Get Away With It

Justice BankingI’m not quite sure what Justice Banking is, except that it is some kind of social satire group. But you really should watch this video. What I particularly like about it is that it focuses on what I just wrote: bankers are the ones who are supposed to be looking out for their interest; the borrowers will naturally want money that they may have difficulty paying back. Of course, in this video, they take it further—which isn’t to say that it isn’t still absolutely accurate.

As we’ve seen over the last 20 years, the laws have been changed to make finance harder for individuals and easier for corporations. It is now very hard for an individual to file bankruptcy. But it is easier than ever for a corporation! Bankers have always had an easy time screwing the individual. But as banks have gotten bigger, they’ve been able to get their pals in government to make it even easier.

Check out this video. It’s really great:

H/T: Digby

Kick the Poor Then Jail Them

Tea PartyEd Kilgore made a good point over at the Political Animal blog, More Pain For Economic Victims. In it, he talked about the widely reported William Dickens and Rand Ghayad paper (pdf) that showed that employers would rather hire a less qualified applicant who has been unemployed for a short time than a more qualified applicant who has been unemployed a long time. He noted that this is part of the environment where the people who suffered because of the 2008 financial crisis were widely blamed for it.

You may remember this. Rick Santelli performed a live CNBC rant about how people taking out mortgages they eventually couldn’t afford were the reason for the financial crisis. This, of course, was entirely off base and entirely typical of elite opinion. The way the system is supposed to work is that a poor person goes to the bank and asks for a loan. The bank then decides if the poor person is a good risk. It is not surprising that poor people would ask for loans they can’t afford. It is the bank’s obligation to protect itself by only loaning money that is likely to be repaid. Santelli and his stock broker friends just loved the idea of turning this on its head. Those poor bankers! They were taken advantage of by those thoughtless poor people!

What’s more, we heard not a peep out of Santelli when it came to TARP, the law that paid out hundreds of billions of dollars to banks. It was only when the government decided to spend about a tenth of that with the Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan that he started ranting. So you can see where the Santelli crowd was coming from. What was surprising was that the Tea Party movement would burst into existence as a result of Santelli’s rant. These were, after all, middle and upper-middle class people whose interests were better represented by the later Occupy Wall Street movement. But no, helped along by Fox News and the Koch Brothers, they were on the streets demanding that government not help individuals. (In fairness, the Tea Party claimed to be against TARP, but almost without exception, they have backed candidates who are against helping individuals and for helping corporations. We can either say that the people in the Tea Party hate regular Americans or they are stupid/ignorant, but we can’t say that they are smart and don’t hate their neighbors.)

The outcome of the Tea Party movement has been a more radicalized Republican Party and generally a more conservative and fearful Democratic Party. This despite the fact that the Tea Party never did have any real power. They were just the right flank of the Republican Party—now with a catchy name. And generally it’s meant a much more callous attitude toward those who are struggling in this economy. Perhaps the worst aspect of this has been the focus of Washington on debt over the last three years while ridiculously high levels of unemployment have just been ignored.

Kilgore notes that some of the army of long-term unemployed may eventually be driven to economic crime. But not to worry:

At some point, if this status produces anti-social behavior, I’m sure a lot of comfortably situated people will share some additional self-righeousness with these folk, and find it in their hearts to support even more public expenditures for incarcerating them than anyone proposed for helping them get back into the mainstream economy.

But I don’t totally agree with him. The 20% of Americans who associate themselves with the Tea Party have always been of the philosophy that if you fall down they’ll kick you but if you mess up they’ll jail you. The only question is whether reasonable politicians will continue to fear these vile and hateful conservatives enough to go along.

Samuelson: Economics Is Confusing

Robert SamuelsonYesterday was Sunday and that can mean only one thing: Robert Samuelson wrote something stupid in his column over at the Washington Post and Dean Baker destroyed it with mockery and, you know, facts. I really don’t like Samuelson; he’s the embodiment of the Very Serious Pundit who claims to simply explain what the facts are, when he actually pushes conservative ideology. And given that Samuelson writes about economics and finance (what I care most about), he is one of “the most slappable people on earth.”

This week, he really outdid himself. His argument is that all this austerity that he’s been pushing for four years hasn’t worked and now none of the people he’s been listening to know what is going on. He wrote, “The public is confused, because economists are divided.” But that’s not really true. As Paul Krugman noted, there are economists who have been right and economists how have been wrong. Samuelson insists on talking to the economists who have been wrong. And given that these austerity economists still don’t want to admit that they were wrong, they just claim that no one knows and that the macroeconomic field is divided.

Jared Bernstein makes fun of Samuelson’s claim that nothing we seem to do helps the economy:

This is like someone who’s supposed to be getting in shape for a race saying “I’ve tried eating extra snack foods, sitting around watching TV, and napping… but nothing seems to be improving my speed. It’s a mystery!”

Or to put it less fancifully, “We’ve done everything we can to slow the economy down, but it all just seems to slow the economy down. It’s a mystery!”

But what is most surprising about Samuelson’s article is it’s ending. And no one has mentioned it, perhaps because everyone expects this kind of thing from him. Samuelson uses the fact that “no one knows” what’s going on in the economy to justify—Wait for it!—more austerity!

But now a cycle of overconfidence has given way to a cycle of under-confidence. The trust in macroeconomic magic has shattered. This saps optimism and promotes spending restraint.

So when we “knew” that austerity was good we pursued austerity. But now that we don’t know if austerity is good we should pursue… austerity?

If economists somehow prove to Samuelson that austerity is bad, I guess he will tell us to pursue… austerity.

I guess he’s right: economics is confusing!

Lesbians, Short Hair, and the Frumpy Years

Sue PerkinsLast night, I watched this video 24 Hours of Madness. It is some kind of British celebrity game show. You know the kind where everyone goes on just to show that they are more clever and charming than the Yankees? And I got sucked in. It was loads of fun. But if you are going to watch it, fast forward to about 10 minutes, because it is a raw tape and you can’t hear anything up to that point.

One of the celebrities was comedian Sue Perkins. And I thought—in addition to being, of course, clever and charming—she was lovely. And then I thought, “I’ll bet she’s a lesbian.” So I looked it up in “Who’s a lesbian,” also known as Wikipedia, and sure enough: she’s a lesbian. And that got me wondering, “Why do I always find lesbians so attractive?”

My answer is that it is the hair. I love short hair on women. Normally, I would call for more straight women to cut their hair short. But the truth is that it works for me that short hair appears to be a lesbian thing. That way, I can have unrequited crushes on women and know that it absolutely is nothing personal. And that’s a very comforting thought as I make my way through the frumpy years.

Miranda and Terror

Dzhokhar TsarnaevThe New York Times just reported that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be tried in a civilian court. Thank God for small favors. Really, there should have been no question. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in the United States who are hellbent on destroying the United States Constitution, even while they claim to love it. And the current occupant of the White House is one of them.

Over the weekend, Glenn Greenwald discussed the Democratic and “liberal” responses to Lindsey Graham’s tweet, “The last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights telling him to ‘remain silent.'” Although Graham’s tweet is repellent, it goes right along with Obama administration policy over at least the last two years. Greenwald is genuinely confused about how Democrats can support the president when he does it but oppose it when Graham calls for it. To me it is very simple: Democrats trust that Obama would only use such powers in extreme situations. And this is not that bad an assumption as can be seen in this recent news about a civil trial. The problem, of course, is even if we should always trust Obama (and I don’t think we should), eventually, the White House will be occupied by someone more like Bush Jr or Dick Cheney. Giving these powers to Obama is giving them (And more!) to every future decider.

Yesterday, Ari Melber wrote an excellent article for Reuters, Can Tsarnaev Be Ruled an ‘Enemy Combatant’? In it, he discusses three major legal questions that relate to this case. The first question is the title of the article: can this young man be treated as an enemy combatant? Melber says that in general he can’t. The only authority the president has to do this comes from the 11 September 2001 authorization of force. And to use this, the government would have to directly link Tsarnaev to al Qaeda or the Taliban.

I find the entire question offensive, but entirely America. We have defined a new term, “enemy combatant.” This places anyone we like in a no man’s land between civilian (where civil courts are in power) and soldier (where the Geneva Conventions are in power). Thus, we can effectively disregard hundreds of years of habeas corpus, even while we still maintain that the United States is the land of liberty. And what is it exactly that people like Graham and McCain think they get by pretending we are in some kind of traditional global war? It reminds me very much of Jeff Trent in Plan 9 from Outer Space. When told about a bomb we are about to develop that will destroy the universe, he says, “So what if we do develop this Solanite bomb? We’d be even a stronger nation than now!” “Belligerent” and “dangerous” are not synonyms for “strong.”

Melber’s second legal question is whether being an accused terrorist should change what legal rights Tsarnaev is given. (I know: rights are not supposed to be given. Mark that down on the list of lies you were taught in civics.) It is on this question that the Obama administration (with little push back from “liberals”) has been really bad. In 1984, the Supreme Court found that Miranda Rights did not have to be given to a suspect if there was a public safety concern. For example, “Are there any more bombs? Is your apartment booby trapped?” I don’t even understand why the court allowed this exception. Police can ask any questions they want. Miranda only matters when it comes to which statements are admissible in court. I don’t see any reason why these necessary public safety questions need to come up in court. But as Liberal Viewer noted last night, Deval Patrick has said there is no danger, so there really is no justification for the “public safety” exception.

Regardless, this exception has only ever been allowed for a matter of minutes. The longest time ever was 50 minutes. But in 2010, the Obama administration announced that it would seek the legal authority to never give Miranda Rights to terror suspects. And that is Melber’s third legal question. Instead of going to Congress, Obama did what the Bush administration was so good at: make up the rules themselves—which they did in March 2011. The problem, as Melber points out, is that the Obama administration is a lot smarter than the Bush administration. Bush was publicly slapped down by none other than Antonin Scalia. But Obama pushes the envelope and thus gets away with it.

The common reaction is, “So what? They’re just terrorist?” Of course, the point is that they are terror suspects. But that aside, there are important reasons to care, as Ari Melber makes plain:

A great weight of evidence shows that programs which unilaterally revoke the rights of a class of citizen, or suspect, rarely remain very limited. As Yale law professor Jack Balkin has documented, when governments erect a parallel track of reduced rights to combat terrorism, the conventional law enforcement system faces a huge temptation to “increasingly [follow] the parallel track.” It’s not only the “bad guys” that have to worry about the government’s powers. In the areas of indefinite detention, drone targeting and Miranda, the administration is uncorking temptations that require a much deeper public debate.

There is one final wrinkle in the external constraints at work here. Bush set the bar so low, many influential political analysts have suggested his successor deserves praise simply for not breaking the law, for not operating black sites and not torturing people.

This is as absurd as it is depressing. Obeying the Constitution is a prerequisite for every president. Not a metric on which to be scored.

And that is an important point. Because we like Obama, we need to hold him accountable. Accepting him as “not as bad as Bush” does him a disservice as well as ourselves.

Immanuel Kant Was a Real Pissant

Immanuel KantCool birthdays are not evenly distributed. Some days, it is hard to find anyone to talk about. Look at Friday, for example—and it wasn’t even close to the worst. And then there are days like today that are overflowing with interesting people. Let’s start with Henry Fielding who was born on this day in 1707. He wrote Tom Jones and thus would be the standout guy most days. But alas, not today. Vladimir Lenin was born in 1870. And another notable Russian, novelist Vladimir Nabokov was born in 1899. Charles Mingus was born in 1922. On a normal day, any of these people could win the birthday prize.

The same goes for the living. Glen Campbell is 77 today. Jack Nicholson is 76. John Waters is 67. And Peter Frampton is 63. (Okay, maybe not him.)

But the day goes to Immanuel Kant who was born on this day back in 1724. He was an amazing thinker, but I don’t recommend trying to read him. It’s very difficult, painstaking work. You are better off with something like Roger Scruton’s Kant: A Very Short Introduction. After trying to read Kant in high school, I really got started with him by reading Ayn Rand and her obsequious follower Leonard Peikoff. She hated him and dismissed him so much that I knew there must be something to him. And there is. Lots. In fact, Rand’s primary critique that Kant is some kind of relativist who doesn’t believe in absolute reality is nonsense, but so too is Rand’s idea about objective reality. Is your brain starting to hurt? Imagine what fun awaits you!

Happy birthday Immanuel Kant!

Afterword

And there’s this:

Insulting Ayn Rand

Ayn RandI have major problems with Christopher Hitchens. One of the biggest is that he chose to use his incredible intellect for such trivial pursuits. But when he was right about something, I was on his side. And the fact is that he was right about quite a lot. Unfortunately, he used the last ten or so years of his life dedicated to his racist complaint about Islam. But in the following video he attacks Ayn Rand. He starts with a two word response that is all one really needs to say, “The novels.” But he goes on from there. It is fun, but not all that insightful. In particular, when Rand made sense, whatever she was saying was obvious. Her clever thinking (such as it was), she left for her most ridiculous ideas like her constant pronouncement that altruism doesn’t exist.

There is one part of this short clip that bothers me. Hitchen quotes something great from Lillian Hellman. I don’t know why it is, but conservative intellectuals seem to not be able to control themselves from insulting that poor lady even when they are complimenting her. I’m not suggesting that she was some wonderful person. But there is definitely something that gets under their skin. I think it speaks well for Ms. Hellman.