Category Archive: Quotations

Feb 25

Chinese Room Argument

John Searle - Chinese Room ArgumentThe argument and thought-experiment now generally known as the Chinese Room Argument was first published in a paper in 1980 by American philosopher John Searle. It has become one of the best-known arguments in recent philosophy. Searle imagines himself alone in a room following a computer program for responding to Chinese characters slipped under the door. Searle understands nothing of Chinese, and yet, by following the program for manipulating symbols and numerals just as a computer does, he produces appropriate strings of Chinese characters that fool those outside into thinking there is a Chinese speaker in the room. The narrow conclusion of the argument is that programming a digital computer may make it appear to understand language but does not produce real understanding. Hence the “Turing Test” is inadequate. Searle argues that the thought experiment underscores the fact that computers merely use syntactic rules to manipulate symbol strings, but have no understanding of meaning or semantics. The broader conclusion of the argument is that the theory that human minds are computer-like computational or information processing systems is refuted. Instead minds must result from biological processes; computers can at best simulate these biological processes. Thus the argument has large implications for semantics, philosophy of language and mind, theories of consciousness, computer science, and cognitive science generally.

–David Cole
The Chinese Room Argument

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/25/chinese-room-argument/

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Feb 24

Obamacare Repeal Is in Grave Danger

Jonathan ChaitEleven days before Donald Trump took office, I wrote a column with the slightly hedged but still hyperbolic headline “Obamacare Repeal Might Have Just Died Tonight.” While the “might” was doing a lot of work, my argument was that the GOP’s clearest and easiest path for repealing Obamacare had fallen short, which would force Republicans to attempt to forge a vastly more difficult path. That is what has happened since, and that is why the cause of repeal has been dying a slow and painful death. John Boehner — Who repeatedly led his party to election victories on the promise that they would repeal Obamacare! — has now admitted repeal is “not going to happen” and “most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act” would remain in place.

Let’s back up and go through how this has happened. As soon as the immediate aftermath of the election, it could be seen that “repeal and delay” gave Republicans the easiest method for destroying Obamacare. The attraction of repeal and delay is that it did not require Republicans to cobble together majorities in both chambers to support any particular alternative plan, which — despite repeated promises and assurances of imminent success — they had failed to do since the legislative debate on health care began in 2009. Repeal and delay merely required finding 218 House Republicans and 50 senators to defund Obamacare on the premise that something, to be determined later, would be better.

But several Republicans expressed reservations about repealing the law without having any clarity about its replacement, if any. By January 9, repeal-and-delay had enough opponents — Republicans could only afford to lose two votes in the Senate — that the party’s leaders would have to scrap the plan, which they did.

The Republicans’ new strategy is to stage a single vote that would repeal Obamacare and simultaneously put replacement measures in place. A group linked to Mitch McConnell is trying to whip up support for this by circulating polling showing that just 17 percent of the public supports repealing Obamacare without an immediate replacement plan. What’s important about this is not the polling result itself — independent pollsters found the same thing since well before the inauguration — but the fact that Republican leaders are now emphasizing it, rather than pretending it’s not true.

Their professed hope is that the replacement plan will give Republican members of Congress something positive to offer in the wake of killing Obamacare. The trouble for them is that attaching a replacement bill to a repeal bill makes the vote much, much harder. Now that their best chance to repeal the law is gone, the remaining options are all fairly desperate.

–Jonathan Chait
Trump’s Health-Care Nightmare Is Only Just Beginning

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/24/obamacare-repeal-danger/

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Feb 23

FBI Nab Another Fake Terrorist

Robert Lorenzo HesterThe Justice Department proudly announced the first FBI terror arrest of the the Trump administration on Tuesday: an elaborate sting operation that snared a 25-year old Missouri man who had no terrorism contacts besides the two undercover FBI agents who paid him to buy hardware supplies they said was for a bomb — and who at one point pulled a knife on him and threatened his family.

Robert Lorenzo Hester of Columbia, Missouri, didn’t have the $20 he needed to buy the 9-volt batteries, duct tape, and roofing nails his new FBI friends wanted him to get, so they gave him the money. The agents noted in a criminal complaint that Hester, who at one point brought his two small children to a meeting because he didn’t have child care, continued smoking marijuana despite professing to be a devout Muslim.

One of the social media posts that initially caught the FBI’s attention referred to a group called “The Lion Guard.” Hester told one of the undercover agents the name came from “a cartoon my children watch.”

But according to the DOJ press release, Hester had plans to conduct an “ISIS-sponsored terrorist attack” on President’s Day that would have resulted in mass casualties had it succeeded.

News reports breathlessly echoed the government’s depiction of Hester as a foiled would-be terrorist. But the only contact Hester had with ISIS was with the two undercover agents who suggested to him that they had connections with the group.

–Murtaza Hussain
Trump’s First Terror Arrest: a Broke Stoner the FBI Threatened at Knifepoint

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/23/robert-lorenzo-hester/

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Feb 22

Can Democrats Take Back the House in 2018?

Greg Sargent - Dems Take House in 2018?President Trump’s new plans for vastly expanded deportations, and the forthcoming new version of his immigration ban, are a reminder: Trump is governing in full accordance with the xenophobic nationalism that drove his campaign. That posture may have driven up huge numbers among blue-collar whites, which offset his relative losses among college-educated white voters and helped him win key Rust Belt states.

But now that he is president, can the brutal real-world realization of these policies boost Democratic chances of taking back the House? If this is possible, what does that tell us about the political staying power of Trumpism in a broader sense? …

While Trump still remains very popular among blue-collar whites, those voters may not be all that decisive in the battle to wrest House seats from Republican incumbents. That’s because many of the districts where Republicans are weak have higher concentrations of college-educated whites and Latinos…

To be clear, Democrats still face a huge uphill climb — they have to net 24 seats, and Republicans still enjoy a huge amount of safe districts. Latinos turn out at low levels in midterms. Other factors, such as recruitment and retirements, will also matter. Trump may end up more popular than seems likely right now. And it should be stressed that Democrats still do have to address their weakness with blue-collar whites for all kinds of moral and political reasons.

But this is a dynamic to watch, and not just because of what it says about Democrats’ chances of taking back the House.

–Greg Sargent
Can Trump Help Democrats Take Back the House? Here’s a Big Thing to Watch.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/22/democrats-house-2018/

Feb 21

People Are Truly Bored of Fighting About Milo

Heather Dockray - Milo YiannopoulosAfter a week like this — in which the country’s National Security Advisor resigned because of ties to the Kremlin, someone nicknamed “the foreclosure king” was put in charge of the economy and the president did something so shameful to a black reporter it’s actually too depressing to type it out — it’s borderline quaint to argue about someone like Milo Yiannopoulos…

For many in the queer community, fighting Milo has been a grating and exhausting long-term battle. The former Breitbart columnist who commandeered the troll troops to attack Leslie Jones and claimed that “Islam is the real rape culture” has still managed to find his way to the public eye — first, by appearing in a glowing Out Magazine puff piece, then by touring college campuses nationwide.

Now, it’s by showing up on Bill Maher.

Every time he makes a public appearance that’s not on his Facebook page, he triggers the same outrage cycle:

  1. People on Twitter rise up in protest, threaten to boycott “XYZ” and destroy it forever.
  2. Someone writes a viral hot take arguing that, “Blablabla, you may not agree with him . . . but free speech!”
  3. The internet then goes after the hot-taker, who proceeds to compose a middling tweet along the lines of, “Why can’t we just agree to disagree?”
  4. Someone from the show issues a watered down statement that is literally impossible to decipher, 10 news organizations repost that exact same statement and call it a story.
  5. Milo appears anyway. He builds his fan base. The cycle begins again.

–Heather Dockray
Bill Maher Doesn’t Understand How Milo Yiannopoulos Works

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/21/milo-yiannopoulos/

Feb 20

Melania Trump in NYC or Corporation for Public Broadcasting?

Dean Baker on 2016 July Jobs ReportWe all know about the need to make trade-offs in budgeting, most of us have to do it on a regular basis in our daily lives. But what about the trade-offs for the federal government? Arguably there is no need for trade-offs right now. Both interest rates and inflation are at low levels, so it is not obvious that there is any problem with larger deficits, but folks in both parties are fixated on the need to run low budget deficits or even to have balanced budgets, so these politics dictate the need for trade-offs.

In this context, it is worth making some comparisons as the Republicans seem prepared to slash a number of relatively low cost programs that have received considerable visibility. At the top of this list would be federal funding for Legal Services, a program that has provided legal assistance to low income people for decades. This program provides lawyers for people facing foreclosures or evictions, for people who need help with a divorce or will, or for many other situations that would typically require the assistance of a lawyer. The appropriation last year came to $375 million, or 0.011 percent of the federal budget.

Another item on the chopping block is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). CPB helps fund National Public Radio as well as public television stations around the country. It got $445 million from the federal government last year or 0.013 percent of total spending.

Then there is the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). The NEA supports a variety of education and cultural events around the country. It got just under $150 million last year or 0.004 percent of the total budget. There are a number of other small programs also on the chopping block, including AmeriCorps and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

It is interesting to compare the spending of these programs that face cuts or may be eliminated altogether with spending of security for President Trump and his family. In the past, presidents have generally tried to limit their own travel and that of their families so as not to create large security bills for the country. Apparently, this is not a concern of President Trump.

Unlike past presidents, he has requested Secret Service protection for his adult children. Given their travel habits running President Trump’s business, this is likely to be a considerable expense for the government. For example, the Washington Post reported that one trip to Uruguay by Eric Trump to open a hotel there cost the government almost $100,000 in security expenses. In addition, Trump’s decision to take his weekends at his golf club in Florida, rather the White House or Camp David, costs us more than $3 million a shot. And the decision by Melania Trump to stay in New York with her son is apparently costing taxpayers close to $2 million a day. [Over $700 million per year. -FM]

–Dean Baker
Paying for Legal Services or Keeping Melania Trump in NYC: Choices for Taxpayers

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/20/comparisons-melania-trump/

Feb 19

Trump Cares About the Working Man CEO

Matt Taibbi - Wall Street CEOsDonald Trump, the man who positioned himself as the common man’s shield against Wall Street, signed a series of orders today calling for reviews or rollbacks of financial regulations. He did so after meeting with some friendly helpers.

Here’s how CNBC described the crowd of Wall Street CEOs Trump received, before he ordered a review of both the Dodd-Frank Act and the fiduciary rule requiring investment advisors to act in their clients’ interests:

“Trump also will meet at the White House with leading CEOs, including JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon, Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman, and BlackRock’s Larry Fink.”

Leading the way for this assortment of populist heroes will be former Goldman honcho Gary Cohn, now Trump’s chief economic advisor.

Dimon, Schwarzman, Fink and Cohn collectively represent a rogues gallery of the creeps most responsible for the 2008 crash. It would be hard to put together a group of people less sympathetic to the non-wealthy.

Trump’s approach to Wall Street is in sharp contrast to his tough-talking stances on terrorism. He talks a big game when slamming the door on penniless refugees, but curls up like a beach weakling around guys who have more money than he does.

—Matt Taibbi
Extreme Vetting, But Not for Banks

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/19/trump-wall-street-ceo/

Feb 18

Why Trump Won’t Invigorate the Economy

Paul Krugman - CarrierThe Wall Street Journal reports that the Trump administration’s budget planning assumes very high economic growth over the next decade — between 3 and 3.5 percent annually. How was this number arrived at? Basically, they worked backwards, assuming the growth they needed to make their budget numbers add up. Credibility! …

The claimed returns to Trumpnomics are close to the highest growth rates we’ve seen under any modern administration. Real GDP grew 3.4 percent annually under Reagan; it grew 3.7 percent annually under Clinton (shhh — don’t tell conservatives). But there are fundamental reasons to believe that such growth is unlikely to happen now.

First, demography: Reagan took office with baby boomers — and women — still entering the work force; these days baby boomers are leaving. …

Just on demography alone, then, you’d expect growth to be around a percentage point lower than it was under Reagan.

Furthermore, while Trump did not, in fact, inherit a mess, both Reagan and Clinton did — in the narrow sense that both came into office amid depressed economies, with unemployment above 7 percent…

This meant a substantial amount of slack to be taken up when the economy returned to full employment. Rough calculation: 2 points of excess unemployment means 4 percent output gap under Okun’s Law, which means 0.5 percentage points of extra growth over an 8-year period.

So even if you (wrongly) give Reagan policies credit for the business cycle recovery after 1982, and believe (wrongly) that Trumponomics is going to do wonderful things for incentives a la Reagan, you should still be expecting growth of 2 percent or under.

–Paul Krugman
Trump’s Rosy Scenario

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/18/trump-economic-growth/

Feb 18

Mary Jo White Ever Corporate Clients’ Friend

Mary Jo WhiteMary Jo White, whose tenure as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission under President Obama bitterly disappointed those who hoped she would aggressively enforce banking laws, is rejoining the corporate defense team at Debevoise & Plimpton, marking her sixth trip through the revolving door between various government jobs and the white-collar defense law firm she calls home.

Debevoise represents numerous major financial institutions under federal investigation, and White will now help those corporate clients manage their legal exposure.

White got the call to return to Debevoise on Inauguration Day, her last day at the SEC. As Debevoise presiding partner Michael Blair told the Wall Street Journal, “We had been waiting to make that phone call for several years.”

This latest trip through the revolving door is particularly disturbing because White declared in ethics disclosure forms before becoming SEC chair that she was retiring from her partnership at Debevoise, receiving a lump sum retirement payment of over $2 million. Instead of staying retired, she immediately went back to Debevoise after her government service ended, pocketing the money.

It is not, however, surprising…

Under White, the SEC failed to monitor stock buybacks to prevent market manipulation. It failed to stop the epidemic of granting waivers to companies automatically banned from securities activities after settling cases of civil and criminal wrongdoing. White stood with Republican commissioners even as Democratic colleagues tried to stop those waivers from being granted. In a troubling continuance of regulatory capture at the agency, White hired a senior Goldman Sachs attorney as the SEC chief of staff.

Though White made a big show of fighting to force companies to admit guilt in any settlement, a break from past practice, in reality this tool was rarely used. According to a letter from Senator Elizabeth Warren, of 520 settlements from June 2013 to September 2014, only 19 required admissions of guilt. And in the majority of those cases, the SEC only asked for a broad admission of the facts of the case, rather than admissions of specific securities violations. In one example, the SEC got JPMorgan Chase to admit to breaking a law in 2013, but it wouldn’t say which one.

–David Dayen
A Corporate Defender at Heart, Former Sec Chair Mary Jo White Returns to Her Happy Place

See Also:

01 January 2013: Mary Jo White: Business As Usual
24 June 2013: Good Change at SEC — Maybe
05 June 2015: Mary Jo White Is Doing Obama’s Will: Nothing

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/18/mary-jo-white/

Feb 17

The Obama Legacy in the Time of Trump

Obama HopeA major theme of my book, perhaps the central one, is that a fixation on all sides with fleeting short-term events obscured the breadth and depth of the transformative change wrought by the Obama administration. Large and even revolutionary policy changes received little attention because they were not attached to whatever political drama had captured the attention of the political media, and those “game-changing” dramas, in turn, frequently had little or no ultimate importance.

That same fixation with immediacy has continued to color our perception of Obama since he departed. Donald Trump’s election is the most compelling and immediate story in American politics, and correctly so, but its drama has caused Obama’s presidency to be refracted through the lens of Trump. What does Trump tell us about Obama? What does Obama tell us about Trump? The easy assumption since November has been that Trump would rapidly erase Obama’s legacy. “Obama’s legacy is toast,” gloated conservative commentators. That conclusion, reached immediately in the wake of the election, has continued to form the entirety of right-wing thought about Obama. Trump won, ergo, everything Obama did is gone, close the books…

Obama’s measures to prevent a second Great Depression after the 2008 financial crisis — the stimulus, the stress tests of the banks, and auto bailout — are safe from Trump by definition. The Dodd-Frank financial reforms will be temporarily weakened through lax enforcement, just as labor, environmental, campaign, and other regulations conservatives disapprove of are typically weakened during Republican administrations. But Republicans do not have anywhere close to the 60 votes they need to wipe Dodd-Frank off the books. Obama’s education reforms are likely safe as well.

But, as I argued in the book, both the green-energy revolution that Obama helped set out, and the international diplomatic consensus in favor of limiting climate change he helped assemble have a life of their own. Rather than use Trump’s election as an excuse to renege on their own commitments, world leaders insisted after the election their agreement was irreversible. Trump will slow down the pace of the green-energy transformation, but he has neither the inclination nor the ability to destroy the changes of the last eight years. Over the last few weeks, two of the largest coal-fired power plants have announced plans to shut down…

The old conservative mental image of green energy as an unaffordable hippie daydream is hopelessly quaint, in a world where the cost of solar has plunged 85 percent, and wind 66 percent, since the stimulus, and these technologies now produce energy for less than coal. Since 2008, wind power has more than quadrupled, and solar-power capacity has increased 4,000 percent.

Battery-storage technology is a crucial factor to the greening of both the electric power sector and the transportation sector. Affordable batteries are the key component to making electric cars cost-competitive with the gasoline-powered kind. And battery storage is an enormous factor in allowing renewable energy to completely displace fossil fuels. Solar and wind power can already generate electricity more cheaply than coal, but battery storage is necessary for those sources to replace the need for fossil-fuel power when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. The price of advanced batteries has fallen by more than half in the last three years alone…

And the Republican notion that subsidizing an infant industry violates the principles of a free economy, and amounts to “crony capitalism,” has been utterly abandoned in the face of an administration where the president uses his office for self-enrichment and White House employees literally use their office to gin up customers for his family business.

And then there is Obamacare repeal, the Holy Grail of the quest to erase Obama’s legacy. My book argues that Obamacare will be difficult to repeal — by bringing 20 million previously uninsured Americans into the system, Republicans can no longer ignore them. Events since its publication have borne out that analysis. Republicans have promised to replace the law with a plan that has lower deductibles and premiums and better choices. A plan like that would require spending more money than Obamacare, and Republicans are coming face-to-face with the reality that there’s no mechanism to finance such a plan that their party could support… Financing the alternative plan is the largest obstacle facing Republicans, but hardly the only one. There are innumerable problems that must be resolved — whether to keep the Medicaid expansion, whether to defund Planned Parenthood, whether to repeal Obamacare’s taxes, and on and on. Republicans have to find near unanimity on every single one of them in order to pass a bill out of both chambers of Congress. They have resolved none of them so far.

Republicans in Congress have made no more progress in developing a partywide alternative in the three and a half months since the election than they made in the seven years before that. Their only options are to keep the current system, or some version thereof, or inflict cruelty upon millions and massive disruption to an industry that accounts for a fifth of the economy. “I would say it’s not that easy to repeal it,” concedes Representative Peter King. “The entire repeal is in mortal danger,” admits Representative Trent Franks.

Republican messaging heavily emphasized the notion that Obama governed largely through the issuing of executive orders, which supposedly left his agenda vulnerable to a quick reversal. Trump has illustrated how fallacious that notion was. The new president has issued a flurry of executive orders, but — with the exception of the immigration order, which was a fiasco — these orders have mostly been symbolic vehicles for communicating goals, rather than actual policy changes.

The notion that Obama’s presidency could and would be erased with a few strokes of the pen was a form of Republican propaganda that Republicans themselves came to believe. Conservatives took Trump’s grandiose rhetoric about repealing Obamacare and replacing it with something terrific, or bringing back coal jobs, at face value because they wanted to believe it. (Many despondent liberals yielded to the same conclusion out of characteristic fatalism.) But one of the lessons gained from a close study of Obama’s presidency, or any presidency, is that governing is hard. The reforms his domestic policies have wrought do not come easy. Even a highly competent Republican presidency would have difficulty unwinding them. And Trump has shown no signs so far of being even a minimally competent president. The expectation of a rapid erasure of Obama’s presidency looks like — to pick a cliché I read somewhere — hubris dashed against the sharp rocks of reality.

–Jonathan Chait
Remember How Trump Was Going to Erase Obama’s Legacy Overnight? Yeah, Not So Much.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/17/obama-legacy-trump/

Feb 16

Republicans Obamacare Disagreements

Andrew ProkopDeep uncertainty and serious divisions within the Republican coalition about the way forward on Obamacare have surfaced in the new Congress, and they’ve put the future of repeal and replace in doubt.

It’s become evident that there is little GOP unity on how much a replacement plan should cost, how to pay for it, whether the Medicaid expansion should be rolled back, or how to fix the individual markets.

Furthermore, there is no evident agreement even on extremely broad questions such as, “What should the goals of the GOP’s replacement plan be?”

Accordingly, many Republicans in both the House and Senate are increasingly fearful about moving to roll back Obamacare too quickly when so little is settled about what comes after it. And their problems are compounded by the fact that while a reasonably comprehensive repeal bill could be rammed through with just 50 Senate votes plus Vice President Mike Pence, a serious replacement bill would need 60 Senate votes, at least eight of which would have to come from Democrats.

It is not impossible that President Trump and the Republican Party will overcome all these problems. But to do so, they will have to come up with consensus answers to these five very serious unsettled questions.

1) What is the goal here? …

2) What will they do about money? …

3) What’s to be done with Medicaid? …

4) How will they try to make the individual markets work better? …

5) Just how committed are they to this thing, anyway?

—Andrew Prokop
The 5 Biggest Disagreements Republicans Have on Obamacare

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/16/obamacare-repeal-disagreements/

Feb 15

Funding Social Wealth Fund: Mandatory Share Issuances

Matt Bruenig - Corporate Income TaxRight now, the US taxes corporate income at a statutory rate of 35 percent (the effective rate is much lower). The way this works is corporations determine what their profits are and then take 35 percent of them (actually less) and remit that money to the state. If we wanted to build up the wealth fund quickly, we could replace the corporate income tax with mandatory share issuances.

There are two ways to do this. The first way, favored by Dean Baker, is to have companies give a one-time grant of shares to the government equal to whatever we think an appropriate tax rate would be. So, instead of taxing corporate income at 20 percent, we could have each corporation give the state shares equal to 20 percent of its outstanding shares. This would make the state the 20 percent owner of the company and would entitle it to 20 percent of the dividends, buybacks, and any other payouts to shareholders.

The second way, favored by Rudolf Meidner, is to have companies give an annual grant of shares to the government equal to some percent of their annual profits. So, instead of taxing corporate income at 20 percent every year, we would have companies give over shares equal in value to whatever their corporate income tax liability would be that year. So, if a company had profits of $100 million, the 20 percent mandatory share issuance would require them to give the state shares equal to $20 million. This is a much more aggressive strategy than the one favored by Baker because, in the long-run, it would result in far more of the company’s equity getting transferred into the social wealth fund.

–Matt Bruenig
Nickel-and-Dime Socialism

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/15/corporate-income-tax-share-issuances/

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