Ammon Bundy in Custody; Is Malheur Over?

LaVoy FinicumWell, as of Wednesday, Ammon Bundy is in custody and the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is more or less over. One man ended up dead, which is sad. But given the situation, I think we need to be thankful. We aren’t talking about the most stable people here. It could have been Waco all over again. They could have decided to burn themselves alive. What I hadn’t known was that these guys had been coming and going from the refuge to have meetings with the press and so on. As a result, the FBI and local officials decided to just pick them up on the road. It looks like everything went okay until LaVoy Finicum panicked and drove away. When his vehicle got stuck, he charged at police and was shot dead. Ammon’s brother Ryan was apparently shot in the arm.

The supporters of these domestic terrorists are defending them. In fact, Nevada Assembly member Michele Fiore tweeted out, “My heart & prays go out to LaVoy Finicum’s family he was just murdered with his hands up in Burns OR.” Was she there? Of course not! She just heard it from someone else who wasn’t there. I’m not saying that Finicum wasn’t murdered in cold blood — police certain do that. But it’s typical of a conservative to just gab any liberal rhetoric and go with it, because they are postmodern and they define the truth.

To give you some idea of just how ridiculous this all is, on 21 January, Ammon Bundy went and met with the FBI to negotiate an end to the standoff. They was supposed to meet the following day, but Bundy left when the FBI refused to negotiate in public. It’s all too clear what this is all about. Ammon Bundy and company want publicity. Their demands are ridiculous: that the federal government doesn’t own any of its own land. Thus, according to these bozos, the land belongs to them. It seems to me that if federal land were to just go back to the people, it ought to be proportioned, which means that none of these people would get enough land to graze their animals in his new world. It’s just because they want to define the new world so that it benefits people like them — rich people who don’t need any help.

It is sad that Finicum is dead. But the whole thing is frustrating. All these guys have acted like spoiled five year olds. They don’t respect the law and they deserve to be put in jail for a very long time. But that’s not what will happen. Because they have a lot of money, this will all go on for a very long time. They will get slapped on the wrist. And if they get any kind of major penalty (and even if they don’t), they’ll just take over another piece of property that they don’t own. Personally, I think they should all be denied bail because the probability of this is so great.

Right now, perhaps a half-dozen people remain at the refuge. And they are talking tough. But now the FBI is not letting anyone in. It seems kind of strange to me that they ever did. I really do think the whole thing would have been better dealt with the way you deal with a spoiled brat. Let them whine in their rooms and don’t let them have any snacks. Soon enough, they’d get bored and give up. What they never should have been allowed was a major platform to air their petty grievances.

One thing that is ironic is that the Bundies and their followers have always claimed this was about the federal government. But it was the people of the local area who most wanted these guys to get the hell out. The FBI was getting a lot of pressure from the local people to end the standoff. But of course, Ammon Bundy has always hidden behind the “silent majority” rhetoric — claiming that the people in that area were totally behind them. They weren’t.

The whole lot of them should spend a long time in a jail or mental hospital — whichever is appropriate. And they should be watched. Because these are exactly the kind of people who blow up federal buildings — with day-care centers. These are bad people who the society needs to be protected from.

Federal Reserve’s Potentially Catastrophic Mistake

Federal ReserveJust as recently, I’ve been going on and on about liberal attacks on Bernie Sanders, a month and a half ago, I was going on and on about the impending rise in interest rates by the Federal Reserve. And I know it’s annoying. It is so much better to mix things up. That’s why it’s so great to have James around to write things like his most recent, Minnesota Advice for Those Suffering the Cold Weather in the East. My understanding is that the women back there are strong and James is good looking. Anyway, I am going to rant about the things that I’m going to rant about. And today, it is back to the Fed.

As you may have noticed, Wall Street has been going wild. And it seems that the economy has slowed sharply over the last month. (Please: don’t ask me about Christmas; they take that stuff into account.) And so now it looks like the Fed’s brilliant idea of raising interest rates even while the inflation rate continued to be below its target seems like a bad idea that was seen by pretty much everyone who didn’t have a vested interest.

“Most economists maintain the risk of a US recession this year are slim, but markets are now pricing roughly even odds of one, and that in itself has consequences.” —Robin Wigglesworth

Robin Wigglesworth at the Financial Times wrote, Talk of Fed “Policy Error” Grows.[1] He quoted JPMorgan Asset Management officer Bob Michele saying what I seem to have been saying for the last few years (ever since the Fed started publicly itching to raise rates), “Historically the Fed has raised rates because either growth or inflation was uncomfortably high. This time is different — growth is slow; wage growth is limited; deflation is being imported.” So why did they do it? I guess in a sense, it is like asking why the Mad Hatter and the March Hare keep changing seats: by the rules of normal people, they are insane.

But none of this means that our current problems are due to the Federal Reserve. It is just that the rate hike worked in exactly the opposite direction that we needed to go. Lots of people like Paul Krugman have argued that the problem with the rate hike was the asymmetric risk. There was basically no risk of putting off an interest rate increase, but there was a huge risk of raising too soon. We can’t say just how all of this is going to turn out. But here is a chilling bit of reporting from Wigglesworth, “Most economists maintain the risk of a US recession this year are slim, but markets are now pricing roughly even odds of one, and that in itself has consequences.”

Could Federal Reserve Get Trump Elected?

Tim Duy (the Fed Watch guy) thinks that we won’t have a recession because it is a “sector-specific shock” and not an “economywide shock.” That means something to me because Duy is a brilliant guy who does tend to understand this stuff. Just the same, another economist who I listen to, Brad DeLong, wrote:

Does anybody think that if the FOMC back last December had known how December and January would turn out that it would have raised interest rates then? Given that they would not have, why are they not intending to lower interest rates now at this meeting?

If you asked Tim Duy, the answer would be that the Federal Reserve thinks this is likely a temporary disturbance and that it’s very likely that far from reversing course, they will be able to continue raising interest rates, even if they can’t do it quite as fast as they had hoped. But I’m more focused on that asymmetric risk. What if the economy does go into recession? That almost certainly means President Trump or President Cruz. The Federal Reserve really does determine whether millions of people have jobs or not — and if tens of millions of workers gets raises. But what it does also affects who gets elected.

This stuff matters — a lot. And it terrifies me. It is perhaps the best example that we have that we don’t live in a democracy. We are all of us dependent upon what the plutocrats at the Federal Reserve do. And it affects us all the way down to the smallest city council.

[1] The article is behind a paywall. But I suspect you all know how to get around that if you need to. You could also, of course, subscribe.

Morning Music: Here She Comes Now

White Light/White HeatI would have moved on from White Light/White Heat today. But James mentioned that he really liked the softer side of the Velvet Underground, so I thought that we would stay and listen to one of their softest, and in some ways sweetest, songs, “Here She Comes Now.”

It’s a strange title for the song. “If She Ever Comes Now” would make a whole lot more sense. I assume that title is meant to provide the listener to a clue as to the meaning of the song. The singer is just impatient. She is coming. In fact, the implication is that she is so close, he can see her. So he’s saying that he will long for her right up to the moment that he can touch her.

Of course, “Here She Comes Now” must be meant as a response to There She Goes Again off Velvet Underground & Nico. That song was violent — even misogynistic. But it’s also quite honest about the violent feelings that a breakup can cause in anyone — but most especially in a man.

So “Here She Comes Now” is about the joy of love when it comes whereas “There She Goes Again” is about the anguish of when loves goes. They make a nice pair. I prefer “Goes,” although not for the lyrical content. It’s just that the music is better and it has that wonderful double time ending. “Here She Comes Now” was probably an effort to get some radio play. And I recall reading (decades ago) that the song did dip into the Billboard top 200 at some point. Wikipedia doesn’t mention it, so I might be wrong. Also, it was the B-side of “White Light/White Heat.” But it’s not like the Velvet Underground was ever well managed.

Anniversary Post: Paris Peace Accords

Paris Peace AccordsOn this day in 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed thus ending the Vietnam War. What I think is important about it is that it wasn’t actually the end. This is the sort of thing that everyone should be more aware of. Obviously, it was more than two years later before American troops were actually removed from South Vietnam. But the more important issue is that these things don’t just stop.

In particular, it is inconceivable that the Khmer Rouge would have come to power in Cambodia without the war. And that government was responsible for the systematic murder of roughly two million Cambodians. That’s a quarter of the population. When you look at Hitler or Stalin in proportional terms, they were nothing compared to Pol Pot. It was the most horrific genocide in the history of humanity. It’s hard to even imagine.

Of course, it wasn’t primarily the American carpet bombing of Cambodia that did it. It was also about various other things having to do with the central conflict in Vietnam. In particular, the Khmer Rouge got support from the North Vietnamese government. It seems ironic that it would be the very same Vietnamese government that overthrew the Khmer Rouge just four years later. It’s also amazing that the regime was able to kill that many people in that little time.

I am generally of the opinion that war is a science. There is little about it that is mysterious. Given a particular situation, the vast majority of military leaders agree on how to proceed. What is not a science — what is a total mess — is the wider ramifications of war. Carl von Clausewitz’s statement bears repeating, “War is a mere continuation of politics by other means.” If we could see that war is, in fact, a form of diplomacy, we would do much better. But too often, we see a dichotomy that doesn’t exist: diplomacy is for wimps and war is for real men.

I imagine Iraq in 2016: Saddam Hussein still in power. The situation isn’t wonderful, but it isn’t terrible. ISIS, in as much as it exists, is far smaller and more contained. And roughly a million more people are alive. “Winning” the Iraq War was just the beginning of its very negative consequences.

The Paris Peace Accords were important. Sunk costs are suck costs. But it is better to make the decision to not start the war.