January 13, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


The Soviet Economy Was Not Growing; It Was Dying (Phillip W. Magness, January 10, 2020, AIER)

At the midcentury mark, economist G. Warren Nutter (1923-79) provided one of the lone dissenting voices to challenge what had become a matter of conventional wisdom among Sovietologists. Whereas others perceived vibrancy and vitality in the socialist society's industrial growth, Nutter recognized its long-term economic decline concealed behind a politically crafted veneer of propaganda about socialist industrial prowess.

From 1956 onward, he labored on providing a statistical corrective that painted a picture of a society gradually succumbing to the weight of its own central planning and the wasteful accretions of a graft-riddled and politically repressive bureaucracy.[2] The early reception of Nutter's work expressed doubt about its accuracy compared to more optimistic portrayals from the textbooks and accompanying Sovietology literature, yet history proved him right. Nutter had scooped the field and accurately identified an economy with deep structural problems--most of them directly traceable to its destruction of a functional price mechanism through the tools of state management.

Nutter's assessment was no abstraction, but rather the result of years of close study of the relationship between state policy and industrial concentration in the United States - the subject of his dissertation at the University of Chicago. But he also possessed an uncommonly keen eye for extracting observations from his surroundings. He deployed the latter during a twenty-eight-day visit to the Soviet Union in 1956 as a self-described "tourist" researcher, which he contrasted with other American experts whose longer visits occurred under the heavy scrutiny and management of handlers from the Soviet government[3].

Whereas others largely picked up on what the Soviets wanted them to see and incorporated curated factory tours and contrived statistical claims into their assessments, Nutter apparently had a knack for looking beneath the surface through everyday observations of his surroundings - simply by keeping an eye on the types of goods in the shop window, the patterns of workers entering the factory in the background, and the way that the people he encountered described even the most mundane economic transactions of their daily lives.[4]

He had no formal training in Russian and does not appear to have claimed fluency, describing his tour as having taken place "under the severe handicap of not knowing the language."[5] Yet Nutter was also something of a linguistic autodidact--an ability he realized in the US Army during the liberation of Europe a little over a decade prior. In reading his travelogue, one gathers that he may have gleaned more from observing the surrounding conversations than he let on - more than, importantly, his Soviet guides realized at the time.

While many of us are old enough to recall the Kitchen Debate, many have forgotten that Khruschev and other Soviet leaders genuinely did not comprehend how far behind ours their economy was, so a basic American kitchen seemed like fantastical propaganda.  It took the rise of the head of the KGB before they had a leader who understood how desperate the situation was and he died before he could do much more than promote a few reform minded leaders, but even they  did not comprehend.  Thus, Gorbachev did take power but still thought Communism could succeed with a few tweaks.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Capitalism Isn't Broken (MICHAEL R. STRAIN, January 10, 2020, National Review)

* Now is a bizarre time to argue that capitalism is broken. The unemployment rate is at a half-century low, and employment (for prime-age workers) has recovered fully from the Great Recession.

* From the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007 through 2016 (the most recent year for which data are available), the Congressional Budget Office finds that inequality of post-tax-and-transfer income has fallen by 7 percent.

* Technology innovators -- who receive a lot of criticism in "late capitalism" discussions -- have created trillions of dollars of value for the American people.

* Median household income (after taxes and transfers) is up 44 percent since 1990.

The Left believes it's broken because classes they hate are doing well.  The Right thinks it's broken because races they hate are doing well.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


This is the best one hour economics lesson imaginable.
Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Tensions between president Rouhani and Iran's Revolutionary Guard spill into open (Raf Sanchez  and Ahmed Vahdat, 13 JANUARY 2020, The Telegraph)

Tensions between the Iranian government and the Revolutionary Guard spilled into the open on Monday as the president's office accused the elite military force of misleading them over the accidental shooting down of a civilian airliner. 

As protesters took to the streets for a third consecutive day, allies of Hassan Rouhani, the democratically elected president, appeared to be directing the public's anger towards their more hardline rivals in the Revolutionary Guard. 

A spokesman for Mr Rouhani said the Revolutionary Guard had falsely told the president they were not involved as he tried to explain why Iran spent the first days after the crash denying any responsibility for the 176 deaths.

"All relevant authorities had assured us that there had been no missile involved in the downing of the Ukrainian plane," said Ali Rabiei, the government spokesman.

Meanwhile, a leaked recording appeared to show a Revolutionary Guard officer complaining that Mr Rouhani's administration was leaving them out to dry as they faced widespread fury over the downing of Flight PS752.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Public University's Ban on 'Sexually Suggestive' Posters Is Insanely Puritanical (KATHERINE TIMPF, January 13, 2020, National Review)

The sexual-misconduct policy at Morehead State University, a public school in Kentucky, states that "sexual gestures," "degrading words," and the display of "sexually suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons or posters" count as examples of sexual harassment.

The policy, which was last updated in the fall, is so restrictive that it was named "Speech Code of the Month" by a pro-free speech organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The Culture Wars are a rout.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Maybe Nominating Bloomberg for President Isn't a Crazy Idea (Jonathan Chait, 1/09/20, New York)

Back to School is a 1987 comedy in which Rodney Dangerfield plays a déclassé millionaire who buys his way into college. A professor objects to admitting a rich guy simply because he donated to the school, to which the dean replies, "I don't think Dr. Barbay understands the actual amounts that are involved here."

You surely realize that Bloomberg is a very wealthy individual with the ability to self-fund, but you may not have focused on the actual amount of money Bloomberg could bring to bear on the campaign. It is beyond any experience in presidential history. In the last presidential election, Donald Trump spent $343 million. Spending by both sides, including outside money, barely exceeded $1 billion. Bloomberg is personally worth $56 billion. If nominated, he could easily part with one-tenth of his fortune and outspend the entire Republican party by five to one.

He needs to spend it to defeat Donald, not just to help himself.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Call Trumpism what it is: a cult (VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, JAN. 10, 2020, LA Times)

The discourse around cults partakes of some woolly theories. "Mind control" and "brainwashing" are shibboleths from the 1950s, when the coinages were used to describe what Chinese Communists did to convert freethinkers to their cause. The implicit suggestion is that unsavory ideas and ideologies can only win adherents using extreme and witchy measures.

All that put me off the notion of Trumpism as a cult. But then in August, Trump looked heavenward and called himself "the chosen one."

Suddenly, among evangelicals, it wasn't enough to make comparisons with Cyrus or even King David. He had to be the savior himself. The far-right radio host Wayne Allyn Root called Trump "the second coming of God." Then former Energy Secretary Rick Perry straight up affirmed Trump's craziness, telling him, "You are here in this time because God ordained you."

As 2019 drew to a close, my doubts about Trumpism as a cult dissolved. And I'm not alone.

Republican lawyer George Conway reportedly described his wife, Trump's presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, as a member of a cult. Former GOP strategist John Weaver has used the term. Anthony Scaramucci, Trump's onetime communications director, concurs. Also news vet Dan Rather, conservative political scientist Norman Ornstein, science journalist Steve Silberman, pastor John Pavlovitz and academic and journalist Jared Yates Sexton.

What the cult diagnosis may lack in scholarly rigor, it makes up for in explanatory power. When polled, far too many Republicans come across as having abandoned their commitment to libertarianism, family values or simple logic in favor of Trump worship. They're lost to paranoia and factually unmoored talking points, just the way Hassan was lost to Sun Myung Moon.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


66% of Americans want John Bolton to testify (Marisa Fernandez, 1/13/20, Axios)

Two-thirds of Americans surveyed want former national security adviser John Bolton to testify in the Senate impeachment trial, according to a Quinnipiac national poll of 1,562 voters released Monday.

Obviously just torqueing up the pressure for a real trial was a win, but add in keeping Sanders and Warren out of IA and potentially forcing Donald to give the State of the Union while he's in the dock and she may hit the trifecta.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


U.S. Budget Deficit Widens 11.8% in First Quarter of Fiscal Year (Katia Dmitrieva, January 13, 2020, Bloomberg)

The U.S. budget deficit widened to $356.6 billion in the first three months of fiscal 2020 as spending rose more than revenue, keeping the federal shortfall on pace to exceed $1 trillion by year-end.

The gap increased 11.8% from the $318.9 billion in October-December of the previous year, the Treasury Department said in its monthly budget report Monday. Government outlays increased 6.7%, while receipts rose 4.6%. The U.S. posted a $13.3 billion deficit in December alone compared with $13.5 billion a year earlier.

The three biggest spending categories are social security, national defense and Medicare, which all increased in the quarter.

the reason the Right is completely silent about spending is because they only ever worried that white entitlement money might go to blacks under a black president.  It was just hysteria.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Trump Takes Credit For Obamacare, Says Democrats Want to Repeal It (Jonathan Chait, 1/13/20, New York)

Since he began running for president, Donald Trump has been lying about health care in general, and protections for patients with preexisting conditions in particular. Trump's long-standing lie is that he has a plan to help people with preexisting conditions afford insurance, or will shortly unveil such a plan. His most recent version of this lie goes even farther. Trump is now saying that he actually created the protection for preexisting conditions, and that Democrats are trying to take it away.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


The Trump administration is struggling to explain why the US killed top Iranian general Soleimani (Ryan Pickrell, 1/13/20, Business Insider)

President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, ratcheting up tensions between the US and Iran, but in the aftermath, the US has struggled to explain and justify why it had the infamous commander was killed.

He was killed because he was an agent of democratizing the Middle East, which the Right opposes.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Sanders Says He Held Hawkish Immigration Views '250 Years Ago' (It Was 2015) (Alex Griswold - JANUARY 13, 2020, Free Beacon)

In an interview transcript released on Monday, New York Times editor Nick Fox asked Sanders if he still believed that foreign workers depress wages for Americans. "No," Sanders responded. "That's what I said on the Lou Dobbs show 250 years ago, right?"

Sanders made that argument in 2015 on at least two occasions. "What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy," Sanders said in a Vox interview. "Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Majority of Americans, including independents, disapprove of Trump's Iran handling (The Week, 1/13/20)

Majorities of Americans disapprove of President Trump's handling of the Iran situation, feel less safe after the U.S. drone strike on Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and are concerned about a new war in the Middle East, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday. There is a sharp partisan split in the answers, but independents align pretty well with the overall findings.

The poll found that 56 percent of all U.S. adults and 57 parent of independents disapprove of Trump's handling of Tehran tensions, versus 43 percent of both groups who approve of the job Trump's doing with Iran. When asked if the Soleimani strike made them feel more safe, 28 percent of independents and 25 percent of Americans said yes while 51 percent of independents and 52 percent of all voters said no, they feel less safe now.

Donald losing to even Ayatollah Khameini looks about right.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Evangelicals Who Pray for War With Iran (SARAH POSNER, January 9, 2020, New Republic)

Pompeo and Pence reportedly were the top officials pushing Trump to kill Soleimani. They're also devout evangelicals and major allies of CUFI. This is not a coincidence. While the organization is best known for its unflagging "support" for Israel--that is, for Israel's expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and protracted erasure of the possibility of a future Palestinian state--it has, since its founding in 2006, depicted Iran as an existential threat to Israel. The group opposed President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, denouncing it as "dangerous for Israel, the United States and the entire world," and in the Trump administration, CUFI has found hope for a more bellicose posture.

Televangelist John Hagee launched CUFI in 2006, calling for military action against Iran, then led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom Hagee compared to Hitler. At the time, Hagee had been claiming that Iran would soon "have the nuclear capability to make a bomb, a suitcase bomb, a missile head, or anything they want to do with it." That was untrue, given contemporaneous expert assessments of Iran's projected nuclear advances. But for Hagee, a more militaristic approach was necessary in order to avert "an American Hiroshima." He urged his supporters to take a stand, as they were meant to "for a time such as this," a common evangelical reference to Queen Esther, celebrated on the Jewish holiday of Purim, who saved the Jews from extermination at the hands of Haman, the genocidal adviser to the Persian king.

In his 2006 book, Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee imagined an elaborate scenario in which a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran would trigger an "inferno [that] will explode across the Middle East, plunging the world toward Armageddon." Faced with scrutiny over his apocalyptic theology, he strained to create a discrete image for his new political organization, insisting that his extensive writings on biblical prophecy about the Rapture and Second Coming were distinct from CUFI's lobbying agenda. But it was a rocky start for the organization. In 2008, while running for president, John McCain first accepted, then rejected, Hagee's endorsement. The rebuff was seen as damaging to the political neophyte and a brave stance by McCain against fringe elements within the GOP's evangelical base. At CUFI's annual Washington Summit, held just two months later, only three members of Congress attended.

But one of those three members was a certain congressman from Indiana: Pence.

It's no coincidence that the Right opposes democracy everywhere it exists in the Middle East.