Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jason Collins Comes Out

He's the first male from a big 4 sport to do so while active, and that's pretty damn significant. Also, he was last on the Wizards, which is pretty awesome. Well done Jason and I'm sorry for all the bad things I said about the trade that brought you here, including that we traded Crawford for "nothing". Turns out you're a pretty remarkable dude.

Also, the piece he wrote is extremely well written and thoughtful, check it out

Monday, April 29, 2013

Maybe the Gun Climate is Changing...

These poll numbers are interesting:

New PPP polls in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, and Ohio find serious backlash against the 5 Senators who voted against background checks in those states. Each of them has seen their approval numbers decline, and voters say they're less likely to support them the next time they're up for reelection. That's no surprise given that we continue to find overwhelming, bipartisan support for background checks in these states.
Kind of amazing that there is a noticeable change in such a short amount of time, especially since people usually don't pay attention to votes like this until it gets closer to the election. Hopeful stuff.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Our Economy is Fucked and No One Cares

I've devoted quite a bit of time towards pointing out how much Obama has spent advocating hurting the economy during this time of long term unemployment, but there is obviously plenty of blame to go around. This kind of says it all:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dirty Wars

The much anticipated book/movie combo from Jeremy Scahill is coming out, and his interview on up with Chris last night was really interesting.

In this video with the nation, he elaborates on some of the same themes:

Can't wait to see this movie in theaters, if anyone wants to have a train get together for it I'm down.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Train of Thought Lounge: Daft Punk + Pharrell

Sorry for limited posting, dreaded work/school nexis of being busy taking it's toll.

Meanwhile, holy shit new daft punk:

And the full song, live from last weekend:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Scholarly Defense of Austerity is Seriously Flawed, Included a Significant Excel Error

The main peer reviewed journal article that provides the academic credibility for proponents of austerity has serious flaws, including a mistaken Excel calculation. Mike Konczol:
In 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff released a paper, "Growth in a Time of Debt." Their "main result is that...median growth rates for countries with public debt over 90 percent of GDP are roughly one percent lower than otherwise; average (mean) growth rates are several percent lower." Countries with debt-to-GDP ratios above 90 percent have a slightly negative average growth rate, in fact.

This has been one of the most cited stats in the public debate during the Great Recession. Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity budget states their study "found conclusive empirical evidence that [debt] exceeding 90 percent of the economy has a significant negative effect on economic growth." The Washington Post editorial board takes it as an economic consensus view, stating that "debt-to-GDP could keep rising — and stick dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth." 
Is it conclusive? One response has been to argue that the causation is backwards, or that slower growth leads to higher debt-to-GDP ratios. Josh Bivens and John Irons made this case at the Economic Policy Institute. But this assumes that the data is correct. From the beginning there have been complaints that Reinhart and Rogoff weren't releasing the data for their results (e.g. Dean Baker). I knew of several people trying to replicate the results who were bumping into walls left and right - it couldn't be done.

In a new paper, "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results. After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadhseet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff's data was constructed.

They find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result. Let's investigate further:

Selective Exclusions. Reinhart-Rogoff use 1946-2009 as their period, with the main difference among countries being their starting year. In their data set, there are 110 years of data available for countries that have a debt/GDP over 90 percent, but they only use 96 of those years. The paper didn't disclose which years they excluded or why.

Herndon-Ash-Pollin find that they exclude Australia (1946-1950), New Zealand (1946-1949), and Canada (1946-1950). This has consequences, as these countries have high-debt and solid growth. Canada had debt-to-GDP over 90 percent during this period and 3 percent growth. New Zealand had a debt/GDP over 90 percent from 1946-1951. If you use the average growth rate across all those years it is 2.58 percent. If you only use the last year, as Reinhart-Rogoff does, it has a growth rate of -7.6 percent. That's a big difference, especially considering how they weigh the countries.

Unconventional Weighting. Reinhart-Rogoff divides country years into debt-to-GDP buckets. They then take the average real growth for each country within the buckets. So the growth rate of the 19 years that the U.K. is above 90 percent debt-to-GDP are averaged into one number. These country numbers are then averaged, equally by country, to calculate the average real GDP growth weight.

In case that didn't make sense, let's look at an example. The U.K. has 19 years (1946-1964) above 90 percent debt-to-GDP with an average 2.4 percent growth rate. New Zealand has one year in their sample above 90 percent debt-to-GDP with a growth rate of -7.6. These two numbers, 2.4 and -7.6 percent, are given equal weight in the final calculation, as they average the countries equally. Even though there are 19 times as many data points for the U.K.

Now maybe you don't want to give equal weighting to years (technical aside: Herndon-Ash-Pollin bring up serial correlation as a possibility). Perhaps you want to take episodes. But this weighting significantly reduces the average; if you weight by the number of years you find a higher growth rate above 90 percent. Reinhart-Rogoff don't discuss this methodology, either the fact that they are weighing this way or the justification for it, in their paper.

Coding Error. As Herndon-Ash-Pollin puts it: "A coding error in the RR working spreadsheet entirely excludes five countries, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Denmark, from the analysis. [Reinhart-Rogoff] averaged cells in lines 30 to 44 instead of lines 30 to 49...This spreadsheet error...is responsible for a -0.3 percentage-point error in RR's published average real GDP growth in the highest public debt/GDP category." Belgium, in particular, has 26 years with debt-to-GDP above 90 percent, with an average growth rate of 2.6 percent (though this is only counted as one total point due to the weighting above).
As Dean Baker asks, just exactly how much of the world's unemployment crisis can we attribute to the mistakes of these authors? But also:
If facts mattered in economic policy debates, this should be the cause for a major reassessment of the deficit reduction policies being pursued in the United States and elsewhere. It should also cause reporters to be a bit slower to accept such sweeping claims at face value.
Ideally this would lead to a new look at all of these papers and the peer review process at journals. You simply can't imagine any other science where errors of this magnitude would have gone ignored. Something else that can't be ignored is the incentives. This paper made the authors famous in the policy making world, and famous for the right reasons on the side of it that has all the money. There is a tremendous benefit to your career if you write academic papers that back up the solutions our elites have already endorsed. We have no way of knowing if these incentives caused the authors to fudge their data or leave out countries that contradicted their thesis, but you damn sure have to wonder.

Either way, these monsters are responsible for human suffering by giving it's peddlers intelectual backing, which considering the success rate of austerity in generating economic growth (0 for history), is not surprising in the least.

As Dean says, this should be the prefect time to point out the insanity of our president and congress deciding to purposely hurt the economy, but we all know (just like R+R's research) this whole austerity endeavor has never been about the facts. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Horrible Scenes in Boston

Thoughts with everyone in Boston, particularly one of the victims, 8 year old Martin. The image from that link is heartbreaking. (via Jeremy Scahill on twitter)

Monday, April 15, 2013

The New Rhee Scandal Revelations Are A BFD

Of all the stuff I've been wrong about, I can proudly say that I saw the Michelle Rhee bullshit express coming from miles away. I've almost become numb to the countless new articles exposing her as a fraud/rightwing tool not because it isn't true, but because it's been so obvious for so long. When I finally got to take a look at the details of this most recent scandal, this should really be the one that burns her reputation to the ground forever. If you've been following the DC scandal, the revelations are absolutely jaw dropping:

Michelle A. Rhee, America’s most famous school reformer, was fully aware of the extent of the problem when she glossed over what appeared to be widespread cheating during her first year as Schools Chancellor in Washington, DC. A long-buried confidential memo from her outside data consultant suggests that the problem was far more serious than kids copying off other kids’ answer sheets. (“191 teachers representing 70 schools”). Twice in just four pages the consultant suggests that Rhee’s own principals, some of whom she had hired, may have been responsible (“Could the erasures in some cases have been done by someone other than the students and the teachers?”).

Rhee has publicly maintained that, if bureaucratic red tape hadn’t gotten in the way, she would have investigated the erasures. For example, in an interview[1] conducted for PBS’ “Frontline” before I learned about the confidential memo, Rhee told me, “We kept saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this; we just need to have more information.’ And by the time the information was trickling in back and forth, we were about to take the next year’s test. And there was a new superintendent of education that came in at the time. And she said, ‘Okay, well, we’re about to take the next test anyway so let’s just make sure that the proper protocols are in place for next time.’”
Lies, lies, lies.

So this is really, really really long post that looks into the memo, but the take away is insane. All this time Rhee has claimed that this memo told her to not look into the matter any further, when in fact the memo told her that the entire system was based on cheating. Holy fuck. "191 teachers representing 70 schools!" There is just no getting beyond that sentence.

We already knew Michelle Rhee is the worst, but she could legitimately be in prison by the time this is over.

Chris Hayes covered it extremely well last week with the journalist who obtained the memo. Very much worth watching:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Stupid Fucking People

Unbelievable: (via)
“We’re not going to have the White House forever, folks. If he doesn’t do this, Paul Ryan is going to do it for us in a few years,” said a longtime Obama aide, referring to the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate who proposed a sweeping overhaul of Medicare that would replace some benefits with vouchers.
Obama won an election for a 4 year term 6 months ago (AGAINST FUCKING PAUL RYAN), but Republicans might do something bad in the future so we should do it for them first. Dumbest people alive or just plain evil. Maybe both.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Elizabeth Warren Blasts Obama On Chained CPI

This is very good: (taken from an email blast):
Like our two older brothers, David served in the military.When he got out, he started a small business — and when that one didn’t work out, he started another one. He couldn’t imagine an America where he wasn’t living by his wits every single day.

Year after year, my brother paid into Social Security. He never questioned it. He figured he was paying so that he — and a lot of other people — could have a secure retirement.

Today my brother lives on his Social Security. That’s about $1,100 a month. $13,200 a year.

I’m telling you my brother’s story not because it’s unusual, but because it’s like the story of so many other people. I can almost guarantee that you know someone — a family member, friend, or neighbor — who counts on Social Security checks to get by.

That’s why I was shocked to hear that the President’s newest budget proposal would cut $100 billion in Social Security benefits. Our Social Security system is critical to protecting middle class families, and we cannot allow it to be dismantled inch by inch.

The President’s policy proposal, known as “chained CPI,” would re-calculate the cost of living for Social Security beneficiaries. That new number won’t keep up with inflation on things like food and health care — the basics that we need to live.

In short, “chained CPI” is just a fancy way to say “cut benefits for seniors, the permanently disabled, and orphans.”

Two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for most of their income; one-third rely on it for at least 90% of their income. These people aren’t stashing their Social Security checks in the Cayman Islands and buying vacation homes in Aruba – they are hanging on by their fingernails to their place in the middle class. 
Good strong language. It would be great if she joined Senator Sanders as a vocal opponent of this.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Margaret Thatcher is Dead

And the word is a better place for it. Alex Pareene knocks this out of the park, but I'll leave you with this quote by former London mayor Ken Livingstone:

She created today’s housing crisis. She created the banking crisis. And she created the benefits crisis. It was her government that started putting people on incapacity benefit rather than register them as unemployed because the Britain she inherited was broadly full employment. She decided when she wrote off our manufacturing industry that she could live with two or three million unemployed, and the benefits bill, the legacy of that, we are struggling with today. In actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact that she was fundamentally wrong.
Well said.

Max Baucus is a Corrupt Sack of Shit

Well done to the New York Times for going to great lengths to point this out:

WASHINGTON — Restaurant chains like McDonald’s want to keep their lucrative tax credit for hiring veterans. Altria, the tobacco giant, wants to cut the corporate tax rate. And Sapphire Energy, a small alternative energy company, is determined to protect a tax incentive it believes could turn algae into a popular motor fuel.

To make their case as Congress prepares to debate a rewrite of the nation’s tax code, this diverse set of businesses has at least one strategy in common: they have retained firms that employ lobbyists who are former aides to Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which will have a crucial role in shaping any legislation.

No other lawmaker on Capitol Hill has such a sizable constellation of former aides working as tax lobbyists, representing blue-chip clients that include telecommunications businesses, oil companies, retailers and financial firms, according to an analysis by LegiStorm, an online database that tracks Congressional staff members and lobbying. At least 28 aides who have worked for Mr. Baucus, Democrat of Montana, since he became the committee chairman in 2001 have lobbied on tax issues during the Obama administration — more than any other current member of Congress, according to the analysis of lobbying filings performed for The New York Times.

“K Street is literally littered with former Baucus staffers,” said Jade West, an executive at a wholesalers’ trade association that relies on a former finance panel aide, Mary Burke Baker. “It opens doors that allow you to make the case.”

Like Ms. Baker, many of those lobbyists have already saved their clients millions — in some cases, billions — of dollars after Mr. Baucus backed their requests to extend certain corporate tax perks, provisions that were adopted as part of the so-called fiscal cliff legislation in January. Baucus aides who later became lobbyists helped financial firms save $11.2 billion in tax deferments and helped secure a $222 million tax benefit that is shared with the liquor industry.
Those who remember the Healthcare bill remember that Max Baucus carried the water for the insurance industry (and the Obama Administration) in making the bill much, much worse. Only Baucus didn't always oppose elements of the house bill, he's simply so corrupt he can't help himself. When discussions about healthcare began, Baucus released a white paper that included a public option, and other improvements on the bill. That was until the health insurance industry dumped over 2 million dollars into his campaign, making him suddenly have a change of heart over these reforms. Rahm Emanuel then used him to craft the White House's preferred bill with no public option (among other things), and that was basically the bill that ended up becoming law.

Ahhh memories.

Max Baucus is the worst. He also represents a state with a million people, yet has the same power as representatives of states with 30 million. Probably more, based on his committee position. Abolish the Senate, if for no other reason than it breeds and empowers the Max Baucuses of the world.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Obama Officially Proposes Social Security Cuts

In his budget:
WASHINGTON — President Obama next week will take the political risk of formally proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare in his annual budget in an effort to demonstrate his willingness to compromise with Republicans and revive prospects for a long-term deficit-reduction deal, administration officials say.

In a significant shift in fiscal strategy, Mr. Obama on Wednesday will send a budget plan to Capitol Hill that departs from the usual presidential wish list that Republicans typically declare dead on arrival. Instead it will embody the final compromise offer that he made to Speaker John A. Boehner late last year, before Mr. Boehner abandoned negotiations in opposition to the president’s demand for higher taxes from wealthy individuals and some corporations.

Congressional Republicans have dug in against any new tax revenues after higher taxes for the affluent were approved at the start of the year. The administration’s hope is to create cracks in Republicans’ antitax resistance, especially in the Senate, as constituents complain about the across-the-board cuts in military and domestic programs that took effect March 1.

Mr. Obama’s proposed deficit reduction would replace those cuts. And if Republicans continue to resist the president, the White House believes that most Americans will blame them for the fiscal paralysis.

Besides the tax increases that most Republicans continue to oppose, Mr. Obama’s budget will propose a new inflation formula that would have the effect of reducing cost-of-living payments for Social Security benefits, though with financial protections for low-income and very old beneficiaries, administration officials said. The idea, known as chained C.P.I., has infuriated some Democrats and advocacy groups to Mr. Obama’s left, and they have already mobilized in opposition.
A politically idiotic move by a moral monster willing to hurt the weakest among us to achieve his economically damaging goals.

And good luck in your next race house Democrats, because when the Republicans say you're trying to cut social security, they aren't lying!

It needs to be pointed out that this is not surprising in the slightest since Obama has been setting up this exact moment for years. When Republicans nearly shut down the government and held the debt ceiling hostage to cut spending, Obama used both crisis moments as opportunities to push a grand bargain that cut social security. When those failed, he designed the sequester's austerity as a mechanism to force a grand bargain that cuts social security. When the sequester failed to force a deal and started actually hurting the economy, he now has proposed these cuts in his budget. Now it seems the bet is to force liberals to choose between a deal that cuts social security and one that makes the sequester's austerity permanent. If you've been paying attention to the reporting (or even what Obama himself was saying), you've known this day was coming.

Now it's time to fight back, and inflict as much political damage on Obama as humanly possible. It's a shame it's come to this, but then again, it's a shame Obama is hurting the economy as leverage to force cuts that will kill old people.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

On this day, 45 Years Ago...

Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis, where he was supporting striking sanitation workers.

Rest in Piece.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Heavy Crude Pipeline Explodes in Arkansas

There aren't really words for the horrifying sights in this video.

My only hope is that this can help generate momentum against the Keystone XL pipeline, and encourage more activism that forces Obama to reverse course and oppose it. The more people who see the video, the better. Pass it around.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Wingnuts Finding New Ways To Look Like Idiots

The sheer stupidity of wingnuts is fairly impressive. What happened yesterday started as a relatively stupid wingnut story, but then gradually made it's way to one of my favorite wingnut freakouts in some time. (thanks to that buzzfeed story for all the screen grabs)

First outrage: Wingnuts upset that Google not honoring Easter with their doodle

Wingnut Hilariousness Rating: D Not particularly humorous if this was the only thing that got them worked up, although getting angry at google for "not honoring Easter enough" is pretty funny. Thankfully there is more to this story.

Second outrage: Wingnuts upset that Google chose to honor Caesar Chavez, ON EASTER OF ALL DAYS.

Wingnut Hilariousness Rating: B. Wingnuts are constantly worked into frenzys about easter not being honored enough, so them combining it into a freakout over honoring a pretty much universally respected labor leader is great. Unions join the war on Easter!

This would all be pretty funny if it ended here. Thankfully, a subset of the those that were worked into a rage over the last development are such unspeakable idiots that they managed to take it to the next level.

Third outrage: Wingnuts heard something something "Chavez" and thought google had honored Hugo Chavez .... ON EASTER OF ALL DAYS.

Wingnut Hilariousness Rating: A+. It combines all the elements of everything you love about wingnuts: Ill-targeted rage, racism, profound ignorance, and of course, mind blowing stupidity.