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April 27, 2013

austerity round-up

Let's see where we stand on the controversial subject of austerity as of this Saturday, April 27, 2013.  (And it's really not a controversy, duh, but rather a dogma wildly held in the corridors of power and those deluded by the same and reviled by every single other person on earth.)  And let's remember what austerity is: tightening federal budgets in times of economic malaise, such that those hardest hit by slowdowns get hit even harder yet, in the name of reducing debt.

Well, earlier in the week, Henry Blodget stuck a fork in it.  Blodget is on the record as generally dubious of the practice, which is odd considering that his is a card-carryin' capitalist, but he' finally thrown open the window, as he is mad as hell and he's not gonna bla bla:

The argument is over. Paul Krugman has won. The only question now is whether the folks who have been arguing that we have no choice but to cut government spending while the economy is still weak will be big enough to admit that.

And the call for reconsideration of position is shared by the Guardian's Heidi Moore, who is specifically looking for mildly-discredited economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart to cut the shit, as it were, and admit the damage they've done, as their influential (and based on bad data) study was used as intellectual cover for austerity proponents all over the world.  Their research unraveled in the past couple weeks, and the economists claim that they are but disinterested academics uninterested in politics — a claim that Moore deftly and concisely eviscerates.

And of course there is Paul Krugman, the poster boy of anti-austerity fans everywhere, took a second to wax philosophical yesterday.  Where does the instinct, one that frequently flies in the face of reality (Ireland, UK), come from?  What is it about austerity that so resonates up and down the corridors of power?  It's the morality, stupid.  The elite view sovereign debt as profligacy for the benefit of the poor (who are poor by their own fault, of course).

Thus, the average American is somewhat worried about budget deficits, which is no surprise given the constant barrage of deficit scare stories in the news media, but the wealthy, by a large majority, regard deficits as the most important problem we face. And how should the budget deficit be brought down? The wealthy favor cutting federal spending on health care and Social Security -- that is, "entitlements" -- while the public at large actually wants to see spending on those programs rise.

You get the idea: The austerity agenda looks a lot like a simple expression of upper-class preferences, wrapped in a facade of academic rigor. What the top 1 percent wants becomes what economic science says we must do.

An interesting thought, that academia will tend towards the desires of the One Percent.  And, if you think about it, research money has to come from somewhere, and it's surely not coming from the 99%.

But all of this smacks a little of victory laps, though, don't you think?  The kerfuffle is by no means over, of course.  The IMF is showing signs of relenting, but the Cameron administration is not, and the rest of the Troika has shown no signs of relenting on grinding Greece, Cyprus and Portugal into dust.

But the idea is losing traction.  That is good.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:26 PM

April 26, 2013

weird to say, but i'm team gawker, hulkamania must fall

Gawker is refusing to comply with a court order from the Sixth Circuit Court in Florida, and I think it's heroic of them.

Yes, it's one of those annoying things that Gawker posts in their strategy of posting any damn thing that might garner an eyeball or two — a while back they posted a Hulk Hogan sex tape.  Right, ew.  But the Hulkster wasn't so down with this, so he sued.

First Hulk's lawyers sued in Federal court on the grounds of copyright infringement, which was rebuffed, so they switched tactics and filed in state court on grounds of invasion of privacy.

Yesterday, the judge (who is a Jeb Bush appointee, former lawyer of Terri Schiavo's parents and, let's face it, a Floridian) issued an order for Gawker to take down not just the (excerpted) video itself, but also the entire post — the fourteen hundred words written by A.J. Daulerio and all the hundreds of comments.  They will not comply.  From Gawker's editor:

A lawful order from a circuit court judge is a serious thing. While we vehemently disagree with Campbell's order with respect to the video itself, we have chosen to take it down pending our appeal.

But the portion of the order compelling us to remove the entirety of Daulerio's post--his words, his speech--is grossly unconstitutional. We won't take it down.

This is a twenty-first Century version of prior restraint, in the sense that, prior to the Internet, it was a little hard to unpublish something in the newspaper.  A journalistic write-up of some silly, possibly rights-infringing sex tape is protected by the First Amendment.  It's a terrible decision that will not stand further review (although Gawker will still probably pay the price for this gesture).

John Cook is a hero.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:47 AM

April 25, 2013

jill abramson, who is a woman

It's no secret that I am a homer for the New York Times.  I have loved newspapers since, and this is no lie, I was two years old, I was a paperboy (remember those?) when I was in junior high, and I have never stopped loving newspapers.  And the NYT is simply the greatest paper in the land.

And so Politico ran an anonymously-sourced hatchet job, aimed at Executive Editor Jill Abramson.  It was petulant back-biting and juvenile whining trumped up into "Mutiny on the Times news floor!?!"  (I'm not linking to it — if you want to support Politico, go right ahead, but leave me out of it.)

And I personally loathe it because the NYT is coming off a pretty stunning week, the kind of week that illustrates why it's such a good paper.  They bagged four Pulitzers, and managed to be one of the few outlets that actually managed to get Boston right, without any hysteria at all.

But after a day to think about it, the attacks on Abramson are not so much because she's some sort of monster, but because she's a woman.  Check this Guardian opinion piece by Emily Bell:

If one redacts 'Jill' from Politico's piece and replaces it with 'Jack', the absurdity and sexism becomes all the more obvious:

"It's frustrating because he is such a smart person. When Jack is on his game, he is one of the smartest people I've ever met," one staffer said. "But he's not a naturally charismatic person - he's not approachable." You see? When was the last time the approachability of a male editor made for copy?

"One staffer," and everyone else who talked to Politico (and whoever tipped Politico off on the story) should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:13 AM

the seven habits of effective people and al qaeda?

There was the craziest set of paragraphs in a story about Syria this morning, and I just can't get them out of my head.  They are as follows:
At the nearly deserted Four Seasons Hotel, [Khaled Mahjoub, a Syrian-American businessman,] ordered Lebanese rosé. Syrians, he said, embrace joy at the hardest times. He smoked a thick cigar as Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" played softly in the background, mixing with the clap of mortar rounds headed for the Damascus suburbs.

"Syrian tobacco," he said. "One hundred percent organic."

For Mr. Mahjoub, who builds environmentally sustainable housing, blames "Bedouin petrodollars" for rising extremism and quotes from "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," Mr. Assad is fighting an enemy driven by the ideology of Al Qaeda, "the same enemy that did 9/11."

I mean it is an awesome bit of reportage, and I think we all know that war zones (which Damascus essentially is) are surreal in ways that are difficult to impart, but that is a swirling bit of chaotic juxtaposition that does go a long way to impart it.  "One hundred percent organic."  Dude comes off like a movie villain.

And on top of that, I don't know if it's just me but that second graff is a bit difficult to parse.  Editing error?  I'm a big dummy?  I can't tell if Mahjoub blames Bedouin petrodollars for "Seven Habits," which is insane, or if there's a passage in "Seven Habits" that cites either or both of Assad or Al Qaeda.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:59 AM

April 24, 2013

buying votes as political speech and stuff like that

So the Federal Elections Commission, for whatever reason, perhaps because it's enormously controversial in the business community, has not yet forced corporations who donate money to trade associations and the like, which trade associations then give to super PACS, and neither the corporations nor the trade associations have to disclose the identities of the donors or the size of the donations.

So transparency/election reform advocates have proposed that this regulatory effort fall to the Securities and Exchange Commission, with the thinking being that if the corporations can't be held responsible to the body politic, they should at the very least be held responsible to their shareholders.

"No fair," the business interests say, "this is regulatory overreach!  What should the SEC have to do with elections!  We already have an agency for that (which we have cowed into submission)."

And to be honest is totally is a regulatory end run.  Naturally, were I a stockholder, I'd want political/lobbying outlays disclosed just as executive compensation is — it's partly my company, dammit.  But as a shareholder political transparency is something not so much on my mind.

But as usual the fascinating thing is the defense by business interests and GOP politicians of this practice of anonymous political donations (which should set the hair of anyone who's even only heard the name of Thomas Jefferson on fire):

Opponents argue that the agency does not have the authority or expertise to issue regulations about political spending, and that a disclosure rule would infringe on companies' free speech rights -- and damage shareholder value -- by exposing them to criticism and attack from political opponents [emphasis mine].

The argument is that they should be allowed to engage in "speech" (and it is such a stretch to call it that) because if everyone knew about their "speech," they might be exposed to criticism.  Free speech, as it is set forth in the Constitution, and how it has been ruled in our court system, has absolutely nothing to do with a blanket freedom from consequence.  But, part of the effect of this secret buying and selling of votes is the continued protection of the practice.

But hey, let's just call that what it is — cowardice.  Oh, it's shrewd as hell, the outright purchase of laws to encourage private profits at the expense of the public good, but it's chickenshit, and I can't believe that it's not so obviously so that the practice would evaporate.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:19 AM

April 23, 2013

on william gibson for the awl

So there's this thing that happened last week, right?  Funny thing is, last Friday was so bonkers, so implausible, that it actually knocked me off the dang information spigot for about seven hours.  I'd taken the day off of work, so the first hours of the day, from the Wait What Happened? of first turning on the computer straight through a half-day of "shelter in place" (which is just a ridiculous term) in Boston, were saturated: Internet, radio news, and TV news, darting back and forth between media, looking for information.  And then, around lunch time, something just switched in my head.  Turned everything off.  Too surreal.  I went to a friend's bar that had no TV and no WiFi, and then went to see William Gibson speak at the New York Public Library.

And I swear to God, I came out of Gibson's event elated.  The idea density of the conversation, and the deliberate clarity with which he speaks, shoved every shred of the week's events right out of my head.  It was the perfect tonic.

I was at the event, for which I'll forever be grateful, to cover it for the Awl, and this is what I wrote (and of which I'm pretty proud).

So now let's just sit quietly and see if last week was an outlier or the new normal.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:26 AM