Popping Bubbles

Anytime I write about anything remotely related to economics, I feel like I should start with a disclaimer that I am not an economist. But if Alan Greenspan were to write something about economics, would he need a disclaimer also? I mean, he is an economist, and was Chairman of the Federal Reserve, which is nice work if you can get it. It would appear that he’s an expert, no disclaimer needed. On the other hand, in terms of contributing to global economic crashes, thus far I have managed to avoid doing that, while Alan Greenspan has, sadly, not. So by that measure, maybe he’s the one who should have the disclaimer after all.

I mention Alan Greenspan because of a piece at Wonkblog today that looks at the reasons why Obama’s economic team is reluctant to recommend Janet Yellen as the next Fed chair. I feel like I need to offer another disclaimer, because I don’t know much about Janet Yellen, but I do know that I like the sound of this:

Yellen has a perfectly solid relationship with Bernanke, as best as I can tell, but she’s more of her own thinker within the institution. She has spent her time as vice chairwoman urging Bernanke and her other fellow policymakers to shift policy to try to do more to combat unemployment, and thinking through ways to do just that. She even had one economist who functioned for a time as something of a de facto chief of staff, Andrew Levin. And people dealing with her within the Fed have viewed her not so much as Bernanke’s emissary but as her own intellectual force within the organization.

A Fed chair who remembers that the Fed has a dual mandate would be nice, but Obama’s economic advisers have some concerns about her. These include the complaint that she’s “not a team player,” which I’m sure has nothing to do with her being a “her,” and that she’s “too prepared,” because apparently “being prepared” is considered a vice by the Obama economic team. The one that sticks out is this:

Third, the president very clearly frets about the risk of financial bubbles and wants a Fed chief who will be attuned to staving them off. As David J. Lynch of Bloomberg points out, four times in five days Obama recently referred to the importance of returning [if you read the Bloomberg piece, this should actually be “avoiding a return,” not “returning”] to “artificial bubbles” as a means of supporting growth. When New York Times reporters asked the president about his thinking on the Fed choice, he said: “I want a Fed chairman that can step back and look at that objectively and say, let’s make sure that we’re growing the economy, but let’s also keep an eye on inflation. And if it starts heating up, if the markets start frothing up, let’s make sure that we’re not creating new bubbles.”

So Janet Yellen is being preemptively disqualified from the position of Fed chair because we’re assuming that she won’t act to prevent new bubbles from forming. So she’s not the right pick for the job because she may fail to do something that Greenspan failed to do, twice. She’s not qualified for the position that Ben Bernanke currently holds because, under Bernanke, there have been no new bubbles forming. Nope, none. Not a single one. No bubbles at all. You will have to look elsewhere because we have no bubbles here, not on the Bernanke Watch.

Instead of Janet Yellen, who may theoretically not act to prevent the next bubble, the Obama economic team apparently prefers Lawrence Summers, who proactively helped to create the last bubble that almost caused a global depression. Also, Summers is apparently not much of a team player either (although, in Summers’ defense, he is a guy, so that probably gets him some “team” points right there). I guess if you believe in lessons learned, then Summers certainly should’ve learned a few by now, but I’d rather go with the new blood that didn’t help cause the 2008 crash. But I’m no economist.

IMPEECH OBUMMER, YOU HOSER!

US American Senator from Texas (checking…no, unfortunately they still haven’t seceded), and traitor to his native Canada, Ted Cruz, wants to impeach the current president, who was born in US America and not an exotic foreign land like “Calgary,” sorry but not sure if I’m even rendering that into English properly. Does he know why he wants to impeach President Obama? Not really. Does he even know how impeachment works? Sadly, no!

In a question and answer session following a speech he gave at a Montgomery County GOP dinner last night, an audience member asked Cruz, “Why don’t we impeach him [Obama]?”

“It’s a good question,” Cruz responded, “and I’ll tell you the simplest answer: To successfully impeach a president you need the votes in the U.S. Senate.”

Actually, it’s not a good question, and to successfully impeach a president you need the votes in the U.S. House. But other than that, the right-wing senator clearly knows what he’s talking about.

National Review posted an audio clip of the Cruz event, and listeners will notice that neither the senator nor his audience actually bothered mentioning a rationale for impeachment; they just seemed to think it was a good idea. Cruz said something about his belief that Obama has acted outside the law, but he offered no details or specifics.

Typical liberals like Steve Benen want to use their activist judge-led liberal media ivory tower to keep putting “rules” on Republican Thinkers, bullshit rules like “actually, women can get pregnant from rape,” and “impeachment votes are taken in the House, not the Senate.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). In hindsight, we probably should've known about the Canada thing.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). In hindsight, we probably should’ve known about the Canada thing.

But let’s be generous to Senator Hoser and assume he meant that you need the votes to convict in the Senate before you can risk an impeachment proceeding in the House, because otherwise you might risk looking like a bunch of dim-witted assholes with nothing better to do than to waste the country’s time on procedural bullshit. In that sense he’s right when he says that impeachment is “not a fight we have a prospect of winning.”

The bigger problem is, as Mr. Benen pointed out above, “neither the senator nor his audience actually bothered mentioning a rationale for impeachment.” Blake Farenthold, GOP Congressman from, again, Texas (checking again…damnit, no, still haven’t seceded), made much the same argument last week, talking about having the votes to impeach but not to convict, as though the justification for impeachment proceedings were simply a foregone conclusion. Even if it is a foregone conclusion, maybe at some point someone on the right will bother articulating it for the rest of us?

Oh, I suppose if you actually pressed any of these guys the answer would be some mash of Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS “scandal,” Obamacare, gun control, deficits, not defending DOMA, or any of a thousand other tiny and largely fictional scandals. But Fast and Furious fizzled, none of the conspiracy theories about Benghazi has gone anywhere, the IRS “scandal” is deader than disco, Obamacare is a “new law” as opposed to a “high crime,” there hasn’t been any new gun control, the administration did defend DOMA (they just refused to appeal when it was struck down), and if deficits were an impeachable offense then how the hell did this guy or this one last 8 years in office? Is this how it’s going to be every time a Democrat wins the White House? Impeachment will just automatically be on the table regardless of context? We’ll talk about impeaching the elected president as a matter of “having the votes” to do it as opposed to whether or not any actual, impeachable offenses have been committed?

I know the Republican Party’s favorite electoral tactic of late is to disenfranchise as many voters as it can, but turning impeachment from what it is now, a serious constitutional remedy for a serious situation, into just another electoral tactic is taking things just a bit too far.

This Week in Oppressive Government Violence Egypt: August 18, 2013

No other story of governments mistreating their citizens this week is going to hold a candle to what happened in Egypt, obviously. The total death toll for the week is somewhere around 900, although as far as I can tell these are official Egyptian government figures and may easily be under-counting. Wednesday’s attacks, which killed over 600, were followed by more protests in what the Muslim Brotherhood called a “day of rage” on Friday, and another 173 were killed. Egypt’s government imposed a month-long state of emergency, including curfews and wide latitude on the part of the already unconstrained security forces to deal with Brotherhood supporters however they see fit. This includes, apparently, killing unarmed prisoners, although to be fair the government claims that those prisoners were attempting to escape, and there’s no reason not to trust the Egyptian government, right?

The latter incident seems to be directly animating new protests today, with crowds demanding an investigation into how 38+ prisoners were killed in custody, and the government responding with three different stories (there was an attack on the prisoner convoy, the prisoners had overpowered a guard in an escape attempt, and the prisoners were attempting an escape but had not overpowered a guard) to explain what happened. Also feeding protester anger is the weekend assault on a crowd of protesters who had taken refuge in Cairo’s el-Fath Mosque, amid state media reports that snipers were firing on security forces from the mosque’s minaret. The government authorized the use of live ammunition against protesters after several government offices were attacked following Wednesday’s violence. I guess security forces were using birdshot before they got the live ammo go-ahead? Also Monday, militants in the Sinai ambushed Egyptian security forces there, killing at least 25 of them.

More thoughts on what’s going on below.

Continue reading

“Also, we demand that you immediately change your network’s call letters from ‘NBC’ to ‘RNC'”

Obvious anagram Reince Priebus, who is like the James Bond of RNC chairmen in that he’s white and wears nice suits, got “miffed” a couple of weeks back because NBC and CNN are both planning to produce Hillary Clinton-related programming (a miniseries and documentary, respectively) in the lead up to the 2016 election. Today the RNC voted to bar CNN and NBC from hosting any Republican primary debates in the 2016 cycle. Reince was mad, you guys:

“We’re done putting up with this nonsense,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said ahead of the vote. “There are plenty of other outlets. We’ll still reach voters, maybe more voters. But CNN and NBC anchors will just have to watch on their competitors’ networks.”

SRSLY I AM THIS TIRED OF PUTTING UP WITH UR NONSENSE PEOPLE

SRSLY I AM THIS TIRED OF PUTTING UP WITH UR NONSENSE PEOPLE!

I don’t know what nonsense he means; is he tired of NBC and CNN not clearing their programming choices with the RNC executive committee? I mean, OK, you guys didn’t like “Smash” or whatever, but really? But if those CNN and NBC anchors were smart, they’d turn off the TV and read a book or something, because, and here’s the thing, this has nothing to do with any Hillary Clinton miniseries or anything about Hillary Clinton, really. This is about Reince Priebus, who may be an anagram but is not totally stupid, realizing that the fewer 2016 repeats of this:

Never in recorded history have so many come together with so few brain cells between them.

Never in recorded history have so many come together with so few brain cells between them.

the better chance that whatever anachronistic homunculus the GOP nominates will have to win the general election, or at least not totally terrify and alienate the electorate until mid-October. Reince doesn’t want his party’s freak-show primary debates to “reach voters,” because the fact of the matter is that his party can’t win nationally unless people are kept in the dark about its candidate and his or her positions on the issues. There’s no actual risk to the GOP from a Hillary Clinton miniseries. A Hillary Clinton miniseries is at least as likely to focus on salacious scandal-mongering as on her achievements, and the reason I know this is because I lived through the fucking 1990s. This is about finding an excuse to pare down the number of times the eventual GOP nominee will have to appear on the same stage as the rest of those clowns, period.

So, yes, Reince, keep your debates confined to Fox and Fox alone. Better yet, hold them on a dark stage in an empty theater with nobody in the audience. Just have all your candidates show up under a bridge somewhere and shout at the homeless folks living there about how they are moochers and the like. Your party, and the nation as a whole, will be the better for it.

All the General’s Horses, and All the General’s Men

…are not going to be able to put Egypt back together again. Not after this:

EGYPT-POLITICS-UNREST EGYPT-POLITICS-UNREST EGYPT-UNREST-POLITICS TOPSHOTS-EGYPT-POLITICS-UNREST Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi carry a protester injured during clashes with riot police and army at around the area of Rabaa Adawiya square, where they are camping, in Cairo EGYPT-UNREST-POLITICS Many Feared Dead As Egyptian Security Forces Clear Cairo Protest Camps Pro-Mursi supporters run from tear gas during clashes with security forces around the area of Rabaa Adawiya square, where the protesters are camping, in Cairo Riot police and army personnel take them up positions during clashes with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi in Cairo

(Source)

Official figures put the death toll from today’s violence at roughly 280, about 235-240 of them civilian and the rest security forces 525, with thousands injured. As I was following this story throughout the day, the “official” government casualty figures consistently lagged behind other, unconfirmed reports, so it’s quite possible that even these figures are too low (UPDATE: INDEED THEY WERE, AND I’VE UPDATED TO REFLECT THE MOST RECENT FIGURES). Egyptian security forces raided two large pro-Morsi protest camps this morning, a decision that Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawy was at least willing to say “was not easy,” so that’s nice of him. The government did all it could, he contended, it waited as long as it could to give mediation a chance to get the protesters off the streets before the police had no choice but to go in and remove them by force. What he failed to explain was why the protests had to be broken up at all. If the protesters had been a inconvenience for the government or its supporters, imagine how much more inconvenient things are now for the thousands whose loved ones are gone forever. If they had been a threat to stability, how much more threatening is the possibility that these protesters may now avail themselves of other means of registering their discontent? Continue reading

ATTENTION BLACK US AMERICANS: Famous Actor Kal Penn is very sad about your crimes

kal penn

Hi. This is Actor Kal Penn. You may remember him from such films as Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, Kumar Gets a Medical Degree and Goes to Work for That Dickish Doctor With the Limp, and Kumar Takes a Job as Lex Luthor’s Henchman for Some Reason. On Twitter I suggested a title for his next magnum opus:

I suggested that title because Actor Kal Penn is, apparently, a strong supporter of Michael Bloomberg’s “Stop and Frisk” program. This is the program whereby NYPD officers are charged with carefully observe the behavior of pedestrians to determine if they are black or Latino acting suspiciously, and gives them the authority to stop those pedestrians who are found to be black or Latino acting suspiciously so as to question and/or frisk them. A couple of days ago a federal judge ruled that Stop and Frisk violates the Constitution because, you’ll want to sit down for this because it’s shocking, she found that the NYPD, of all organizations, tended to disproportionately detain people who were acting suspiciously black and Latino. This is an outrage, because the statistics do not back this conclusion up at all:

“Nobody racially profiles” is a curious statement. Every year since 2003, blacks and Latinos have consistently accounted for around 85 percent of stop-and-frisk selectees; according to 2010 census data, blacks and Latinos make up 52.6 percent of New York City’s total population. “Even in neighborhoods that are predominantly white, black, and Latino New Yorkers face the disproportionate brunt,” reports the New York Civil Liberties Union. “For example, in 2011, Black and Latino New Yorkers made up 24 percent of the population in Park Slope, but 79 percent of stops.”

See? Except for how the statistics make it crystal clear that NYPD officers are racially profiling people for Stop and Frisk, there’s absolutely no evidence here that NYPD officers are racially profiling people for Stop and Frisk!

So now the NYPD has to make all kinds of changes to its favorite program that will make it not so racist, which, like, why even bother, you know? And Actor Kal Penn agrees:

This is the kind of Keen Insight we need from our B-Actor-Turned-Important-Social-Commentator Class. We should all be very worried about these “activist judges” brazenly insisting on adherence to the Constitution instead of allowing US American cities to institute ineffective and racist policies driven by Blind Fear. Oh, and “activist judges” is apparently a Thing that people who used to work in the Obama Administration are worrying about these days. Who knew?

It was suggested to Actor Kal Penn that other cities that have not instituted a “Stop All the Blacks and Latinos” policy are seeing even greater decreases in crime than NYC, but Actor Kal Penn is no dummy; he knows the score:

Now that is some Fact-Based Analysis, right there!

See, Blacks and Latinos? You are making Actor Kal Penn sad with your conjectured propensity toward committing and being victims of “the most crimes.” Only a policy that protects the poor Black victims of The Most Crimes by preemptively treating them as criminals themselves can heal the rifts, not only in US America, but also in Actor Kal Penn’s very soul.

I considered that this might have been some elaborate troll, a performance art piece via Twitter designed to ultimately expose the shallow idiocy of defenders of the Stop and Frisk program, but it turns out that Actor Kal Penn got mugged one time, so now he’s an expert on crime and criminality. That’s just Science.

Now let’s all get fake high and hang out with crazy Neil Patrick Harris, and…scene.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

This Week in Oppressive Government Violence: August 11, 2013

Very short this week. We had family over for dinner so I’m getting a late start.

Egypt: Something is very likely to give tomorrow:

Egyptian security forces are preparing to besiege supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi who are gathered in Cairo protest camps.

Security sources told Al Jazeera that police would launch action against the protesters early on Monday.

Al Jazeera’s Simon McGregor-Wood, reporting on Sunday from the pro-Morsi Cairo suburb of Nasr City, said that the police action would not be a full-scale assault.

“It will simply be a very comprehensive encirclement of this encampment to try to put the squeeze on,” he said.

“They will let people out, but they won’t necessary let them or vital supplies back in.”

It’d be nice to think that whatever happens tomorrow really won’t be a “full-scale assault,” but the Egyptian government has kind of a lousy track record at this point.

Syria, India, Ethiopia, South Africa, Turkey, and Bahrain below. This turned out to be not so short after all. Continue reading