Saturday, September 06, 2014

Lunatic Soul: "Cold"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's a track off the forthcoming album, its fourth, by Lunatic Soul, Walking on a Flashlight Beam.

Lunatic Soul is the solo project (known for its lack of electric guitars) of Riverside singer and bassist Mariusz Duda (no relation that I'm aware of to Lucas Duda of the New York Mets, currently lighting it up on my fantasy team).

So basically, this is a song off an album by the lead member of a band that is often compared to Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree, being released by my favourite label, Kscope.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Welcome to the world of Polish post-prog.


Lunatic Soul - Cold (from Walking on a Flashlight Beam) from Kscope on Vimeo.


Bookmark and Share

Friday, September 05, 2014

Economy does better under Democrats: It’s the policies, stupid!

By Frank Moraes

If you look at economic data even as casually as I do, you cannot have missed noticing that the United States’ economy does better under Democratic presidents than it does under Republican presidents — a lot better. Looking at all the presidents after World War II, the economy grows at about twice the rate under Democrats as it does Republicans. I’ve never thought that much about it. I’ve always figured that it was due to a lot of luck.

Well, I was just over at Mark Thoma’s blog (absolutely essential daily reading if you are at all interested in economics) and he posted a paper by Alan Blinder and Mark Watson, The US Economy Performs Better Under Democratic Presidents. Why? These two Princeton economists look seriously at this question and conclude… Well, they are academics and so it is all very nuanced and complicated. But let me see if I can lay it out for you.

First they looked at both fiscal and monetary policy to see if that explained anything. There was no correlation with fiscal policy (stimulus), and the monetary policy actually favored the Republicans. So the two colossal economic drivers have nothing to do with the fact that Democratic presidents are far better for the economy than Republicans. That’s important to remember.

They next looked at five kinds of economic shocks that might indicate that it is just a matter of luck. The shocks are: oil price; productivity; foreign growth; consumer expectations; and defense spending. When they included all of these, half of the effect was explained. But that doesn’t mean that these things are all random. Oil and military shocks are both affected by government policy. What’s interesting is that consumer confidence goes up during Democratic presidencies. This is a big part of the correlation. The authors ask, “Did [the public] know something economists didn’t?” All I can say is that it wouldn’t be surprising; the economic profession is known for its cluelessness.

But that leaves half the effect of better economic performance under Democratic presidents unexplained. I have an idea: it’s the policies, stupid. Especially over the last four decades, Republicans seem far more interested in enriching their already rich friends than doing what is best for the economy. For example, I’m sure that the Iraq War was terrible for our economy. The economy did grow through the early years of it, but that was what it was already doing. I’m talking opportunity cost here. We could have built roads and bridges and factories; we could have educated more people and done more research; in other words: we could have built our nation’s infrastructure with the money we spent blowing up things in Iraq. I have been very hard on both Presidents Clinton and Obama for their foreign policies. But there is no doubt that as lethal as their policies are, they are not huge economic drags.

Similarly, when Republicans want to stimulate the economy, they generally do it in the most inefficient way possible: they give lots of money to people who already have more money than they can spend. Democrats are much more efficient with programs like the payroll tax holiday and extended unemployment benefits. While Blinder and Watson looked at total fiscal policy, they didn’t look at it’s effectiveness. I suspect if they did, they would find a big effect there as well.

So the bottom line is that Democratic presidents produce better economic growth because they offer better economic policy. The Republican prescription of convincing people to vote for them to “get the darkies” so they can give tax cuts to the rich and start bloody good wars does not lead to a good economy.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Louisiana judge exposes his ignorance (and bigotry) in upholding state's same-sex marriage ban

By Michael J.W. Stickings

With most of the country moving in a progressive direction on same-sex marriage, you knew you could count on a retrograde place like Louisiana to strike a blow for good-ol'-fashioned stupidity, bigotry, and medievalism:

People who think gay Americans do not deserve the same rights as straight Americans finally have something to celebrate.

After a disastrous losing streak in the federal courts — every single federal court to consider the question after the Supreme Court struck down the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013 has sided against marriage discrimination — Team Anti-Gay finally found a single court in Louisiana that was willing to stand up for the the principle that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry. Judge Martin Feldman, a Reagan appointee to the federal trial bench, has now written the only federal court decision in the country holding that gay couples are not entitled to the same rights as straight couples.

Oh, but it took some of the usual right-wing ignorance to make it happen:

Political operatives seeking to cast aspersions on Feldman's approach to gay rights will find a lot to work with in his opinion. At one point, he describes being gay as one of several "lifestyle choices" a person can make. At another point in his opinion, he compares same-sex marriage to marriage between "aunt and niece," "aunt and nephew," or "father and child." He also likens marriage equality to polygamous marriages.

And on and on. ThinkProgress goes on to pick apart what turns out to be a remarkably unlearned opinion, an opinion obviously rooted not in an appreciation for the law, nor in an understanding of the issue at hand, but in the judge's own biases, an opinion that screams right-wing judicial activism. It's bigotry with respect to gay rights, but also astonishing ignorance with respect to the law, as well as to the basic elements of judicial review.

But this guy's a Republican. What else did you expect?

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

The crisis of the new order

By Richard K. Barry

I am currently reading Arthur M. Schlesinger's 1957 book The Crisis of the Old Order: 1919-1933. It's not really important why. I just am.

On page 68 of the Houghton Mifflin edition I came across this commentary on factors that led to the stock market crash of 1929:
In time it would appear that even the leaders of business could not decipher the intricate financial structures they were erecting. But for the moment everyone understood that there was an endless source of money and power, a roulette wheel at which no one lost. More and more the nation's passions centred on the feverish trading in the narrow streets at the lower tip of Manhattan Island.

Unless one is particularly dense, it's difficult not to think of 2008 and the subprime mortgage crisis, derivatives, etc.

Closer to today, however, I recall reading a piece in Forbes Magazine back in April which discussed Warren Buffett's current thinking. 

Robert Lenzner wrote:
Warren Buffett is well known for his famous warning about derivatives as “weapons of mass destruction.” Well, recently he went much further with Forbes Magazine, flatly prognosticating someday (he doesn’t known when) a massive financial “discontinuity,” which the dictionary refers to as an “ending, expiration, halt, lapse, a shutdown, a stoppage,” that could very well be worse than 2008. What terribly worries him is that he simply doesn’t understand the massive derivatives position on the balance sheet of J.P. MorganChase .” Like many other financial experts Buffett can’t really figure out the financial health of JPM’s derivatives. It is impossible for anyone to divine the extent that JPM is profiting or losing money or the risks entailed in the identity of counterparties, the quality of the collateral used, and the amount of leverage employed.

Yes, well...

(Cross-posted at Culturolio.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Hard to be a pacifist

By Mustang Bobby

After hearing about another execution of an American journalist held hostage by ISIS, the visceral reaction comes easily.  Even the most even-tempered and non-violent soul finds the gorge rising in their throat and the simple solutions easily form in the mind: "Find them, kill them, and make sure they know who did it and why."

We have the forces; we have the means and the power to hunt down these wretched fanatics and grind them to powder.  There is no place on the planet they can hide.  We got bin Laden, so why can't we marshal all the secret weapons and black ops teams like the ones we see on TV?  Why isn't a bullet between the eyes the way to do it?

Because it's what they want.  It is what they are counting on.  To ISIS and al-Qaeda, life is expendable and replaceable.  One more dead leader to them means they replace him with another; one more drone attack by us furthers their cause and draws new men to their cause.  We have been taking out their leaders since before we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and still they grow.  We took out the most hunted man in the world and that hasn't stopped them from replacing him.

We are seeing the consequences of being goaded into war.  We are seeing the result of generations of exploitation and lorded-over exceptionalism and self-styled supremacy.  The attacks against the West are not because we are not Muslim; they attack people of their own faith.  They are using religion as a facade in the same way a bigot uses the bible to justify racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and they allow their visceral hatred of those that bullied them to control their actions as well.  Their only hope is that we will respond in kind.  And we have.

Read more »

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Some thoughts on prejudice

By Capt. Fogg

Well, if you told me you were drowning
I would not lend a hand
I've seen your face before my friend
But I don't know if you know who I am
Well, I was there and I saw what you did
I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin,
I know where you've been
It's all been a pack of lies

-Phil Collins-

What is an observation without a frame of reference? We like to think we can observe facts and make rational deductions, but we can't. Anyone with training in psychology as it pertains to law enforcement is likely to tell you that eye witness accounts of the same occurrence will vary markedly and it's been clearly demonstrated that observers concentrating on one thing will be completely unaware of important people and objects in their direct view.

When I read about an unarmed African American "child" kneeling with his hands up being shot multiple times, I was truly irate, I was ready to write off reports of his just having perpetrated a class B felony and his having charged a policeman who had ordered him to stop as racism. It fits with my habitual beliefs about the police and racism. I may well have been totally wrong and it may not be the first time, but if it turns out that the 6 foot 4 200 pound "Child" did in fact charge the officer, things might just be other than I was primed to believe.

You might relate it to the halo effect: the tendency to have a view of people and things because of, in this case, his being a member of a traditionally disadvantaged class We do after all read about all sorts of injustice based on race and racism seems to explain a lot. But sometimes, of course we're wrong. Sometimes we fail to see things through the eyes of people who run stores and gas stations in "bad" areas whose lives are in danger every day. Is it too easy for me to condemn it from the safety of my gated community and the comfort of my air conditioned office? It depends on your viewpoint, your frame of reference, the things you associate with other things because your human and you have a memory.

Read more »

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share