Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sunday Sermonette: A likely story

There's too much to say about Genesis 3 to do it all in one post, so today I'll just discuss verses 1 through 15. Here they are:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

Talking animals are a commonplace in folk tales -- viz Aesop and Bre'er Rabbit. But people don't take them literally. One would seriously doubt that the ancient Hebrews thought any of this was literally true. After all, they could see for themselves that snakes can't talk.

But that is hardly the only oddity in this. God is not omniscient. Indeed, he depends on the ordinary physical senses of his apparently quite ordinary body for basic information. If he didn't happen to be walking in the garden and see the man hide, and hear the man tell him that he was ashamed of his nakedness, he never would have known about the consumption of forbidden fruit.

Even stranger is the question of why God doesn't want the people to know good from evil.  If he thinks it's not good to be naked in front of him, then presumably he would want the people to know that. If it's better for them not to know, then they're going to around naked all the time, which is presumably bad, right? And why did God put the tree there in the first place? Oh, by the way, he also made the serpent, so the whole thing appears to be a setup.

It's interesting that whoever thought up this incoherent drivel intuited that snakes had once had legs and had lost them, presumably because all other animals have legs. Today there are some 3,000 species of snakes. Their ancestors indeed had legs.  Scientists have wondered whether snakes first evolved on land or in water. The oldest fossil of a snake without legs dates to about 85 million years ago, and it lived on land. Older fossils of snakes, however, retain remnants of legs. Modern humans, of course, did not appear until 85 million years later, more or less. So there must be some other reason why snakes evolved their legless bodies.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sunday Sermonette: In the beginning, all over again

So, if you are one of those who claims that the Bible is the literally true inerrant word of God, you already have a problem. You've read the first page, which says that a good part of the energy God expended on creation went to building a "vault of heaven" (King James makes it a "firmament"), which divides waters above from waters below, and on which the sun, moon and stars are hung. Unequivocally, there is no such structure. On a clear day, one has the illusion of living under a dome, but we now know that is because of the scattering of sunlight by the oxygen in the atmosphere. We've gone up there and looked down on the earth from the moon, which isn't hanging on anything, and there isn't any water up there beyond some widely scattered dirty balls of ice.

So let's move on. As I mentioned before, the divisions into chapters and verses were made by medieval monks. It is obvious that the scribe who created the book of genesis took two creation stories from different sources, but the monk put the division in the wrong place. Here's Genesis 2. As you can see, the first three verses actually belong with the previous story:

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested.
The second creation story

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
This is what we call a major "continuity error." In the first story, God makes the plants on the third day, and then gets around to making humans -- male and female --  on the sixth. Here he makes a man, then he makes the plants, then he makes a woman.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
We have a problem here, obviously. The Tigris and the Euphrates do have headwaters fairly close to each other in the Anatolian mountains; but they do not have a common source. "Cush" in the Bible refers to lands south of Egypt, which would have to make the Gihon the Nile, but obviously the Nile originates in central Africa and flows north. Nobody has been able to figure out where Havilah is or what the Pishon might refer to.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Not clear why God doesn't want the man to know good from evil, but in any case, as we shall see, Adam does eat from the tree and he does not die when he eats from it. In fact, he lives for another 930 years.

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”
Adam has quite a task, making up names for millions of species of metazoans.  Because of this story about the rib, people literally believed -- and it is sometimes said today -- that men have one less rib than women. It isn't true, we have the same number of ribs.

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
 I would like to be able to say that this is all very interesting and meaningful as allegory and metaphor, but I really don't think so. These were stories that nomadic goatherders used to tell around the campfire. They probably didn't really believe any of this, it was just fun to tell stories, and indeed, they told at least two different ones that happened to get written down here. There were probably several others that didn't, and of course innumerable versions of the ones that did.

However, I will agree that the symbolism of the stories does get a bit more interesting. We'll see what Chapter 3 is all about next week.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

After me, the deluge

Conor Lynch gives a history lesson. He alludes only in passing to the essential precedents in U.S. history, which are the reforms of the progressive around the beginning of the 20th Century, and the New Deal of the 1930s. These did not happen because radical had seized control of the government, but precisely because the wisest among the economic elite realized what had to be done to save capitalism.

The regressive plutocrats who have now (illegitimately) seized power in the United States are too ignorant of history and too blinded by insatiable greed to understand what they are doing. Lynch quotes Barack Obama:

“My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” said the president in a meeting with top Wall Street CEOs in 2009. “I’m not out there to go after you. I’m protecting you. But if I’m going to shield you from public and congressional anger, you have to give me something to work with on these issues of compensation.”
Lynch concludes:

If defenders of the status quo were students of history, they would recognize that preserving the current system and its institutions will require confronting problems like inequality head-on. Reformers on the center-left seem to understand this, and support policies akin to the social democratic reforms of the mid-20th century.

The most pro-capitalist party in the world, on the other hand, is currently implementing an agenda that will no doubt heighten the contradictions of capitalism. The Republican tax bill, the most regressive tax reform of the past half-century -- a period that included the extremely regressive Bush tax cuts -- won’t just make the rich richer, but the middle class poorer. Income inequality has been rising steadily for the past 40 years in the United States, and one of the major drivers behind this trend has been tax cuts for the rich.

At a time when global capitalism seems to be heading toward the dystopian nightmare that Marx predicted 150 years ago, Republicans seem intent on telling the “forgotten men and women” of America to “eat cake.” Rather than taking a hard look at the consequences of corporate capitalism and neoliberalism, the GOP is enthusiastically doubling down on the policies that got us here in the first place. “I think Republicans are underestimating the extent to which this tax-cut bill is going to radicalize their future opposition,” Slate writer Jordan Weissmann tweeted earlier this month. It is safe to say that Republicans are also underestimating the extent to which their policies will destabilize capitalism itself.
 How many votes Donald Trump received, and why, is irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of this analysis. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The S word

Brad DeLong is an economist at the University of California. He is also an extremely active blogger. Here he addresses the plutocrats who support the Republican party and the tax heist scam. He asks them to look beyond the pile of money now in front of them, and consider the fate of their grandchildren:

In the America the politicians you support are building, it may well become the case that one day your grandchildren are in the center of a web of political influence, and the next day they will find themselves not: Some of them will be involuntary guests at the Wichita Ritz-Carlton, The rest will try to make a run for it in the Learjet, or in the rubber boat. So is it really wisdom on your part to want to win this round?

To be blunt: a social democratic middle-class society is much better society in which to have a large stock of entrepreneurial, inherited, or rent-derived wealth than is a communist society. But it is also a much friendlier society to the wealthy than is a fascist society. And social democracy and fascism—hard or, if you are lucky, soft—are the only options the future will allow: tertium non datur.
 Socialism is a word. It has a meaning. It is not an expletive.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The moral low ground

An aside: Before getting to today's subject, I ask you to take a look at the previous post. Tax revenues as a percentage of GDP in the U.S. are about 2/3 the average of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average. That's before the tax scam the Republicans just passed. Total taxation in the U.S. is 26% of GDP (and it's already been declining steadily since 2000). It's about 34% in the other wealthy countries. Which, by the way, are healthier, happier and less unequal than the U.S.

Now, as for the moral low ground, one occupant thereof is the recently deceased Bernard Law, the former Archbishop of the Diocese of Boston. He spent his career spouting off sanctimoniously about his version of sexual morality, which as it turns out did not include abstaining from raping children. The Boston Globe discovered that he had a regular policy of covering up for pedophile priests by moving them around from parish to parish, keeping their behavior a secret from parents and law enforcement. This led to the world eventually learning that this was the practice of the Catholic Church worldwide.

The church was in fact in essence a vast conspiracy to provide pedophiles with victims and protection. Everything else was window dressing. They rewarded Law with a cushy sinecure in Rome, by the way. As of now more than 6% of U.S. priests have been accused of child abuse. The figure in Australia is 10%. So don't let your kids near the priests.

Law is going to get a big fancy funeral presided over by the pope.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Monday, December 18, 2017

Make America Crappy Again

Fareed Zakaria is not exactly Leon Trotsky, and he tells it like it is. "The Republican tax cut bill may be the worst piece of legislation in modern history." I don't say "may be," I say "most certainly is." There's more wrong with it than I can possibly tell you, but Zakaria focuses on this:

The medium- and long-term effects of the plan will be a massive drop in public investment, which will come on the heels of decades of declining spending (as a percentage of gross domestic product) on infrastructure, scientific research, skills training and core government agencies. The United States can’t coast on past investments forever, and with this legislation, we are ushering in a bleak future.
The tax bill is expected to add at least $1 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years, and some experts think the real loss to federal revenue will be much higher. 

This will mean automatic cuts in spending, at a time when public investment in the U.S. is already lowest in 60 years, as a percentage of GDP. We're talking transportation, education, scientific research, public health. And right now, according to the World Bank, the U.S. has the highest unmet infrastructure needs of any of 50 countries they surveyed. Zakaria concludes:

[D]uring the Depression, World War II and much of the Cold War, a sense of crisis and competition focused America’s attention and created a bipartisan urgency to get things done. Ironically, at a time when competition is far more fierce, when other countries have surpassed the United States in many of these areas, America has fallen into extreme partisanship and embraced a know-nothing libertarianism that is starving the country of the essential investments it needs for growth. Those who vote for this tax bill — possibly the worst piece of major legislation in a generation — will live in infamy, as the country slowly breaks down.
Well okay, but the beleaguered middle class needs a tax cut, right? Maybe so, but they aren't  getting one from this bill. As David Leonhardt explains, working people pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes, and:

Now President Trump, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are trying to widen inequality even further. Their tax bill doesn’t touch the payroll-tax rate — again, the single biggest tax that most households pay. The bill does cut income taxes for the middle class, but only modestly and only temporarily. The tax cuts benefiting the wealthy, including cuts to the inheritance tax and the corporate tax, are much larger and permanent.
And the spending cuts that inevitably follow will more than wipe out those temporary little tax cuts. Why are the Republicans doing this? To benefit their billionaire donors. That is the only reason.

Anybody who votes for any Republican, ever, is a fool.

And, right on cue, "Top Republicans are already talking about cutting Medicare and Social Security next."

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The beginning

I should have mentioned yesterday that the division into chapters and verses was done by medieval monks; it's not in the original documents. But it's handy, so we'll go with it. Here is the first creation story. I say first, because there is a second one right after it, and they are completely irreconcilable. That's obviously embarrassing, so preachers mostly just go with the first one. I'll deal with the second, contradictory story, which appears in Genesis 2, next time.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
This is kind of weird because he hasn't made the lights yet.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
This structure, of course, does not exist. It's an illusion created by the scattering of sunlight. Nor is there any water above it. We know all this for sure, we've been up there.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
We know now, of course, that life began in the oceans. Life on land came much later. Also, God made the vegetation before he made the sun. Apparently he didn't know about photosynthesis.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
Again, there is no vault of the sky, nor are the sun, moon and stars set in any structure of any kind. The people who told this story perceived what we now know to be an illusion,

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
Again, the order is all wrong. Birds came long after marine life.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
Back in these days, people imagined that God had a physical body. He was humanoid. We'll see more of this anon.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Of course many plants are inedible, even poisonous. And humans, especially back then, did not rule over the birds or most living creatures, some of which were happy to eat people. It's an interesting attitude, however, characteristic of modern day conservatives.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Bible Background

I'm going to start reading the Bible tomorrow. In order to keep tomorrow's post a manageable length, I'll provide some background and explain the parameters of what I am going to do.

The Bible is a compilation of many documents, from various historical and cultural contexts, which were produced for various reasons. People made decisions about what to include, and there were some debates about that along the way. The Old Testament is largely but not entirely based on the Jewish scriptures, called the Tanakh, although the organization is different; but the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testaments include additional material. I'll put off talking about the New Testament for now.

The Tanakh was mostly written in Hebrew, of course. (A bit of it was originally in Aramaic.) So we're dealing with a translation. I've chosen the New International Version, which was produced by an interdenominational committee of  Christians. Although it is generally well respected, we can never be sure exactly how to render concepts from an ancient and not entirely well understood context.

Keep in mind also that books in Biblical times were not produced in the same way they are now. Typically today one person writes an entire book, then gives it to a publisher who produces any number of identical copies. Back then documents had to be copied by hand. There was no copyright and there was no money to be made in books either. Scribes were free to take whatever they wanted from whatever source, to combine, to remove material, to change whatever they wanted. They also made mistakes.

I'll just talk for now about the provenance of the first five books,  which Jews call the Torah and Christians the Pentateuch. I won't bother with the details, but if you're interested you can look at this Wikipedia entry on one of the hypothesized authors called the Jawhist because he calls God Jahweh (or Yahweh). The leading theory is that there were four main sources, but in fact any of these could have been composites made earlier, and whoever compiled them may have made edits and interpolations. So it's not surprising that it contains multiple versions of some stories, contradictions, and material that appears to be missing. We'll cross those bridges when we come to them.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Editor's Note

Yesterday morning on my way in to work National Pubic Radio, as is its wont, featured a lengthy, slobbering interview with a wingnut voter, specifically in this case a Roy Moore supporter. He said he was actually a convert to Christianity. He portrayed himself as a skeptic, and said that if somebody tried to tell him what the Bible said he'd confirm it for himself.

Then he said that he was voting for Roy Moore because the Bible says that life begins at conception and abortion is murder.

News flash: it doesn't. Read the Bible, young man, from cover to cover, as I have done, and you will find that it does not contain one single word about abortion, or when life begins. The only possible exception is a ceremony described in DeuteronomyNumbers, which some people think is actually intended to induce abortion, although that is not clear.  In fact Christian condemnation of abortion is a modern innovation, dating only to the 19th Century. The complete lack of biblical authority for the Catholic and Evangelical position on abortion ought to be a major embarrassment, but the preachers and their sheep just pretend that it exists.

Surveys consistently find that atheists tend to know more about the Bible than do believers. The reason for that is that you cannot possibly simultaneously know the contents of the Bible; be sane; and be a Christian. It is full of contradictions, moral depravity, and absurdities.

Accordingly, I will start a new series on Sundays in which I read the Bible. Perhaps it will be educational.

(I started a similar project before, on a blog I maintained called Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, but abandoned it due to lack of a suitable interlocutor. That was supposed to be a conversation with a believer. I'm just going to do this myself.)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Slightly off topic but not really?

Brexit is an obsession of Atrios but I have not had anything to say about it. However I think it is actually somewhat instructive for us. As Simon Wren-Lewis explains, the expectations Brexit advocates had were literally impossible. The most likely outcome at this point is that Britain continues to be constrained by all the rules of the European single market and customs union, but will no longer have a vote.

This is because the border between the nation of Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland is an open border. The Irish, on both sides, will not stand for it becoming a closed border; while the Northern Irish will not stand for a closed border with the rest of the UK. Therefore there will have to be an open border between Britain and the European Union, and that will require that Britain continue to be a de facto member of the EU economic zone.

That also means that Britain will not be able to negotiate trade deals with other nations: Sayeth W-L:

The Brexiters’ dream was to rid the UK of the shackles of the EU so it could become great again, but it is a legacy of empire that has brought this dream to an end. All the stuff about bringing back the glory of a once great trading nation will not happen. Instead we will still be acting under the rules of the EU, but because we are not part of it the UK will be largely ignored on the world stage. A rather large country, which nevertheless gets other countries (like Ireland!) to set its trade and associated rules for it, and which it is therefore not worth bothering with in the international arena. A Britain that can no longer pretend to be a world power, not as a result of the actions of some left wing government, but because of the delusions of Brexiters.
Hmm. The Conservative government has to go through with this, however, or they will make themselves look stupid. Which they are, and which will become apparent to everybody in due course. Does this remind you of any, say, tax bills?

Friday, December 08, 2017

Southern Culture

You may be aware, or have some vague idea, that the bluegrass classic "Rocky Top" is the unofficial fight song of the University of Tennessee. It's a good song! It's also rather an odd choice for a university fight song.

It's about moonshiners who murder outsiders who come to their mountain. (Could be referring to law enforcement but doesn't explicitly say so.) The song boasts that they don't engage in agriculture, and by implication any productive activity, other than illegally distilling whiskey and consuming the product. The song also boasts about not having telephone service.

I do not think this represents the aspirations of the typical college student, even at the University of Tennessee. Nor would I think it describes their personal origins. It seems rather surprising that the university officials and Tennessee politicians who routinely evoke the song as a symbol of Tennessee pride want the state to be viewed in this way.

Perhaps people have some thoughts.

Required Reading

Quite a lot of discussion in the blogosphere of this study in Columbia Journalism Review but you must read it or you will be profoundly negligent. Bottom line, don't blame Fake News for the 2016 election, blame -- oh wait, do blame Fake News, specifically the New York Times.

Like I say, you must read it, but I'll give you a money shot. This is an analysis of New York Times coverage, but it is representative of the corporate media in general:

Of the 1,433 articles that mentioned Trump or Clinton, 291 were devoted to scandals or other personal matters while only 70 mentioned policy, and of these only 60 mentioned any details of either candidate’s positions. In other words, comparing the two datasets, the number of Personal/Scandal stories for every Policy story ranged from 3.4 (for front-page stories) to 4.2. Further restricting to Policy stories that contained some detail about at least one candidate’s positions, these ratios rise to 5.5 and 4.85, respectively. . . .

The problem is this: As has become clear since the election, there were profound differences between the two candidates’ policies, and these differences are already proving enormously consequential to the American people. . . . In light of the stark policy choices facing voters in the 2016 election, it seems incredible that only five out of 150 front-page articles that The New York Times ran over the last, most critical months of the election, attempted to compare the candidate’s policies, while only 10 described the policies of either candidate in any detail.

In this context, 10 is an interesting figure because it is also the number of front-page stories the Times ran on the Hillary Clinton email scandal in just six days, from October 29 (the day after FBI Director James Comey announced his decision to reopen his investigation of possible wrongdoing by Clinton) through November 3, just five days before the election. When compared with the Times’s overall coverage of the campaign, the intensity of focus on this one issue is extraordinary. To reiterate, in just six days, The New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election (and that does not include the three additional articles on October 18, and November 6 and 7, or the two articles on the emails taken from John Podesta). This intense focus on the email scandal cannot be written off as inconsequential: The Comey incident and its subsequent impact on Clinton’s approval rating among undecided voters could very well have tipped the election.
Comes the question: Why? I should add that the e-mail "scandal" was not a scandal at all. Clinton's use of a private e-mail server was a) completely legal, b) consistent with State Department policy at the time, c) was done at the suggestion of Colin Powell, who did the same thing, and d) did not result in any leak of classified information. It is completely ginned up nonsense. By the way, she did not at any time lie to the FBI or anybody else about it, as the FBI has confirmed. No, it probably was not a good idea.

The editors of the Times have completely refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, errors in judgment, or responsibility.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Economics -101

Jonathan Chait has a few things to say about the Republicans in congress and their tax bill. As you may recall if you have not been in a coma for the past 9 years, the Republicans have been yelling and screaming that the federal budget deficit is a mortal threat to the long-term health of the economy and the very foundations of the Republic. Now they are in a mortal panic to pass a massive tax cut for the wealthy that will balloon the national debt by something like $14 trillion in the next decade.

They claim that won't happen because it will generate so much economic growth that the additional revenue will make up the difference. In fact, no reputable economist believes that, including right wingers who are normally in the Republicans' pocket. As Chait says:

Not even macroeconomic forecasters in the private sector — people putting real money behind the accuracy of their analyses — have concluded the tax cuts would come close to recouping their cost. Goldman Sachs forecasts the tax cuts would recoup just 20 percent of the lost revenue, and beginning in 2020, the growth effect “looks minimal and could actually be slightly negative.” A survey of 42 economists found only one who even agreed that, if the tax cut passes, economic growth “will be substantially higher a decade from now than under the status quo.” And even that endorsement of “substantially higher” growth falls short of endorsing the belief the tax cuts will be self-financing.
However, what will happen is that as soon as the deficit explodes, the Republicans will claim that we can no longer afford Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- although we can afford to expand the military budget -- because the deficit is unendurable. This is the game they have been playing ever since Ronald Reagan. The deficit exploded under Reagan and Bush I, was completely eliminated under the Clinton administration, exploded again under Bush II and was substantially reduced under Obama. Now the Republicans want to blow it up again and leave it for the Democrats to clean up. They are nothing but liars and hypocrites.

Also, too: Economists on the overall economic impact:

Though Republicans insisted repeatedly over the past few weeks that the $1.4 trillion in tax cuts, most of them geared toward wealthy individuals and corporations, would pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth, they presented no evidence to support their claims. Instead, the economists and former government officials predicted, the bill will drive up the federal deficit, shrink and destabilize the health care market, exacerbate already historic income inequality, and pressure Congress to make deep cuts to the social safety net and government programs.
 If you vote for Republicans, you are being conned. Duped. Used. Owned. Don't do it.

And also, too: This is pretty damn funny! Coal CEO: Senate tax plan 'wipes us out'

Friday, December 01, 2017

Not that he had his marbles to begin with . . .

. . . but retweeting the Britain First hate videos was batshit insane. Theresa May rather awkwardly find herself in Amman, Jordan as this is going on, where she had this to say:

The fact that we work together does not mean that we are afraid to say when we think that the United States have got it wrong and to be very clear with them. I am very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do. Britain First is a hateful organisation. It seeks to spread division and mistrust in our communities. It stands in fundamental opposition to the values that we share as a nation – values of respect, tolerance and, dare I say it, common decency.
So what does that say about Twittler? And here's Kim Darroch, Britain's ambassador to the United States:

British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right, which seek to divide communities & erode decency, tolerance & respect. British Muslims are peaceful and law abiding citizens. And I raised these concerns with the White House yesterday.
Here's Labor MP Stephen Doughty:

This is the president of the United States, sharing with millions inflammatory and divisive content, deliberately posted to sow hatred and division by, as the home secretary says, a convicted criminal who is facing further charges and who represents a vile fascist organisation seeking to spread hatred and violence in person and online. By sharing it, he is racist, incompetent or unthinking – or all three.
Britain First says it has received hundreds of membership applications  as a result of the "president's" action.

Here's what Mitch McConnell has said about it:

And here is Paul Ryan's response:

Update: I'll just add this from Michelle Goldberg:

If you think 2017 was bad, imagine an America without allies fighting another two-front war, this one involving nuclear weapons, under the leadership of the most hated president in modern history, while a torture apologist runs the C.I.A. The world right now is a powder keg. Trump, an untethered maniac, sits atop it, flicking a lighter that Republicans in Congress could take away, but won’t. If everything goes up in flames, we can’t say we weren’t warned.