groups of conservatives and independents. This is the Executive Summary of their report of findings:
The self-identifying conservative Republicans who make up the base of the Republican Party stand a world apart from the rest of America, according to focus groups conducted by Democracy Corps. These base Republican voters dislike Barak Obama to be sure - which is not very surprising as base Democrats had few positive things to say about George Bush - but these voters identify themselves as part of a ‘mocked’ minority with a set of shared beliefs and knowledge, and commitment to oppose Obama that sets them apart from the majority in the country. They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism. They overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country’s founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail
A major conclusion they drew from this study is that the press is focused on racist explanations for the voter's beliefs, but there are indications that racism is not the main driver of conservative attitudes and behavior. What they did find, though, is that conservative beliefs are very different from those of even the more conservative independents. The independents tend to just blow off the more extreme statements from the conservatives, considering such extreme rhetoric as efforts to influence people politically but not really representing what the conservatives actually believe themselves. Here are the findings regarding what the extreme conservatives do actually believe:
  1. ...[T]hese conservative Republican voters believe Obama is deliberately and ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt our country and dramatically expand government control over all aspects of our daily lives. They view this effort in sweeping terms, and cast a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of the United States as it was conceived by our founders and developed over the past 200 years.

  2. This concern combines with a profound sense of collective identity. They readily identify themselves as a minority in this country - a minority whose values are mocked and attacked by a liberal media and class of elites.

  3. They also believe they possess a level of knowledge and understanding when it comes to politics and current events, one gained from a rejection of the mainstream media and an embrace of conservative media and pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, which sets them apart even more.
[I have taken the liberty of adding numbered grouping what was a single paragraph to emphasize the three points.]
So that's the essence of what the report states.

Remember, this is a report of what the Republican base believes, not necessarily what their leaders believe. The right wing political leaders have to cater to this base to maintain their leadership positions, but I think that some believe this stuff and a lot do not.

The evangelicals like Sens. Ensign, Coburn, Enhofe and I suspect, Demint, are true believers. There is no doubt that the more extreme Representives such as Bachman believe this. I'm not sure whether to put Sarah Palin into the group of true believers or the group who manipulates them. A lot of the conservative leaders are their for their own advantage, not because they buy into the full core conservative base agenda. That's probably why the base is so ready to kick out any backsliders like Specter and Lindsay Graham. They don't trust them. They can't trust even other conservatives. Only the members of the oppressed conservative group can be trusted.

Then there are the Wall Street Republicans (big business, big banks, and big oil especially) who are ready to capitalize on this group of isolated and disaffected conservatives. By feeding propaganda to the Republican base directly and by buying off the evangelical leaders, they can manipulate the right-wing politicla leaders into handing them control of the American economy. The entire TV business news system is under their control because they control the advertising revenue that makes the business news possible. The wealthy ultra-conservatives like the oil tycoons, Amway people (i.e. Eric Prince of Blackwater fame), the Walton family (Walmart), the news tycoons (Richard Mellon Scaife, Rupert Murdoch) etc. are a noticeable subset of this group. So are the Libertarians and the Neocons. They are also members of minorities who feel oppressed by the mainstream and they also practice manipulating the Republican core base to the extent that they can.

The Democracy Corps report gives an intriguing look at the nature of the Republican core base. It is a major population group that a number of politicians and economically powerful groups and individuals manipulate to get what they want from the government. That base and its vulnerability to being manipulated politically appears to me to be at the core of America's currently largely dysfunctional politics.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Health Insurance industry has another PR failure

Right on the heels of the disaster the health insurance industry suffered when AHIP released it's attack report propaganda piece right before the Senate Finance Committee vote on the health care bill, they now have a second PR disaster. Greg Sargent reports:
CNN has acknowledged in a statement to me that a high-profile Republican commentator who frequently discusses health care on the air is also the media buyer for one of the ad campaigns bankrolled by America’s Health Insurance Plans, the major industry trade group currently waging war against the White House and Dem reform proposals.

CNN tells me his ties to the industry will be disclosed in the future.

The CNN contributor, well-known GOP consultant Alex Castellanos, is best known for producing the racially-charged “Hands” ad, has repeatedly appeared on the network attacking Dem health care plans and the public option, which is strongly opposed by AHIP.

Castellanos’s consulting firm, National Media, also recently placed over $1 million of TV advertising for AHIP, according to info obtained by Media Matters. AHIP’s most recent $1 million ad buy attacks the health care plan as a threat to Medicare.

This connection, you’d think, should be disclosed whenever Castellanos appears on CNN discussing health care. Asked for comment, CNN spokesperson Edie Emery acknowledged the tie and promised full disclosure in the future.
The insurance industry is rapidly digging a hole that leaves them a laughing stock instead of a credible source of information. This is at a time when the entire health insurance industry is set up to be restructured.

Jon Stewart on Olympia Snowe and the health care idiocy

Once again, Jon Stewart puts our American politics into perspective. What is with the Senators and health care?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A few interesting items this morning

  • Crazy? Or strategy? Time to look at the train wreck. Orly Taitz is nothing but a public disaster in progress. Taiz states that she will refuse to pay the $20,000 fine that federal district court Judge Clay Land imposed on her this morning. Thus sayth the chief Birther. Is it insanity or media manipulation? But I repeat myself.

  • Jon Stewart does a really illuminating (and funny) segment on CNN's non-news non-fact-checking. What is CNN actually selling, I wonder? It's damned sure not "news."

  • The health care industry fired its big guns yesterday. They published a Price Waterhouse Coopers report that predicted large, immediate increases in the price of health insurance very soon if the health care bills pass. Today PWC took much of the sting out of the report by admitting that no cost savings resulting from the proposed health insurance changes were included in the report Gee. Report on all possible price increases with no possible cost savings. And we should be surprised that the report predicts (wait for it) PRICE INCREASES! (Ta Daa!) The health insurance industry is afraid that if the health care imitative passes they will be less able to gouge sick and potentially sick people for unconscionably high premiums for alleged insurance that as often as not does not actually pay off. It's the best argument yet for single payer health insurance (or failing that, at least a strong public option) that removes the private insurance parasites from the system.

  • If Republican Senator Olympia Snowe dares to vote for the health care reform bill the Republican Caucus has threatened to keep her from getting the position of ranking member on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. I wonder what the Democrats could offer her to switch parties? Or if her conscience can trump her ambition?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Steve Clemons explains why Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize already

There have been a lot of people who have questioned why, after only nine months in office, Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. It's interesting that until now, no sitting U.S. president since Woodrow Wilson has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. A lot of people are asking "Why now? Why Obama?"

Steve Clemons gives the answer. Keep in mind that the Nobel Peace Prize is for actions on the world stage. Since most Americans do not think about anything outside the U.S., they tend to be quite oblivious to what is happening on the world stage. By focusing on domestic U.S. events they have missed what Obama has done already in the globalized world. Here's Steve's explanation.
The world has been mesmerized by Obama since he started to run for the presidency. The battle between Hillary Clinton and Obama for the Democratic nomination did more to educate the rest of the world about real political choice -- and about a system in which no candidates had an automatic lock on victory -- than any USAID program could have achieved.

Obama's decision to make the ulcerous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations one of the first foreign policy challenges of his administration, rather than the last, defied most seasoned analysts' expectations. His message to Iran's citizens, marking the Persian new year holiday of Nowruz, and his powerful and captivating speech in Cairo, Egypt, communicated to Muslims all around the world that their lives and their faith and their expectations for a better world were vital and as valid as any others.

From his perch in the White House, Barack Obama affirmed the humanity of Muslims and told them that America does value Muslim lives.

Obama's posture and rhetoric have reversed the collapse of hope and trust that the world's citizens had in America and stopped the degradation of America's image during the tenure of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney.

Should a U.S. president get the Nobel Peace Prize if he's about to send more U.S. troops, armed drones, bombs, tanks and other military hardware into the war-ripped zones in Afghanistan?

Or should Obama get the prize if he hasn't even succeeded in getting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations going? Or if he hasn't gotten Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions and to re-enter the international system on constructive terms?

The answer is yes.


What is brilliant about Obama and why he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize is that he is a global leader who clearly saw the gains that could be made in changing "the optics" of the global order, upgrading the level of respect between the United States and other nations, making a point of listening to other leaders.

Obama saw that before the world could move to a more stable and better global equilibrium, it had to believe it could -- and this is what Obama has done in ways that no other leader has in memory.


...the Nobel Prize Committee has shrewdly given a key down payment for a kind of leadership it wants to see from the U.S. for many more years and given Obama another tool to help craft a new global social contract between the United States and other responsible stakeholders in the international system.
So that's why Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize now, even though he has only been in office a very short time. The next question is why the American right-wingers have reacted in such a negative and unpatriotic way to the award from Oslo.

The answer to that is reasonably clear, also. It comes from the nature of conservatives and from their frustration as Obama has slipped their grasp. They "know" that Obama is wrong as President. The President should always be one of their own. They thought that after this summer they were winning. They were returning America to the "proper" balance and were constraining Obama's ability to act. The Nobel Foundation's award of the Peace Prize to Obama threatens all of their progress. And that threat comes from outside the United States, which makes the conservatives even angrier.

Conservatives are by definition traditionalists. They dislike social change and they have a strong sense that there is a given social order, one they belong at the top of. For Obama to become President upsets the social order as they see it and represents the threat of change. Their reaction to that threat is to be viscerally upset, and they are reacting with anger and frustration. They have been escalating the anger since Obama won the election last November and they clearly thought that they were succeeding in limiting what Obama could accomplish in office. That was their message last week when they reacted in such delight when they watched the Olympic committee reject Obama's pitch to give the Olympics to Chicago. The reaction of the right-wing talk show hosts and the Republican political leaders clearly showed that they thought their team had one a big one in Copenhagen. They were on the hunt, and they had their rabbit cornered.

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee snatched away their prey.

Not only did Obama slip their grasp, the Peace Prize gives him a position that will provide protection from their attacks from now on. It's what the Nobel Committee did for Martin Luther King, Lech Wałęsa, Desmond Tutu and for Aung San Suu Kyi. The conservatives thought they had Obama and they were going to return America to what they know is the way it should be. The Nobel Committee has yanked that away from them in a way they never expected possible.

It was a brilliant decision by the Nobel Foundation.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The reactions to Obama's Noble Peace Prize are fasinating

The award of the Noble Peace Prize to Obama yesterday was surprising, but the reactions have been illuminating. Here are some international reactions:
Mohamed Elbaradei, [director of the International Atomic Energy Agency] for example, said, "I cannot think of anyone today more deserving of this honor. In less than a year in office, he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself." Mandela, Tutu, and Gorbachev, among others, also praised the announcement.
Those who have spoken out against the award all have very similar characteristics and appear to feel threatened by it. They include both the Taliban and the Republican Party. Rush Limbaugh expresses surprise that he agrees with the Taliban. Here's the Media Matters utube that collects the Republican reactions recently.

Josh Marshal explains what the rationale for the award appears to be:
This is an odd award. You'd expect it to come later in Obama's presidency and tied to some particular event or accomplishment. But the unmistakable message of the award is one of the consequences of a period in which the most powerful country in the world, the 'hyper-power' as the French have it, became the focus of destabilization and in real if limited ways lawlessness. A harsh judgment, yes. But a dark period. And Obama has begun, if fitfully and very imperfectly to many of his supporters, to steer the ship of state in a different direction. If that seems like a meager accomplishment to many of the usual Washington types it's a profound reflection of their own enablement of the Bush era and how compromised they are by it, how much they perpetuated the belief that it was 'normal history' rather than dark aberration.
The Noble Peace Prize award was clearly a surprise to a lot of people, but it has also crystallized a lot of opinions today and demonstrated both how very bad the Bush Presidency was and also how surprisingly good the Obama Presidency already is. It's pretty clear that the prize was awarded to Obama to aid him in his efforts to improve America and the world. It was a good move.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The American right wing has lost all intellectual validity

If you have felt that the conservatives have lost all reason, you are in good company. Steve Benen explains how American Enterprise Institute conservative writer Steven F. Hayward, explains the extremes of the right wing intellectual collapse but misses a great deal of it.

Olympics 2016; Obama did right, Conservatives screwed up badly

On Meet the Press, Rachal Madow, David Brooks and E.J. Dionne all pointed to the nasty anti-American reaction of the right-wing to Obama's effort to get the Olympics for 2016.

Here is the transcript from The Political Animal:
Rachel Maddow "The unseemly cheering on the right for America losing its Olympic bid I think is going to be the taste that lingers a long time after this failure," Rachel said. "Certainly the president tried to get something and he didn't get it, and people who hate the president feel like that's a cause for celebration. But to see, for example, the Weekly Standard post 'Chicago loses, Chicago loses, cheers erupt at Weekly Standard headquarters' I think says a lot more about the Weekly Standard, it says a lot more about the right right now than it does about this loss."

Noting the larger context, Rachel added, "In 2012, London got the Olympics after Blair tried for them; in 2014, Russian got them -- Russia got them after Putin tried for them; and in 2016 all four finalists had their head of government or head of state to make the argument. Obama did nothing unreasonable. And it would've been a shock if Chicago won. For them to be cheering America's loss here on the right I think is sort of disgusting."

David Brooks largely agreed, at least to the extent that the president's efforts were entirely reasonable. "He took a risk for his country," Brooks said. "He put the country ahead of his own personal prestige. He lost one. I actually don't mind it. I think, I think he was all right on this."

E.J. Dionne added, "John McCain's slogan was 'country first,' and in this case it was 'Obama hatred first' on the right, not the country."

How bad can grief over the death of a loved one get?

What happens to the people left behind when someone dies? In the U.S. 2.5 million people die each year and on average four other people are affected. The death of a loved one can be painful and lasting but most people get over it in time. However for roughly 15% of the survivors the effects persist for 2 to 20 years to the extent that the person can barely get out of bed in the morning.

This extreme form of grieving is called complicated grief or prolonged grief disorder. For over a million people a year
...becomes what Dr. M. Katherine Shear, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia, calls “a loop of suffering.” And these people, Dr. Shear added, can barely function. “It takes a person away from humanity,” she said of their suffering, “and has no redemptive value.”
Research has shown that such grief can become a mental disorder quite as debilitating as Depression or PTSD. Research shows that it can. For susceptible people such prolonged grief can predict sociality, a higher level of substance abuse, cigarette and alcohol consumption better than can a diagnosis of depression can.

The New York Times science section has an interesting report on this disorder. It apparently is likely to appear in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) scheduled to be issued in 2012.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Global Warming can't be blamed for all climate problems, it seems.

The drought that afflicted the the Southeastern U.S. from 2005 to 2007 was a result of population growth, not of global warming. At least this is what Richard Seager, a climate expert at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who led a study of that drought told interviewers when asked. The drought was apparently no different from others in the same region over the last century, so the only significant factor that changed was the population increase in that region.
The researchers said rainfall patterns in the Southeast were linked only weakly to weather patterns like La Niña and El Niño, the oscillating warm and cold conditions in the eastern Pacific linked to precipitation rates in the Southwestern United States.

Instead, they wrote, any variation in rainfall in the Southeast commonly “arises from internal atmospheric processes and is essentially unpredictable.”
Idiots who fantasize that somehow this proves that there is no global warming should remember that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There is enough other proof of global warming to guarantee that it is a real phenomenon.

Eating hamburger is playing Russian Roulette

The New York Times has a really scary story on the dangers of getting E. Coli from hamburger.

It's a long story, but the short summary is that every time you eat hamburger you are risking your health and your life. There is little or no possibility that the meat packers can or will guarantee their product is free from contamination. The FDA will not permit the information to be released because the meat packing companies treat the systems of hamburger safety as trade secrets, and by law the FDA must protect trade secrets. So the problem starts with the meat packers and runs directly back to Congress.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

FDR's Economic Bill of Rights

Franklin D. Roosevelt

“The Economic Bill of Rights”

Excerpt from 11 January 1944 message to Congress on the State of the Union

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

source: The Public Papers & Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Samuel Rosenman, ed.), Vol XIII (NY: Harper, 1950), 40-42

12 How. 152: “Necessitous men,” says the Lord Chancellor, in Vernon v Bethell, 2 Eden 113 (1762), “are not, truly speaking, free men; but, to answer a present emergency, will submit to any terms that the crafty may impose on them.”

Posted at TPM Cafe by M. J. Rosenberg.

Don't trust Strategic Vision's reported poll numbers

How likely is it that Strategic Vision LLC has just been making up the numbers it reports? The New York Times reports:
news organizations are rethinking their use of Strategic Vision’s numbers after the company was reprimanded [* See below] last week by a professional association of pollsters for failing to disclose “essential facts” about its methods.
Strategic Vision was founded by Mr. Johnson and his wife, Laura Ward, as a Republican-leaning mom-and-pop public relations company in 2002. In 2004, the company branched out into polling, focusing on Senate and presidential races. One of its clients is the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, based in Indiana, which supports the use of government vouchers to send children to private schools.

Like many of its competitors, Strategic Vision issued polls it said were self-financed, as a way of attracting attention and clients. The company was successful in part because its polling was prolific and was often among the earliest on a given race, like the one in which Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, ran for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 2006.

Early on, questions were raised about how such a small firm could conduct so many self-financed polls, but Mr. Johnson, a frequent commentator on Fox News, said they accounted for the company’s entire marketing budget. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution repeatedly requested supporting documentation for the poll results but never received any, said James A. Mallory, senior managing editor. A spokeswoman for CNN said it had declined for years to use Strategic Vision’s polls.
The reprimand, by
[*] the American Association for Public Opinion Research, stemmed from an investigation it conducted after many polls showed Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton trailing in the run-up to the 2008 Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire, where she went on to win. The association requested minimal information from 21 polling companies that, according to its professional guidelines, all polls should disclose, including sample size, response rate and polling dates.

Strategic Vision was the only company that did not provide the information, prompting a complaint filed with the association.
Let's see. New company. No track record. Based on a lot of publicity by the owner. Right-wing oriented. Refuses to provide sample size, response rate and polling dates which are minimal data for evaluating a sample poll.

That's a company to disbelieve whenever its name is associated with any poll.

They'll do something about this report quickly. My bet is that they will soon change the name of their company.

The Employment Recession is the worst since the 30's and not improving

If you don't read Calculated Risk regularly, you should. This is from this morning.

Here is a graph with an estimate of the impact of the preliminary estimate of the annual benchmark revision. (ht John)

Percent Job Losses During Recessions Click on graph for larger image.

The dashed line is an estimate of the impact of the large benchmark revision (824 thousand more jobs lost).

The graph compares the job losses from the start of the employment recession in percentage terms (as opposed to the number of jobs lost).

Instead of 7.2 million net jobs lost since December 2007, the preliminary benchmark estimate suggests the U.S. has lost over 8.0 million net jobs during that period.

But it's not just Calculated Risk. The following is from yesterday's Paul Krugman editorial.
Stocks are up. Ben Bernanke says that the recession is over. And I sense a growing willingness among movers and shakers to declare “Mission Accomplished” when it comes to fighting the slump. It’s time, I keep hearing, to shift our focus from economic stimulus to the budget deficit.

No, it isn’t. And the complacency now setting in over the state of the economy is both foolish and dangerous.

Yes, the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration have pulled us “back from the brink” — the title of a new paper by Christina Romer, who leads the Council of Economic Advisers. She argues convincingly that expansionary policy saved us from a possible replay of the Great Depression.

But while not having another depression is a good thing, all indications are that unless the government does much more than is currently planned to help the economy recover, the job market — a market in which there are currently six times as many people seeking work as there are jobs on offer — will remain terrible for years to come.

Indeed, the administration’s own economic projection — a projection that takes into account the extra jobs the administration says its policies will create — is that the unemployment rate, which was below 5 percent just two years ago, will average 9.8 percent in 2010, 8.6 percent in 2011, and 7.7 percent in 2012.

This should not be considered an acceptable outlook. For one thing, it implies an enormous amount of suffering over the next few years. Moreover, unemployment that remains that high, that long, will cast long shadows over America’s future.
Krugman goes on to point to a recent study that shows that after prolonged periods of greater than normal unemployment, the economy itself has a much harder time recovering. Then he adds:
Wait. It gets worse. A new report from the International Monetary Fund shows that the kind of recession we’ve had, a recession caused by a financial crisis, often leads to long-term damage to a country’s growth prospects. “The path of output tends to be depressed substantially and persistently following banking crises.”

The same report, however, suggests that this isn’t inevitable: “We find that a stronger short-term fiscal policy response” — by which they mean a temporary increase in government spending — “is significantly associated with smaller medium-term output losses.”
So the problem is that the stimulus has been inadequate and that while it has stopped us from sliding into a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930's, it is not enough to keep our economy from being crippled by the financial recession for many years, even for decades.

Why don't we hear just how "iffy" the economy is? The news media and the politicians can't sell bad news. If they try they'll quickly be replaced by alternatives that say when most of the public wants to hear.

The news media cannot sell advertisers to buy ads on shows or in papers that report mostly bad news. So the business news the public gets is all about "Economic Happy Talk" or as we in the Army used to call it, "Happy, Happy Bullshit." What passes for economic news is primarily salesmen standing up and trying to sell the financial products.

The politicians in charge have exactly the same problem. If they provide realistic but negative evaluations of the economy to the public they will quickly be replaced by someone who promises a quick turnaround. So we can[t expect Ben Bernanke or Tim Geithner to level with the public.

Then there is the "Loyal" Opposition. They have committed themselves to a strategy of total obstructionism. This is a non-violent method of making the nation ungovernable unless they are called in to govern. (Terrorism is the violent form of the same strategy. The anti-abortion groups, the more radical militia and the Neo-Nazi groups are waiting in the wings to conduct this strategy.) But they are after power. Economics is secondary to their desire to gain political power.

So there it is. The American economy is in the worst shape it has been since the 1930's because of macroeconomic mismanagement by the conservative government and the right-wing politicians. Because of political constraints the government cannot take many of the actions needed to prevent the economic situation from continuing to get worse, or even to tell the public that recovery will not automatically start in the near future. And the right-wing and libertarian politicians who have created the mess will not let the government actively fix the mess they created because are waiting for the economic failure that will return them to power. This will allow them to loot the economy for their own benefit.

Forget the stock market. It is being propped up by government stimulus money. Just watch the unemployment rate to see what is really happening. And don't feel to happy about a one or two month improvement. Until workers start taking home more money the consumption sector will not improve on its own, and until that happens, the economy will remain on government life support or it will be falling.

Too many Catholic Bishops don't get the problem of pedophilia

The Vatican's Archbishop Silvano Tomasi (Vatican's permanent observer to the U.N.) offered a statement responding to allegations that Vatican officials have done too little to deal with sex abuse within the Catholic Church.
He said that “available research” estimated that between 1.5 per cent and five per cent of clergy had been involved in abuse, the Guardian reported.

Children were more likely to suffer at the hands of relatives, family friends or babysitters than clerics, he argued.

The Archbishop also quoted research published in the Christian Science Monitor newspaper which suggested that most congregations affected by child sex allegations in the US were protestant churches while the problem was also common in the Jewish community.
Yeah, Right. The Archbishop testily says "Get off our back! The Protestants and Jews have clergy who sexually abuse children, also. We're not the only ones!"

The Archbishop is being defensive and entirely misses the point regarding what the Catholic Church is being blamed for. The Catholic Church is not the only institution that has pedophiles who join them, gain power over children and use that power to sexually abuse those children. The Catholic church is not being blamed for the existence of pedophiles. They are being blamed for accepting them into the organization, putting them in positions of power, trust and authority where they can abuse children, and then for defending those pedophiles and hiding them instead of stopping them and exposing them. How many of the other denominations have an organizational culture that makes defending the pedophiles in their midst more important than protecting children from such predators who use their positions in the church?

The Catholic Church is not being blamed for the existence of Pedophiles. It is being blamed for providing pedophiles positions of power and trust over children and for hiding the pedophiles after they have committed their crimes and protecting them from punishment for their horrible deeds. Such criminals should have been rejected in the process of selection as Priests, and when the selection procedures failed, they should be removed, punished, and exposed to the public for what they are and what they have done.

The Archbishop and his fellow Catholic leaders are not protecting the Church by concealing and protecting the pedophiles who join them. They are instead making those pedophiles representatives of the Catholic institution.