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Quote of the Day: Paul Krugman on Good Government

2018-02-23

For whatever reason, there’s a faction in our country that sees public action for the public good, no matter how justified, as part of a conspiracy to destroy our freedom.

This paranoia strikes both deep and wide. Does anyone remember George Will declaring that liberals like trains, not because they make sense for urban transport, but because they serve the “goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism”? And it goes along with basically infantile fantasies about individual action — the “good guy with a gun” — taking the place of such fundamentally public functions as policing.

Anyway, this political faction is doing all it can to push us toward becoming a society in which individuals can’t count on the community to provide them with even the most basic guarantees of security — security from crazed gunmen, security from drunken drivers, security from exorbitant medical bills (which every other advanced country treats as a right, and does in fact manage to provide).

In short, you might want to think of our madness over guns as just one aspect of the drive to turn us into what Thomas Hobbes described long ago: a society “wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them.” And Hobbes famously told us what life in such a society is like: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

. . .as I have said before, government doesn’t have to be bad; good government provides individuals with public transportation, security, medical care without crushing bills, and armed responses by trained personnel to active shooters–  There were revelations that there was an armed security guard from the local police stationed at Parkland who waited four minutes outside the school while a killer rampaged inside and shot 17 people to death in six minutes.  Only in Florida, a “stand your ground” state, where amateur shooters are promoted by the state government.)

(quoted from Krugman’s op-ed column in the NYT; there’s little to add because Krugman hits the nail on the head, as usual)

(image courtesy of pixabay.com and Open-Clipart-Vectors; chosen because Lenin believed that government had to be destroyed in order to be remade– not because he was a “collectivist”)

This comment was submitted in response to Krugman’s piece:

Joe Gilkey

Seattle 1 hour ago

While arming teachers in this day and age is not a good idea, we do have an abundance of highly qualified veterans in need of a good job that would make short work of these cowards that prey on unarmed students. It would be worth every penny of the added expense if future perpetrators knew they would be up against combat experienced ex servicemen with protective vests and automatic weapons, who would without question risk life and limb to protect a school full of children. There may be innocent life lost with this approach to protection, however it would put an end to these massacres occurring today. Trump was right in saying this was a soft target, and until we reach the end of the violent reactionary potential of today’s youths, we do have the people with the needed skills, and the willingness, to prevent any more of these unopposed tragedies.

This was the most popular comment, from Australia:

TJ McWoods

Tasmania 13 hours ago

As an expat of 14 years, raising a teenager in Australia, and viewing the USA from a great distance, the differences between nations is stark.

My daughter takes yearly water safety classes taught through year 10 in Oz. School safety means not running in the hallways. She will never experience an active shooter drill. Australia has NEVER experienced a school shooting.

My daughter has yet to see an armed security guard anywhere in Australia but I clearly remember my then 10 year old daughter asking me why an armed guard was in grandma’s local (USA) library.

My daughter has never met an Australian who owns a gun. I doubt she ever will.

My daughter will likely never lose an Australian relative, friend or school mate to a gun death. I’ve lost a grandmother and 2 close friends to gunfire, but that was in the USA. Hasn’t happened here.

My daughter does not get startled by noises that sound like gunfire. I still instinctively look for cover. She thinks I’m weird.

Fortunately we get to see all the US mayhem from afar. Unfortunately, 10’s of millions of American school children do not.

This comment was also very popular:

David Doney

I.O.U.S.A. 13 hours ago

One of many obvious problems with arming teachers is that shooters nervous they might face a teacher with a pistol* will simply pick a different soft target (e.g., restaurants, malls, day care centers, etc.) Are we going to arm everyone? Day care center nannies with shotguns, anyone?

In addition to the prudent measures we hear about all the time, we can take a lesson from cars and healthcare insurance (pre-Trump) and require all gun owners to be insured. They would have to be members of a well-regulated state militia with financial liability for the misdeeds of its members, with insurance premiums paid for by those members based on the risk profile of the militia.

This is only fair, as who has to pay for the misdeeds of the shooters? You and me through higher law enforcement and health insurance costs.

*Pistol-toting half-trained teachers are not a big worry for a moderately skilled shooter with an assault rifle anyway. And they can kill dozens before teachers can react with such weapons. And do you want the teachers in a gun battle with an assailant with your kids in the crossfire? We have to get the guns off the street.

Obviously, arming teachers (as Don the Con suggested) is a bad idea– taking down a teenager armed with an AR-15 requires special training and experience, not something the average teacher can acquire.

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Florida Representatives Declare Pornography “A Public Health Risk”

2018-02-21

According to The Hill’s state watch news, and the Joe Reedy of the Associated Press, the Florida House of Representatives passed by voice vote a bill that declares that pornography is “a public health risk” shortly after defeating a bill to ban the AR-15 assault rifle by a two-thirds majority.

The author of the resolution, who is running for attorney general, claims that

there’s research showing a connection between pornography use and mental and physical illnesses, forming and maintaining intimate relationships and deviant sexual behavior.

Unfortunately, under hostile questioning, the author was unable to cite any deaths or injuries due to pornography, nor any instances of first responders seeking counseling– unlike the consequences of using AR-15’s.

(photo courtesy of pixabay.com and Bru-nO)

Mueller: Paul Manafort Committed Bank Fraud in 2016 To Obtain New Mortgages

2018-02-21

Several news outlets have reported that Special Prosecutor Mueller has additional evidence against Trump’s ex-campaign chief Paul Manafort related to his new home mortgages obtained during and after the campaign in 2016.  Apparently, Manafort made false statements on his applications for mortgages on some homes that he owned, including overstating his income from his consulting business.  The Hill also reported that Manafort may have promised a banker a Trump administration job in exchange for loans.  The banker in question served on Trump’s council of economic advisers but did not get an administration job.  One loan administrator felt “pressured” to approve the loans.

(Legos courtesy of pixabay.com)

Irony of Ironies: FBI Hated Clinton, Favored Trump Before Presidential Election; and a Probability Argument About Russian Interference

2018-02-21

A year later, the President accuses the FBI of anti-Trump bias; but before the election, most observers say FBI agents hated Clinton and thought she was corrupt.  While they weren’t uniformly pro-Trump, they were certainly anti-Clinton.  A Guardian article from before the election, on November 4, 2016, said:

The currently serving FBI agent said Clinton is “the antichrist personified to a large swath of FBI personnel,” and that “the reason why they’re leaking is they’re pro-Trump.”. . .

“There are lots of people who don’t think Trump is qualified, but also believe Clinton is corrupt. What you hear a lot is that it’s a bad choice, between an incompetent and a corrupt politician,” said a former FBI official. . . .

Justice department officials – another current target of FBI dissatisfaction – have said the bureau disregarded longstanding rules against perceived or actual electoral interference when Comey wrote to Congress to say it was reviewing newly discovered emails relating to Clinton’s personal server.

Comey’s vague letter to Congress, promptly leaked by Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz, said the bureau would evaluate communications – subsequently identified as coming from a device used by disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner, whose estranged wife Huma Abedin is a Clinton aide – for connections to the Clinton server.

In other words, while not uniformly in Trump’s camp before the election, FBI agents and administrators generally were virulently anti-Clinton for several reasons: she was perceived as “liberal”, while FBI agents generally are conservative; the head of the New York FBI office ran a military charity that received large donations from Trump; Rudy Giuliani (a conservative politician) was close to members of the New York FBI.

In other news of December 2016, reported by the Guardian:

 

The revelation gives further credence to the CIA’s finding last week that the Kremlin deliberately intervened in the US presidential election to help Donald Trump. The president-elect has angrily denied the CIA’s assessment, calling it “ridiculous”.

As has been widely reported, the “president-elect” has never said anything negative about Vladimir Putin or the Russian government generally, despite his penchant for bad-mouthing all and sundry.  He has responded to criticism with crude insults and angry denials, so it is somewhat surprising that he has never had a bad word for Vlad “the Impaler.”  There is a certain consistency, however, in his remarks about world leaders: he lauds autocrats and despots, but has put-downs for democratic leaders, even conservative ones like Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull.

The president has been highly disruptive to the FBI, despite their apparent favoritism towards him before the election.  His attacks have appeared after the agency persisted in its investigation of his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and continued to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election.  He has attacked them despite the fact that there have been no substantial findings yet of coordination between his campaign and the Russian disruption efforts.  It is possible that there was no extensive effort by the campaign to assist Russia in its meddling and that Trump’s attacks are merely reflexive defenses in response to perceived threats.

Nonetheless, it is clear that there was an intense Russian effort to stir up discord within the American electorate and that they attempted to tilt the election towards Trump even before they realized that he would be the Republican candidate.  The Russians made covert efforts to encourage Americans to vote against Clinton and for any opposition candidate, even Jill Stein, but their efforts in Trump’s behalf were most extensive.  The effort, geared towards swing states in particular, had an effect on the election (although not a very large one) which was sufficient to cause Clinton to lose and Trump to win.

The argument which is made by some, that Russian sabotage of the election did not have a significant effect, is refuted by the following thought experiment.  Suppose the Russians had not made any effort to sabotage the election?  In that case, the demonstrator made up to look like Clinton dressed up as a prisoner behind bars would not have appeared at Republican events, because that demonstrator was paid for and arranged by Russian agents.  The Facebook ad showing a vote for Clinton as being a vote for the Devil and a vote for Trump as being a vote for Jesus would not have been produced, because it was done by Russian agents.  A number of other publicity stunts would not have happened, and we don’t really know how many.  If it were not for such incidents, especially Russian support for Jill Stein, the likelihood that Clinton would have been elected would have increased.

Therefore, were it not for Russian sabotage, Hillary Clinton might have been elected President of the United States in November 2016 despite the hostility of the FBI– with a greater probability.  The fact that Clinton never visited Wisconsin during the campaign might not have made any difference to the outcome.

(photo of socks the cat courtesy of pixabay.com and skeeze)

Automation is Destroying the Jobs of Garment Workers

2018-02-18

Automation is a two-edged sword.  On the one hand, it is making more garments faster and more precisely.  It is even making it possible to one day have personal, single garments made to order by placing an online request with individual measurements.  On the other hand, it is putting millions of garment workers out of jobs and livelihoods.

Automation of garment production has a long history, going back to steam-powered weaving mills in the early nineteenth century, pioneered by a Frenchman named Jacquard.  The newest machines can make garments from start to finish, including delicate, complex work such as sewing on belt loops and making fashionable holes in jeans.  The newest machines coming into use in the last few years are capable of doing work previously possible only by hand, which puts myriads of garment workers out of jobs.  The only jobs left are supervising the machines, cleaning them, and fixing jams or repairing them when they (rarely) break down.

The effect on workers in third-world countries such as Bangladesh has been catastrophic. According to a Wall Street Journal report:

A 2016 International Labor Organization (ILO) study predicted some Asian nations could lose more than 80% of their garment, textile and apparel manufacturing jobs as automation spreads.

( The ILO is a United Nations organization.)

Suddenly, the garment industry in the third world, which has provided millions of jobs and lifted Bangladesh and other countries out of extreme poverty over the last thirty or forty years, is collapsing because of mass layoffs.  Automated garment production is wiping out millions of jobs with no replacements other than a few machine tenders and repairmen.

The benefits of automation are all accruing to the owners of the companies that have bought these new automatic garment-producing machines, while the ill effects fall on the workers.  No-one has asked why the owners should receive all the benefits of these advances.  Do the owners not have any responsibility to the workers displaced by this new machinery?

It seems to me that there should be laws protecting workers potentially put out of work by machines.  Only if all workers and companies are equally included in laws that encompass the entire industry and all other industries potentially affected by automation would it be possible to fairly distribute the benefits of new technology.  As it is, with each company fending for itself, the owners feel they have to buy the new machines to keep up with the competition, and once they have the machines, each company is forced to pare its workers to make a profit and compete with other companies doing the same.

It is not fair for the benefits of progress to fall to the owners exclusively, and for all the ill effects to be dumped on the workers at the bottom.  The only way to make it fair is for laws to make the companies responsible for the welfare of the workers.  Vast profits are to be had in embracing progress, and a share of those profits should be distributed to each person in proportion to his contribution to the new and his place in the hierarchy of the production system.

Workers are not discardable pieces of machinery, to be thrown on the dust heap when their efforts are no longer required.  They are the essential consumers of products made as well as cogs, however small, in the machinery of production.  If vast quantities of product can be cheaply made, then vast numbers of consumers are needed to buy the product made.  Factories cannot exist in isolation without consumers; machines can’t wear sweaters and have no need to buy them.

There are many different ways to “spread the wealth” but the simplest situation, that of laissez-faire, results in a vastly unequal distribution for the benefits of progress.  This inequality leads to societal disruption, as without income, the lower people in society have no way to buy and consume the cheap products streaming from the new, more efficient, automated factories.  This ever-increasing inequality of wealth distribution has been building since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution three centuries ago.

Before that, there was already structural inequality because of the ability of wealthy persons to charge “rent” or interest for the use of properties, means of production, or money that they own.  This inequality grew without effort on the part of the wealthy people; the rent simply accrues as time passes.  In fact, it takes effort for the wealthy person to spend the money accumulated rather than banking it.  Thus, the luxury industry grows; it is specialized to provide more costly products and services that are designed to use up the extra money on hand.

The rise of more efficient manufacturing methods (the Industrial Revolution) has multiplied the effects of rent by providing more money to owners of the means of production.  Larger quantities of product at lower prices are available, and these result in more money accruing to the owners.  There results a surplus of product, which encourages exportation.

A solution to this new epidemic of mass unemployment must be found or there will be enormous popular problems.  Left to itself, the situation will become very painful to millions of people and disruptive to society.  The fairest way to address this problem is to give workers an ownership stake in the automated factories so that some of the profits will accrue to them, allowing them to purchase some of the new products.

(photo courtesy of pixabay.com and kalhh)

Full Employment and National Power: Infrastructure Jobs

2018-02-17

I have a modest proposal that will ensure at least 4% GDP growth.  The full power of all available citizens can be harnessed with a jobs program that brings in all the chronically unemployed but potentially able workers.

For example, day care centers to enable young mothers to go back to work or start working.  Raise the minimum wage to $15 now, and back it up with a jobs program that creates at least a million new jobs a year (and keeps the old jobs going.)  Create jobs cleaning up parts of cities that need cleaning.  Pick up trash, repaint, repair, anything that is required, as long as it keeps the workers busy.  A hierarchy of workers and supervisors with super-supervisors is also needed.  The supervisor’s job is to keep the workers busy: think up new things for them to do if they run out of old ones.  The super-supervisor’s job is to encourage the supervisors to do a good job of supervising.

Plans for repair of bridges, causeways, dams, and so on can be brought forward as many things are on the drawing board and need only to be rescheduled for now.  New construction for needed transportation and other public structures can be speeded up as they have already been worked out years in advance.  New York City alone could use subway repair and tunnels that were planned years ago to the tune of trillions of dollars.

All of this is done in a nearly military way: workers are brought on, prepared, tested for skills, and assigned to jobs based on their abilities.  Everyone who applies is hired, and paid at least a base salary: those with dependents are paid more for maintenance of their children or disabled parents.  Transportation to work is provided in the most efficient manner possible so that not everyone need buy a car– a sort of super-Uber.

The point is that any activity which shows a measurable improvement in the environment is a payable occupation if one’s overall strategy is to keep everyone working and develop new jobs as needed to grow the GDP.  When the percentage of people working rises, there will be more money in circulation to buy things, and this increase in demand will stimulate an increase in supply.

The point is that stimulation of the economy must be done in a very sophisticated way.  You cannot stimulate the economy in a balanced way and increase the well-being of society without providing money at the very base of the pyramid to seed growth.  Inflation can be anticipated and controlled by encouraging supply of goods from other countries with low or no tariffs.  It is not necessary to have people in this country work in manufacturing when it can be done more cheaply in other countries.  People here can work in building and repair of infrastructure if the government would just provide the funds.

The funds will have to be raised by a slight increase in taxes, that is, on those who can afford it.  This may sound politically impossible, but if we emphasize the massive economic growth that is possible with a relatively small stimulus in the right place, we may be able to get the point across.  Get rich people to buy more Treasury bonds with an offer of a good rate.  It can be done if the will is there.

(photo courtesy of pixabay.com and FotografieLink)

Gun Violence and Gun Control

2018-02-17

This solution to gun violence is only a partial one, but it is practical and able to go under the radar on this controversial subject.  The trouble is that, practically speaking, we as concerned citizens with children in school cannot force the entrenched Second Amendment fanatics to change gun laws or confiscate all guns (as was done in Australia.)  The Second Amendment fanatics are just too strong.  About a quarter of all Americans own guns, and there are about 300 million of them in circulation.  What we can accomplish, with sufficient money from the government, is an attempt to protect all of the students most of the time in a practical way.

The solution, partial and temporary, is to hire former Special Forces soldiers who have children of their own to protect the schools.  Use the carrot of good pay and retirement benefits to obtain highly skilled and experienced ex-soldiers.  Bring them home from Afghanistan and Libya to protect their own children.  Give them an alternative to working for Blackwater protecting rich scumbags in foreign countries.  Post them, armed, one to a school; and put metal detectors at the entrances to every school.

The advantages of this plan are that, first, it is possible to quickly implement and there is a pool of experienced candidates for the post; second, it fits in with the prejudices of the Second Amendment fanatics: this is the plan they would have chosen if they were to decide what to do.  The only question is a practical one: are there enough experienced ex-soldiers to guard every school?

According to Google, there are a total of 90,000 elementary schools and 36,000 high schools, both public and private, in America.  There are currently 1.2 million service members and 800,000 reservists in the US armed forces.  Therefore, obtaining at least 126,000 experienced, recently retired soldiers with children is conceivable if perhaps a slight stretch.  Arming them would not be a problem.  Installing metal detectors would present the most complex and difficult part of this plan.

The alternatives are either unacceptable or extremely problematic.  Attempting to confiscate all guns would be a logistical nightmare that would only incite violent resentment among fanatics.  Australia was able to confiscate all guns because there weren’t that many in the country to begin with.

Increasing mental health services and surveilling the susceptible population would be a huge endeavor and would likely involve additional infringements on personal privacy, possibly without providing any protection.  The latest psychological analysis of the critical question “who will be next?” indicates that the process of incitement to violence among schoolchildren is already far advanced.  Those who may be provoked have many examples to draw from, the most famous being such alternative “heroes” as Dylan Klebold.  Thus, the next shooter is likely to come from a minimally disturbed background without major incitements such as being physically or sexually abused or alienated.   Surveillance, therefore, would be difficult.

An example from the literature shows that the next shooter is probably a victim of Asperger’s Syndrome and so minimally disturbed that he or she would fit in readily.  A sixteen or seventeen year old boy was apprehended with large quantities of incendiary and explosive materials and advanced, written and video plans to create mayhem.  The boy had never gone through with his plans despite multiple opportunities.  He fit in  well in his school, had loving parents who were strict but gentle, and showed minimal signs of disturbance.  He had a variety of Asperger’s Syndrome, which is like autism but much less obvious.  He was sentenced to probation and psychiatric treatment.

Examples like this show that there is already a subculture of apocalyptic school violence in this country that goes back twenty years and has been getting worse steadily.  A rapid, temporary response of providing armed, experienced guards to all schools could be followed by an extensive, long-term psychiatric surveillance program that eventually detects all the minimally disturbed children (as well as the seriously ill few) and puts them under treatment.

The only requirements for this plan are sufficient money to pay the guards and the will and experience to carry it out.

(photo courtesy of pixabay.com and volfdrag)