Let the Empire Burn

fireI have stopped myself all day from writing about the Voting Rights Act case. I will write about it in the morning. But I wanted to briefly explain how much this bothers me. It isn’t like it is a surprise; it is what I was expecting. But it seems more and more that the Supreme Court majority is nothing but a bunch of political hacks. The moderate minority act like traditional judges, but the other five act like they spend more time listening to Rush Limbaugh than reading law books.

The Supreme Court is, understandably, a microcosm of our larger political system. It has extremists on the right. It has moderates. And it has just one liberal: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And Ginsburg will very likely be the next to retire and will be replaced with… a moderate! The conservatives on the court would not be a problem if there were liberals on the court to counter them. But instead, what we get are extremists on one side and the others who are just acting like judges. I suspect that the non-conservatives must be confused how the conservatives even consider themselves judges.

On tonight’s All In, Chris Hayes argued that John Roberts had put the Republicans in a bad position because they would now get pressure to do something about the Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. But I don’t think that’s true at all. This is perfect for them. Up until now, they had two choices: they could change to be more appealing; or they could stop minorities from voting. They were never going to do the former. And they won’t lift a finger to stop the latter. Sometimes liberals are so silly. Do they not see the same conservative movement that I do? Conservatives do not feel shame or guilt; they just feel the rush of power. And the game is on.

There are things that Democrats can do. We can spread out all over the nation getting IDs to all the people who need them. That will cost a lot of money, but it can be done. The problem is that voter-ID laws are just the beginning of what conservatives have in store. And their plan is to so warp the voting process that it will be a couple of generations and tens of millions of unnecessary deaths before it gets sorted out. If it ever does.

The United States is a dying empire. Maybe this is all for the best. Let the mother fucker burn.

1948

George OrwellOn this day in 1709, the Italian composer Francesco Araja was born. We don’t know exactly when he died. And by that, I mean that all we know is that he was alive in 1762. And we know he was dead in 1771. But other than that, we really can’t say. The problem is that although he was born in Italy, he spent most of his life composing in Russia for Empress Anne Ioanovna and later Empress Elizaveta Petrovna. He has the distinction of composing the first Russian language opera. But as a result, he wasn’t such a big deal in Italy. He went to Russia for the coronation of Tsar Peter III. But Peter was assassinated almost immediately (he served just over 6 months). After that, he retired in Bologna, where apparently no one noticed when he died.

He is most known for his operas. Here is a bit from one of his operas for the Russian Imperial Court, Tsefal i Prokris:

The great playwright (and much else) George Abbott was born in 1887. He had a career that spanned 9 decades because he lived to be 107 years old. And director Sidney Lumet was born in 1924.

Actor June Lockhart is 88 today. Most people remember her from Lost in Space, but she had quite a wide ranging career. And she was a real honey. Civil rights activist and the first black student at Ole Miss, James Meredith is 80 today. Carly Simon is 68. The “Dy-no-mite!” Jimmie Walker is 66. And comedian and Andrea crush Ricky Gervais is 52.

The day, however, belongs to the great writer and social critic George Orwell who was born on this day in 1903. Conservatives really want to claim him as their own because he was such a keen critic of the totalitarian governments of the twentieth century. But the truth is that all of us on the left hated those governments. And we learned from the experience. The conservative movement seems only to have learned that Nazism was bad because it hated the Jews. As for the rest of us, we may be older and wiser but we maintain our ideals—just as Orwell did.

Happy birthday George Orwell!

Superstars Are Replaceable

Greg MankiwI have long argued against the idea that we must pay successful people excessive amounts of money because they would otherwise just sit on their duffs and produce nothing. There are many things wrong with this way of thinking. The main thing is that the argument can only be made by non-creative people. When Steve Jobs started Apple, he didn’t do it to great rich. He may have had dreams of being rich, but I’m sure at the time he would have been more than happy with a successful small company. That is the dream of every creative person: to do what you love and make a living at it.

But my main argument has always been that there are a whole lot more creative people than is generally understood. For every J. K. Rowling, there are literally thousands of others with comparable abilities. I’m sure that Rowling would admit that herself. She combined talent with the most limited resource there is: luck. And the same thing goes for Steven Spielberg.

I’ve mentioned these three creative people, because these are the three that Gregory Mankiw highlights to justify inequality in his paper, Defending the 1 Percent. According to him, if we didn’t have ridiculous levels of inequality, we wouldn’t have smartphones, fantasy books, and blockbuster movies. As I’ve argued for a very long time, Einstein’s contributions to our knowledge of the universe are arguably the greatest ever. Yet it is madness to think that if Einstein hadn’t ever been born that we would still be scratching our heads about the photoelectric effect.

Earlier this month, Matt Steinglass of The Economist took Mankiw to task for this very reason. He wrote:

Let’s go along with Mr Mankiw’s thought experiment: Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling and Steven Spielberg are about to create their staggeringly popular products, which will increase inequality because everyone wants to buy them. But now let’s imagine that just before these geniuses are able to bring their creations into the world, they die. No iPod, no Harry Potter, no Jaws. What happens then?

Here’s what happens then. Instead of Apple dominating the market for MP3 players in the early 2000s, Sony and Samsung do; a little later, when smartphones come along, the battle for mobile operating ecosystems revolves around BlackBerry, Samsung/Google and Nokia/Microsoft. Instead of Harry Potter, some other children’s fantasy book becomes the dominant franchise of the 2000s. And instead of Jaws, some other movie becomes the first immense blockbuster of the 1970s, and a different brilliant director’s career is launched. All of the money that was spent over the past few decades to make Mr Jobs, Ms Rowling and Mr Spielberg immensely wealthy would instead have gone to three other hard-working creative geniuses, of which the world has no shortage. There would be just as much inequality as there is now.

Everyone knows the adage, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” But it isn’t true. People have invented literally thousands of better mousetraps and no one cared. The standard mousetrap is good enough for the job. So we can’t even say that without Steve Jobs we wouldn’t have better MP3 players; without J. K. Rowling we wouldn’t have better fantasy books; without Steven Spielberg we wouldn’t have better summer blockbusters.

The take home of all this is not that we shouldn’t incentivize creative success. It is just that there are limits to it. Steven Spielberg is worth about $3 billion. Does anyone really think that he would be less creative if he only had $1 billion? What’s more, I think that he would have worked harder his whole career if he had had just $3 million. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Shameful Content on The Last Word

Edward SnowdenI don’t have a lot to say here—it largely speaks for itself. The gang on last night’s The Last Word discussed Edward Snowden in the most dismissive way. Joy Reid seems to think that if the United States just asks for anyone in China, the Chinese government has to hand him over. There is no subtlety of the law; no details; no due process. When America commands, other countries are contractually obligated to jump to attention. And then Richard Wolffe claimed that Snowden was “stupid” because he just realized that in jail, “He would not have access to a computer.” Except that people in jail often do have access to computers, although Snowden probably wouldn’t have been one of those people.

And remember: these are the supposed liberals! This is what is so fucked up about our country. Instead of dealing with the information that Snowden has revealed, everyone is focused on destroying the messenger. Who Snowden is and what his motivations are do not mean anything in understanding the content of these leaks. There have been too many comparisons between Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. But the truth is that if Ellsberg had leaked those documents in the current political climate, the media would be all over him. This is a shameful sight.

In general, I like Lawrence O’Donnell and Joy Reid and Richard Wolffe. But they all have a lot of Villager baggage. And this is all of them at their very worst:

Classification and the Attack on Democracy

ClassifiedThe purpose of classifying documents is to protect the country. Or at least that’s the idea. In fact, according to the Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operation, something classified as “top secret” is supposed to mean that disclosure “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” But that isn’t what is really going on. For example, none of the Snowden revelations meet this criterion. I think that documents get classified for the same reason video stores ask for your Social Security number: you never know.

The Brennan Center for Justice released a paper two years ago that has great significance today, Reducing Overclassification Through Accountability (pdf). The authors note two important reasons why overclassification of documents is a bad thing. First, it limits inter-agency sharing of data, which can actually make us less safe. Second, we supposedly live in a democracy, and all of this classification stops robust debate about what our government is and should be doing.

A good example of this second problem is a memo from an Atomic Energy Commission official in 1947 that stated that information about the effects of radiation on humans should be kept secret otherwise it might have an “adverse effect on public opinion or result in legal suits”! What is particularly interesting about this is that I’m sure this is the actual justification of keeping these spying programs secret. The reason isn’t that it will cause terrorists to start using Pretty Good Privacy. The reason is that if the public knows about such programs, there could be an “adverse effect on public opinion.”

I’m convinced that most documents are kept secret for the silliest of reasons. Humans like to have secrets. If there were a way to make it so that those who classify documents would lose all knowledge of and access to those documents, I’m sure there would be less classification. But instead, classifying documents just makes those on the inside feel more special and powerful. Here is an example of one such document:

A World War II-era report by the Navy titled “Shark Attacks on Human Beings” remained classified until 1958, when the Moss Subcommittee inquired whether the report warranted classification. The report “detailed 69 cases of shark attacks upon human beings; 55 of the attacks occurred between 1907 and 1940 and at least 5 of the remaining 14 attacks were covered in newspaper stories published prior to the report. The classified document also included an article entitled ‘The Shark Situation in the Waters About New York,’ taken from the Brooklyn Museum Quarterly of 1916.”

But as I said, this kind of thing is just silly. There is little to worry about if the Navy wants to pretend that publicly available information about shark attacks is really secret. The problem comes from the documents that are classified primarily as a way to avoid accountability. Here is a good example of that kind of thing:

In the 1960s, the FBI wiretapped Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s telephone. Information about this activity was classified “Top Secret,” meaning that its disclosure “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security,” even though its sole purpose, in the FBI’s own words, was to gain information about King’s personal life that could be used to “completely discredit [him] as the leader of the Negro people.”

This takes us back to my article, Problem with Unenforced Laws. Those of us who are worried about privacy do not do so because we care about the rights of terrorists. The fact is that if allowed, the government will destroy the very core of our democracy. And the classification system is not primarily used to keep our country safe from those who would harm it. It is used to keep the government safe as it attempts to harm the country. And that just won’t do.

Gold Is Not a Good Investment—At Least for 500 Years

GoldMatthew O’Brien brought my attention to the graph below which shows the inflation adjusted value of gold over the last 8 centuries. What it shows is that gold is a really terrible investment. Gold does not hold its value. Since about 1500, it has been going down in value steadily. And there are only two times recently where its value went up. The first was in the 1970s when the United States went fully off the gold standard and people could buy it. And the second time was after the financial crisis when Tea Party types became convinced that we were devaluing our currency. In other words, gold only goes up in value in a major way due to bubbles.

What boggles my mind is why people think that currency based upon gold eliminates the possibility of inflation. Gold just isn’t that valuable a commodity. Much better is to base the value of our currency on the productive capacity of our economy. And regardless, gold could be inflationary if their theories about money were correct. Imagine that huge gold reserves were discovered. Gold bugs are deluding themselves. I wish they would study this graph:

Long Term Gold Prices

I remember reading a libertarian book many years ago (I can’t remember its title). It was a good overview of libertarian thought, but the chapter on the gold standard was remarkable. The author pointed out that we didn’t need to worry about the money supply. If the economy grew too fast and more money was needed, the value of cash would just go up. Problem solved! Now, that sounds like a good idea. But like much libertarian thought, the theory is okay but it is a disaster on a practical level. If the value of money is increasing, then people have an incentive to hoard it. That means there will be less investment in the economy. If that weren’t bad enough, the hoarding of money would only make the money supply smaller and thus increase the value of it and cause more hoarding.

I still find the science of money supply confusing. And so I sympathize with the gold bugs who want to simplify the whole thing. But this really is a case where we have clear experimental data. The gold standard is not a solution to our money supply problems. And why people would think so after decades of low inflation, I can’t say.

House Rules

House RulesMy son has ADHD and is  very stubborn, controlling and thinks he rules the world, and if he does not get his way he gets very oppositional and defiant, slamming doors, flipping over furniture and uses hurtful words.

This morning was one of those mornings where he did not get his way and the house turned upside down. You see, he woke up at 7:30 am and got dressed, and I caught him sneaking out the door to go our next door neighbors without asking. Not only was it too early to go and knock on someones door, at 7:30 am, but he did not ask for permission, one of our house rules.

Our ‘House Rules’ are simple and we only have a few of them to make things easier.
1. Say please and thank you
2. Respect each other
3. Ask before you do
4. Use kind words
5. Love each other

In addition to our ‘House Rules’, my son has a routine of what is expected of him in his day to day routine, for example; brushing his teeth, getting dressed, showering daily, coming his hair, going to school, etc…If he meets the expectations he will get a specified amount of time for TV, ipad, playing with dad, playing with mom and play dates. If not, certain privileges will be taken away!

Back to this morning’s event! After catching him sneaking out the door I had to ask him nicely 25 or more times (I lost count) to come back inside, with a response of “Shut Up” or some other non-acceptable words every time. I finally got him back in the house and tried to explain to him that he can’t just walk out the door without asking plus on top of that, he cannot go knocking on someone’s door at 7:30 am. OMG, doors slammed and things went flying and the threats of he’s going to hit me started. This is where I usually lose it but today I tried to remain calm, choosing my words carefully and then re-direct. This took 30 minutes to do but we were finally able to get dressed, walk out the door, get in the car and go and get some breakfast before I dropped him off at camp.

Sitting at breakfast we were able to talk a little about what happened, how he did not follow several of our house rules, the consequence he will get for not asking to go next door and how disappointed I was. I am now on my way next door to explain what happened and to have them help me enforce the consequence of my son not being allowed to visit them today and if he tries, ask them to send him home.

In addition of letting him know of his consequence for today’s behavior, I also informed him of his schedule after I pick him up from camp so I will not experience any more opposition. He will be spending an hour with his educational therapist reading and reviewing math facts and then we are going to his behaviorist.

Needless to say I am exhausted and frustrated from this morning and having a hard time sinking my teeth into work and doing my daily chores. I need to get some food in me and run to the grocery store but instead I decided to put everything in writing hoping it will make me feel better. My son is the most sensitive, loving and caring child but sometimes he just snaps and this is where our family really struggles!