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Thirteen ways of looking at a clang bird

The words that have never been spoken and perhaps can never be said.--Anonymous

If the Presidential campaign seems vacuous to you, that's because it is. Here are some questions that "we" -- by which I mean the legacy party campaigns, their enablers, and our famously free press -- can't seem to bring ourselves to ask during the campaign.

1. How did 8% nominal unemployment become the new normal? Here's last month's version of the most frightening chart in the world from Calculated Risk:

From where I sit, the employment market flatlined in 2008 and never recovered, and the 2007-2012 curve looks like successfully achieved public policy. Clearly, that's true for government employment, where the current powers that be, uniquely for the four recessions since 1981, engineered a decrease in public sector employment, as Ezra Klein (of all people) points out:

Republicans, as Klein also points out, honor "shrinking government" during a recession more in the breach than the observance. Obama, a Democrat, actually implemented their policies, by commission at the Federal level, and by omission at the State level, since he bailed out the banks instead:

Without this hidden austerity program, the economy would look very different. If state and local governments had followed the pattern of the previous two recessions, they would have added 1.4 million to 1.9 million jobs and overall unemployment would be 7.0 to 7.3 percent instead of 8.2 percent.

Anyhow, corporate profits are high and wages are low, so what's not to like?

2. Why can't we prosecute the executives of major banks for accounting control fraud? NC readers are thoroughly familiar with WIlliam R. Black's "accounting control fraud" construct, and Yves has shredded the Obama administration's refusal to deal with it, so I need not review that material. Instead, I'll quote William Black from a terrific summary of his speech the MMT conference held recently in Italy:

Call me old school, but I thought, when I was a regulator, if the banks I was regulating were engaged in fraud, first, my job was to stop it. Second, my job was to remove the CEO from office. Third, my job was to help prosecute him and put him in prison. And, fourth, my job was to sue him, so that he walked away with not a lira or a euro or a dollar. But all of that is gone.

Indeed. How'd that happen?

3. Why do we have to deliver health care through the private health insurance industry? Here's the chart:

Here at least is one case where American Exceptionalism turns out to be true: The American system of health care is both exceptionally expensive and uniquely lethal. Why can't we talk about, instead of diverting ourselves by arguing about the misfeatures of a "reform" that mostly kicks in two years from now, and has the main virtue of only throwing some few millions under the bus? And don't talk to me about meanie Republicans; if the Democrats had wanted to pass real legislation, they would have abolished the filibuster in 2009, when they had the House, the Senate, and a mandate.

4. Why can't we legalize marijuana? Just for grins, here's the coverage of last 420 rally in Denver from the Denver Post, and the local NBC and CBS affiliates. Good crowd numbers, from the photos. I guess the legacy parties don't want their votes, or figure they've got no place to go. Here's Obama mocking legalization proponents on March 26, 2009. Back in "the 100 days," when the administration cared enough to fake it, they set up a virtual town hall, and asked people to submit questions online, and vote the good ones up. "Some 92,933 people submitted 104,082 questions online, and cast 3.6 million votes to select which ones should be answered."

"I have to say that there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high, and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation," [Obama] said to laughter [from those whose kids will never see the inside of a jail]. "And I don't know what this says about the online audience, but I just want -- I don't want people to think that -- this was a fairly popular question. We want to make sure that it was answered. The answer is, no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy."

I know what it says; it says the online audience has a good sense of public policy.Now, to be fair, marijuana legalization advocates gamed the questionnaire:

"[A] lot of the inquiries that rose to the top of the lists were about legalising cannabis. The top four questions under the heading of 'financial security' concerned marijuana and the pot issue was first and third under questions about 'jobs.'"

But all that shows is that marijuana legalization advocates are determined and energetic. A President who was actually engaged with the electorate would have showed a little humanity and answered the real questjon: Why can't we legalize marijuana? Instead, Obama got snarky, insulted them, and played to the expensive seats in his White House audience for cheap laughs. Is it any wonder his base -- they didn't have to look up 420 -- aren't enthusiastic this time around? Not that Romney's any better. He hasn't attended any 420 rallies. Either.

5. Why can't we restore the tax brackets of the Eisenhower era? Here they are:

Romney:"What I'm saying is, don't raise taxes." Obama: "Ask the wealthy to pay a little more." A little? Why not a lot? NOTE: I know from MMT that taxes don't "fund" spending. However, a higher tax rate for the wealthy is good for two other reasons: (1) They can't use all their loose cash to buy the government, and (2) preventing an aristocracy of inherited wealth is good.

6. Is Obama's executive power grab different from Bush's in any way that matters? Remember George W. Bush? The guy who was President before the hope and change hit the fan? |I always thought this story was especially creepy:

We know from Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, for instance, that, after 9/11, Bush kept "his own personal scorecard for the war" in a desk drawer in the Oval Office -- photos with brief biographies and personality sketches of leading al-Qaeda figures, whose faces could be satisfyingly crossed out when killed or captured.

One imagines Bush fondling the pages at night. And now for something completely different:

This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years. President Obama, overseeing the regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room, took a moment to study the faces. …. Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical.

To me, it looks like Obama has rationalized, normalized, and even intensified everything Bush did. Bush is perverse. Obama is banal. Which is worse?

7. Why are we in Afghanistan? The only reasons I can come up with are: (a) we need test subjects for drone development prior to their rollout domestically and (no doubt) subsequent privatization, and/or (b) we don't want to queer General Petraeus's pitch in 2016 or 2020. Are those reasons really good enough?

8. Why can't we talk about anthropogenic climate change? Because skeptics can change their minds:

Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

I'm setting the bar really low, here. I'm not asking either legacy party to accept that "climate change" is real, let alone -- heaven forfend -- make any policy proposals. Heck, maybe everything's fine. But shouldn't we at least be discussing this? In some national forum? Say, an election?

9. What would ending "the war on women" look like? Would it look like a rear-guard, pissant, election-year palliative like funding Planned Parenthood? Or would it look like something more?

The 15 states whose legislatures have not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment are AL, AR, AZ, FL (swing state), GA, IL (Hi Obama! [waves], LA, MI, MO, NV, NC (swing state), OK, SC, UT, and VA (swing state). Under the "three state strategy," it would only take an additional three states legislatures to ratify, so with a little leadership....

10. Why can't we use publicly counted paper ballots for voting? I'll turn this over to BradBlog:

Last March, the country's highest court found that secret, computerized vote counting was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the country was Germany, and the Constitution violated by e-voting systems was the one that the U.S. wrote and insisted Germans ratify as part of their terms of surrender following WWII.

Paul Lehto, a U.S. election attorney and Constitutional rights expert, summarized the German court's unambiguous, landmark finding:

  • "No 'specialized technical knowledge' can be required of citizens to vote or to monitor vote counts."
  • There is a "constitutional requirement of a publicly observed count."
  • "[T]he government substitution of its own check or what we’d probably call an 'audit' is no substitute at all for public observation."
  • "A paper trail simply does not suffice to meet the above standards.
  • "As a result of these principles,...'all independent observers' conclude that 'electronic voting machines are totally banned in Germany' because no conceivable computerized voting system can cast and count votes that meet the twin requirements of...being both 'observable' and also not requiring specialized technical knowledge.

For those who don't understand how fully observable, precinct-based, Election Night hand-counting of hand-marked paper ballots works, one need look no further than those polling places in New Hampshire where the entire process is a matter of civic pride and community participation. We are not speaking about the centralized, behind-closed-doors, party-boss-counted paper ballots of the days of Boss Daley in Chicago or Landslide Lyndon in Texas.

In short, after polls close, a new, bi-partisan counting crew is typically brought in to relieve tired poll workers at each precinct. Each precinct’s crew counts its own ballots in carefully overseen, publicly observed groups of four – two calling out every vote, two marking each one down – as the citizenry watches, video tapes, and otherwise assures the process is on the up and up. The results are posted publicly before ballots are moved anywhere. They are never out of public oversight until the counting has been completed, which is usually done by enough counting groups to be completed before midnight on Election Night (often before some machine-counted precincts have finished!) It's a very difficult system to game – at least without being easily caught.

Sounds like counting the votes that way would be festive and convivial. Doesn't it bother anyone that the results of our elections aren't "observable"?

11. Why can't we have a debt jubilee? And I'll turn this over to Steve Keen:

Michael Hudson’s simple phrase that “Debts that can’t be repaid, won’t be repaid” sums up the economic dilemma of our times. … The only real question we face is not whether we should or should not repay this debt, but how are we going to go about not repaying it?

A Modern Jubilee would create fiat money in the same way as with Quantitative Easing, but would direct that money to the bank accounts of the public with the requirement that the first use of this money would be to reduce debt. Debtors whose debt exceeded their injection would have their debt reduced but not eliminated, while at the other extreme, recipients with no debt would receive a cash injection into their deposit accounts.

The broad effects of a Modern Jubilee would be:

  1. Debtors would have their debt level reduced;
  2. Non-debtors would receive a cash injection;
  3. The value of bank assets would remain constant, but the distribution would alter with debt-instruments declining in value and cash assets rising;
  4. Bank income would fall, since debt is an income-earning asset for a bank while cash reserves are not;
  5. The income flows to asset-backed securities would fall, since a substantial proportion of the debt backing such securities would be paid off; and
  6. Members of the public (both individuals and corporations) who owned asset-backed-securities would have increased cash holdings out of which they could spend in lieu of the income stream from ABS’s on which they were previously dependent.

Seems like that would solve the aggregate demand problem. Surely that's a good thing?

12. Why, oh why, can't we have a better press corps? Contrast this post with Pravda's Dan Balz on "8 questions: Topics that will shape the 2012 campaign in the final 100 days." Here they are:

  1. Will the campaign be relentlessly negative to the end
  2. Will Romney's choice of a vice presidential running mate make any difference?
  3. Which campaign is likely to have the advantage in money?
  4. Does Romney's wealth and business record make him more or less electable?
  5. Which groups of voters do the two campaigns care most about?
  6. Is the president hostage to the economic news between now and November?
  7. How important are the debates likely to be this year?
  8. With the conventions back-to-back, will either candidate get any real bounce in the polls?

The very definition of Inside Baseball!

13. Also too: Water, food, epidemics, ZOMG!!! The debt!!!!, the empire, corporate personhood, police state, gun nuts. I could go on.

NOTE Oh, what's a "clang bird"? It's an anti-pattern in software engineering. Of course, software systems are simple, compared to what we're dealing with...

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Submitted by ubetchaiam on

if not answers.
4. Why can't we legalize marijuana? ------because to do so would devastate the prison industry and police state environment that has been built and also cause more people people to question the reality the government seeks to expound.

5. Why can't we restore the tax brackets of the Eisenhower era?------because to do so would reduce the income of those invested in the MIC.

6. Is Obama's executive power grab different from Bush's in any way that matters?------NO and his 'enhancement' of executive powers was foretold by others including me.

7. Why are we in Afghanistan?-----the best explanation I've come across is this documentary "Why We Fight".
"IMPERIALISM SEEN PERIL TO THE EARTH; Nesbitt Warns U.S. Should Seek to Serve the World Rather Than Dominate It" ; from a 1943 NYTimes article

8. Why can't we talk about anthropogenic climate change? ----a 'better' answer is the Bill McKibben article from the Rolling Stone.

9. What would ending "the war on women" look like?-------that would be a wonderful first step but it won't 'end the war'; ending the war will take retiring the god of abraham to the dustbin of history where zeus,etc. reside.

10. Why can't we use publicly counted paper ballots for voting? -----one, the media -again,corporations- insist on being able to project winners before the next morning. Two, an entire industry and bureaucracy has been created that would have to be dismantled. Three, to do so would take 'control' out of local 'keepers of the votes'(like city/county clerks,registrar of voters,etc.).
And it makes too much sense.

11. Why can't we have a debt jubilee? ------and let off all those freeloaders and wastrels? My goodness, think of the moral hazard !! (sarcasm for those who don't recognize it)

12. Why, oh why, can't we have a better press corps?-------An FCC who won't take on the idea of monopolies because the Dept. of Justice won't because of who owns the media.

Gosh, that was fun even though depressing ;->)

wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

That's what it all comes down to. The whole discussion with jobs, hinges around "we can't afford a jobs program." Same with insurance.

This is why MMT is such a big deal.

The other part, about the dominance of the insurance companies, comes down to rent seeking behavior.

This is why I say that two of the most important concepts to get across to people are 1)MMT and 2) rent seeking. Otherwise, they will continue to accept no jobs/expensive healthcare, as well as the continued rule of the corporate state.

Submitted by ubetchaiam on

that you get 19 comments on NC and -counting this one- three on your own site.

Submitted by lambert on

something like a million unique visits a month, so proportinately....

Submitted by hipparchia on

software systems are simple, compared to what we're dealing with...

what ian said. the fixes to a lot of our problems will be difficult to get people to go long with, but they don't have to be complicated.

Submitted by hipparchia on

but is thinking about the designs of software systems a useful way to think about living in a just society? on the whole, i think not.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

It's about thinking about a political system enhanced and supported by a comprehensive software system that people can use to self-organize into political movements and voting blocs while needing very little money to take over old political parties and create new ones.

Submitted by lambert on

What I'm getting at is the original context of the design pattern. A software engineer or architect recognizes the pattern and then builds corporate support to get the budget and the people to fix the problem by re-architecting and re-coding the "system." But I'm asking that the entire process -- both the software and the institutional and cultural matrix within which it is embedded -- be considered the "system."

Now, this fixing this enterprise-level system is risky; there are good reasons not to touch anything, since 50% of software projects fail (and perhaps a higher number, I'm too lazy to do the research).

But doesn't the failure rate of State-level system system fixes approach 100%?

Submitted by hipparchia on

But doesn't the failure rate of State-level system system fixes approach 100%?

huh? you got a cite for that? and a less cryptic restatement of what you actually mean?

Now, this fixing this enterprise-level system is risky; there are good reasons not to touch anything, since 50% of software projects fail (and perhaps a higher number, I'm too lazy to do the research).

yeah, i've seen those articles; iirc the failure rate is higher than that.

but what i'm trying to say, and in my experience software designers/architects/engineers/coders/implementers are especially prone to this, is that just because large, complex, interwoven systems may have multiple problems that need fixing, the best fixes are not necessarily large, complex, interwoven, well-planned, well-designed, enterprise-wide solutions.

the richest 100/400/93,600/pick your favorite number are causing an awful lot fo our problems, and since they're unwilling to just go galt and leave the rest of us alone, why not just ring-fence them off somewhere? [metaphorically speaking]

global financial collapse? forget the 2000 pages of dodd-frank law and the 11,000 pages of [very much incomplete] regulations it has spawned... just leave them their casinos but bring back simple boring banking for the rest of us. shoot, just allowing the post office to provide us with simple banking functions would not only help a lot of ordinary people, it would help the postal service with digging out of its rich-people-induced manufactured financial crisis.

want to further help the postal service? kill the absurd pension pre-funding requirements. and the post office is losing money because we're all doing email now? let the usps provide email service and even internet service. heck, with those 3 fixes, the postal service might even be strong enough to fight back on the warrantless tapping of our online activities.

health care? double everyone's employee and employer medicare payroll tax rate from 1.45% each to 2.9% each and automatically enroll everyone in medicarre part a [hospitalization]. the federal govt, through medicare, medicaid, ihs, etc, is already paying for slightly more than half the hospital spending anyway, so doubling the medicare tax that covers hospitalization should [roughly] pay for [mostly free] hospitalization for all. then let employers, medicaid, schip, and the to-be-formed exchanges use private insurance to cover the rest of it. that's a cobbled-together and less-than-perfect fix, to be sure, but it would be a huge step forward.

social security? stop projecting the trust fund income/outgo over those idiotic 75-year and infinite timelines. instant fix. the social security trust fund has scads of money, no matter how you rig the projections, for the next 10 years. that's a long enough timeline to budget for something that's basically just an accounting fiction anyways.


these are all non-systemic, non-interwoven, non-grand-design fixes, but sometimes when you fall off your skateboard all you need is a few dollops of neosporin, a handful of band-aids and some time, and the system heals itself. yes, the skateboard analogy is an over-simplification, but i'm trying to come up with a simple illustration to demonstrate that not all solutions need to be over-engineered.

insanelysane's picture
Submitted by insanelysane on

Kurt Vonnegut said it " We were going to save ourselves, but it was too expensive"