Paul Krugman and “Equivalences”

In light of the Supreme Court ruling that people with lots of money can spend as much as they want to get the people they want elected, Paul Krugman takes a look at “Equivalencies”:

There are definitely times when it seems that our winner-take-all society is also a whiner-take-all society; it’s really amazing how quick billionaires are to portray themselves as victims because some people say nasty things about them.

One remarkable aspect of this whining is that the nasty things aren’t really all that nasty. Saying that the Koch brothers are using their wealth to promote a political agenda that will make them even wealthier is a substantive claim, not character assassination; it’s not at all the same as, say, suggesting that Hillary Clinton is a murderer. Yet the Kochs and Perkinses act as if this kind of thing were utterly vile, an attack on their liberty.

The other remarkable thing is the instant escalation of hurt feelings into a Godwin’s Law violation. You see, liberals criticize the Kochs; that makes them just like Hitler and Stalin, who murdered their opponents.

But wait, there’s more. What I’ve been hearing from Koch defenders is that people like me have no standing to ridicule billionaires. You see, I sometimes say sarcastic things about the arguments of people who disagree with me, and even question their motives when they say things I consider obviously wrong. And that’s just like comparing such people to Hitler.

The thing is, I don’t think the crybaby thing is an act, put on for strategic purposes. I think it’s real. Billionaires really are feeling vulnerable despite their wealth and power, or perhaps because of it. And the apparatchiks serving the .01 percent are deeply insecure, culturally and intellectually, so that ridicule cuts deep.

It’s kind of sad, really – but also more than a bit scary: When great power goes along with fragile egos, seriously bad things can happen.

Life in a Day

I had a movie preview for “Life in a Day” saved on my computer for some reason, so I checked out the movie listings today to see if it was playing locally. Nope.

I figured I could go to a place that sells DVDs and buy it. Nope.

Now I see it’s on YouTube, free of charge.

This is a look at the world on July 24, 2010. Just a normal day on the planet.

Failed states

Foreign Policy magazine put up a fascinating listing last month ranking failed states, or nations on the brink of collapse. There are a number of stories on why states are failing (Somalia clocks in at No. 1) and details on the nations in decline.

Here’s a chart based on data from fundforpeace.org on the states in critical condition and practically destined to fail compared with the United States (click to enlarge):

The scary part of this is that the U.S. isn’t even the most stable nation in the world. We come in at No. 159. According to the Foreign Policy ranking, the most stable nation on the planet is Finland. Its rank is 177.

The entire Foreign Policy package is worth reading. But be prepared. There are many graphic details on how bad things really are. Some people really do live in Hell.

Cuckoo for austerity

So what’s happening in world economics?

Steepest drop in German private sector output for three years. Euro crisis leads to survey-record monthly fall in service providers’ business outlook.

Of course, an economist could explain this better, but let’s see:

Germany is the leading voice for an austerity strategy for dealing with Europe’s economic problems. When countries practice austerity, jobs and services are cut. When that happens, citizens have less money to spend. German economic strength is based on product manufacturing. People throughout Europe buy German products. But governments throughout Europe are practicing austerity. With austerity, people don’t have money to buy products (fewer jobs, fewer payouts in social services, higher taxes, less money). When people don’t buy products, German businesses make less money.

So austerity is bad for Germany.

But Germany insists austerity is the way to go.

And now German service providers are experiencing a record fall in their business outlook.

Who could have seen that coming? Cue Paul Krugman:

Basically, it seems that even as the euro approaches a critical juncture, senior German officials are living in Wolkenkuckucksheim — cloud-cuckoo land.

Now, I know the phrase normally refers to a state of naive optimism, not normally something one attributes to German officials. But a broader interpretation would be that of believing, despite all the evidence, that the world is the way you want it to be, and acting on that false belief.

So the man from the finance ministry asserts that the euro crisis was brought on by fiscal irresponsibility, and in particular by “short-termism” — so that the remedy is to focus on long-run fiscal irresponsibility plus structural reform, which he insists has never failed.

All one can say is, My God. You have to be willfully blind not to know that private excess, not public, caused the problems in Spain and Ireland — and nowhere, not even in Greece, did Keynesian stimulus efforts have anything at all to do with the crisis. As for fiscal responsibility plus reform solving the kind of problem we face now — massive real overvaluation with a fixed exchange rate — it would be truer to say that this has never worked.

Border patrols

Here’s a map of what are supposed to be U.S. interventions around the world since the end of World War II.

Seriously? We haven’t done anything in Canada or Mexico? In Mexico’s case, doesn’t the War on Drugs count? It’s right there in the title. We’re at war. Mexico supplies drugs.

Anybody have any idea what we could have been doing in Australia? Everywhere else seems to make sense, but what secrets could koalas and kangaroos have been hiding?

(A little research, and it looks like it had something to do with influencing an election during Nixon’s term in retaliation for the Aussie PM’s opposition to the Vietnam War. Learn something new every day.)

Via Informed Comment.

Perry storms Omaha Beach

Gov. Yosemite Sam of Texas went off on a tangent and compared his race for the White House to the allies storming Normandy in World War II.


Here are the details from MSNBC:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry today compared the GOP’s quest to defeat President Barack Obama to one of the deadliest battles of the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944.

“This election is about stopping a president of the United States and his administration that is abusing the Constitution of this country, that is putting America on a track to bankruptcy,” Perry told a hotel ballroom packed with more than 200 volunteers.

“It is a powerful moment in Americans’ history, and you are on the front lines,” he added. “This is Concord. This is Omaha Beach. This is going up the hill realizing that the battle is worth winning.”

OK, let me get this straight. According to Rick Perry, the Iowa caucus is the equivalent of this:

Really, you can hardly tell the difference, right?

With the Serial Adulterer battling in Pearl Harbor and Yosemite Sam at Normandy, you get the sense that if they had been president at the time, we’d all be speaking German and Japanese today.

Well, depending what the final results are in the Iowa caucus, maybe they’ll just give the nomination to Romney already. Then we’ll at least be able to focus on one fount of crazy.

Food for (insane) thought

This is a commercial for a European dairy company called Muller (umlaut over the U). There are very few words, but, really, even if there were a complete Tarantino screenplay, it wouldn’t do much to explain what’s going on.

Best guess: If you eat this company’s products, you start hallucinating.

(via Slog)

One note: Muller is pretty far out there with its advertising in general. Here’s actor John Hurt talking about galloping cows.

Why can’t we have commercials like these in America?

Stock market psychopaths and other supposed realities

Cover of "The Big Short: Inside the Dooms...

Cover via Amazon

There are plenty of bad things you can say about Wall Street (I know, I’ve said them), but sometimes, the anti-stockbroker armies go to far.

For example, this story ran in the German magazine Der Spiegel recently in an analysis of rogue traders who lose billions at banks:

According to a new study at the University of St. Gallen seen by SPIEGEL, one contributing factor may be that stockbrokers’ behavior is more reckless and manipulative than that of psychopaths. Researchers at the Swiss research university measured the readiness to cooperate and the egotism of 28 professional traders who took part in computer simulations and intelligence tests. The results, compared with the behavior of psychopaths, exceeded the expectations of the study’s co-authors, forensic expert Pascal Scherrer, and Thomas Noll, a lead administrator at the Pöschwies prison north of Zürich.

“Naturally one can’t characterize the traders as deranged,” Noll told SPIEGEL. “But for example, they behaved more egotistically and were more willing to take risks than a group of psychopaths who took the same test.”

Now, the study sounds interesting, and it would be nice to actually see the document and find out if the findings are being taken out of context since the guys being quoted don’t appear to be with the university, but with a prison in Zurich. But Der Spiegel doesn’t bother to link to the study, so we’re expected to take their word for it.

I can’t do that. Sociopathic behavior, maybe. Psychopath? I need more proof. Maybe this study does exist, and maybe it clearly documents the testing and the results. But if there’s no link to see this for ourselves, why should we believe it? Even if we really want to?

But it doesn’t end there. The BBC this week ran an interview with a “day trader” named Alessio Rastani, who had some candid comments on why stock brokers are looking forward to the collapse of global stock markets:

Now this, too, borders on the edge of psychopath, but stands firmly in the sociopath world. This guy seems to have his act together. Or does he? He’s not shown to be affiliated with any major brokerage house. In stockbroker land, these are the kinds of statements that are more likely to be said in the comfort of a trading floor with like minded sociopaths, but never on live television with millions of listeners. At the least, if this guy’s with a real financial institution, saying this would be a firing offense. So anyone watching this should, after the initial revulsion and self-satisfied feeling of being right about Wall Street all along should think, “Wait a minute. Is this guy real?”

The Daily Telegraph in London followed up and is reporting this:

In the interview Mr Rastani described himself as an independent trader. Elsewhere he claims he’s an “investment speaker”. Instead of operating from a plush office in Canary Wharf Mr Rastani works and lives with his partner Anita Eader in a £200,000 semi in Bexleyheath, south London. The house, complete with a mortgage from Royal Bank of Scotland, belongs to her not him.

He is a business owner, a 99pc shareholder in public speaking venture Santoro Projects. Its most recent accounts show cash in the bank of £985. After four years trading net assets are £10,048 – in the red.

Canary Wharf and “The City” are London’s two financial districts of London. Rastani doesn’t appear to work in either of them. Two hundred thousand pounds, which in the real world is seen as a lot of money, doesn’t get you anything more than a modest flat in London. And “broker” living in South London, is probably like a Charles Schwab specialist living in Hoboken, N.J. Not saying that’s poverty stricken, but it definitely isn’t where the movers and shakers live. So the guy really has no basis for speaking as a “Wall Street” or “City” or “Canary Wharf” insider. He doesn’t make money trading. He doesn’t move markets. As the Telegraph story says:

How a man who has never been authorised by the Financial Services Authority and has no discernible history working for a City institution ended up being interviewed by the BBC remains a mystery.

So far, we’re just getting examples of shoddy reporting based on lame background checks.

We already have enough reasons to condemn Wall Street practices and to demand action against banking institutions for getting us in the financial mess we’re already in. But even if we want to believe in the stories about psychopaths and guys who get off on market collapses because it means more money for them (and just to emphasize, people do get extremely rich when financial products collapse. Read Michael Lewis’s “The Big Short” on the meltdown in the subprime mortgage market), we need bulletproof documentation on these “accepted truths.”

Otherwise, it’s just another group of people making up crap. And we already have enough of that.

Cucumbers, sprouts … what’s left?

German health officials need to get their act together (from AP):

First they pointed a finger at Spanish cucumbers. Then they cast suspicion on sprouts from Germany. Now German officials appear dumbfounded as to the source of the deadliest E. coli outbreak in modern history, and one U.S. expert called the investigation a “disaster.”

Backtracking for the second time in a week, officials Monday said preliminary tests have found no evidence that vegetable sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany were to blame.

It came from somewhere. They better find it before it strikes again.

Killer sprouts

From the AP:

Consumers were awaiting the release of official test results Monday that will most likely confirm that vegetable sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany caused the terrifying E. coli outbreak in Europe that has killed 22 people and sickened more than 2,200.