Atomic Weapons Can’t Be Undone

I commend President Obama for taking the path that I suggested was my preference during his visit to Hiroshima and keeping his eyes fixed on the horizon rather than looking back.

Unfortunately, it is no more possible to abolish nuclear weapons than it would be projectile weapons. They’ve been invented and that can’t be undone.


Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used to Be

Writing at Time Rana Foroohar says that Paul Krugman’s and Hillary Clinton’s recollections of the 1990s are wrong:

In his column, Krugman advocates thinking about the policies of the 1990s as a model for how to create another bout of prosperity. But what were those policies, exactly?

Bob Rubin, then Treasury secretary, balanced the budget and focused on market-led growth, rather than the massive public investment plan advocated by the other Bob, former labor secretary Robert Reich. Reich’s strategy of real, sustained investment in infrastructure and education (which Bill Clinton actually campaigned on) was deep sixed in favor of a more market-oriented, quick hit growth plan.

“I pushed hard for a major public investment strategy, but it got ground up in demands from Republicans and some Democrats to cut the budget deficit,” says Reich, now a professor at Berkeley. “In some ways, it was an early exercise in austerity economics.”

Would the Rubin strategy work today? Absolutely not. If we tried to balance the budget right now, we’d get European-style austerity. And while we still rely on the sugar high of super low interest rates, their effectiveness for boosting Main Street has decreased. Low rates have led to record stock prices, but Main Street growth is still sluggish, and wages are still relatively flat (as is productivity).

I think they’re wrong for another reason: the boom of the 1990s was a consequence of about 15 years of technology investment, something that has not continued and might not produce the same outcomes even if it were.

1 comment

The Little Recovery That Wasn’t There

I generally find Jeffrey Snider’s posts at RealClearMarkets dense and prolix but I generally learn something, if only how certain kinds of investors think. I found his most recent offering quite interesting. The gist of it is that all of the blithe reassurances we’ve been receiving from the BLS for the last seven years or so have been bogus and there really hasn’t been much of any recovery at all:

A recession is a temporary deviation from trend, which is why the Census Bureau spent a lot of time and effort in determining trend-cycle components as the largest potential source of variation. The trend is supposed to remain dominant even for each given cycle. What we see here after the Great Recession is nothing like a cycle. Instead of a temporary drop below trend, even if that “temporary” was somewhat longer than usual, we increasingly find that the overall trend itself has been suppressed. Given that the trough of the Great Recession occurred in the middle of 2009, seven years is more than enough time to make such a momentous declaration: the economy didn’t fall into a recession great or otherwise, it shrunk.

That’s quite consistent with Keynesian theory. If the shortfall in aggregate demand persists, it becomes structural, i.e. results in a permanent contraction in aggregate product.

All of this highlights my frustration with economists, generally, and government economists in particular. When you’re going to build a bridge across a river, you use ordinary surveying methods to measure the span. When your measurements tell you that the bridge needs to be 800 meters long, you can fudge that with centimeters here and there or even a couple of meters but you don’t try to fudge it so that your bridge is a third of the length your measurements suggest it is or three times what they’re telling you.

But that’s exactly what’s being done in employment. The fudge factors are so much larger than the measured changes they’re reporting there’s really got to be something wrong.

I honestly don’t see any way what we’ve seen in employment or industrial production fits with the explanations we’re being given.



I think it’s time for a prediction. What’s going to happen?

  1. The FBI releases its report on issues related to Hillary Clinton’s email server after Sec. Clinton has already clinched her party’s nomination for the presidency. It does not recommend that anything be sent to a grand jury. At the convention Sec. Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee and goes on to win the presidency in November.
  2. Same as A but Clinton loses in November.
  3. The FBI releases its report on issues related to Hillary Clinton’s email server before the California primary. It recommends that the issue be sent to a grand jury. Sec. Clinton is trounced in the remaining primaries and superdelegates desert her in droves. At the convention Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee and goes on to win the presidency in November.
  4. Same as C but Sanders loses in November.
  5. The FBI releases its report on issues related to Hillary Clinton’s email server before the California primary. It recommends that the issue be sent to a grand jury. Sec. Clinton is trounced in the remaining primaries and she withdraws from the campaign. Through some sort of convention machinations Joe Biden becomes the Democratic nominee and goes on to win the election in November.
  6. Same as E but Biden’s nomination fractures the Democratic Party and Biden loses in November.
  7. The FBI does not release its report until after the November election and Hillary Clinton has been elected president despite the email issue being a constant source of irritation. The FBI’s report does not recommend that the case be sent to a grand jury. This results in mass resignations at the FBI and a number of extremely embarrassing things that have emerged from the FBI’s investigation are leaked to the media.
  8. The FBI does not release its report until after the November election and Hillary Clinton has been elected president despite the email issue being a constant source of irritation. The FBI’s report recommends that the case be sent to a grand jury. The grand jury finds cause to send the case to trial. Hillary Clinton is impeached and her vice president (whoever that is) becomes president.
  9. Roll your own.

As of this writing I think the greatest likelihood is A followed by B but I’m interested in getting your opinion.

Winners and losers would make an interesting prediction, too. It’s possible that the FBI could be the biggest loser from an institutional standpoint.


Systemic Failure

Leave aside Peggy Noonan’s comments in her most recent Wall Street Journal column on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This summary of the IRS scandal:

A high official in the IRS named Lois Lerner targets those she finds politically hateful. IRS officials are in the White House a lot, which oddly enough finds the same people hateful. News of the IRS targeting is about to break because an inspector general is on the case, so Ms. Lerner plants a question at a conference, answers with a rehearsed lie, tries to pin the scandal on workers in a cubicle farm in Cincinnati, lies some more, gets called into Congress, takes the Fifth—and then retires with full pension and benefits, bonuses intact. Taxpayers will be footing the bill for years for the woman who in some cases targeted them, and blew up the reputation of the IRS.

Why wouldn’t Americans think the system is rigged?

is not only succinct, it neatly divides the country into two groups: those who think this reflects a systemic failure and those who don’t.

I think it does represent such a failure and that you don’t need to be a Republican to think so, indeed, it’s an outrage that some people believe that only Republicans think so.


Where You Stand, Where You Sit, and Email

I was too overwhelmed with work to write about it yesterday but as you undoubtedly know the State Department’s Inspector General released a report on Sec. Clinton’s handling of email that was highly critical of Sec. Clinton among others. From Jonathan Allen’s report at Reuters:

Hillary Clinton broke government rules by using a private email server without approval for her work as U.S. secretary of state, an internal government watchdog said on Wednesday.

The long-awaited report by the State Department inspector general was the first official audit of the controversial arrangement to be made public. It was highly critical of Clinton’s use of a server in her home, and immediately fueled Republican attacks on Clinton, the Democratic front-runner in an already acrimonious presidential race.

The report, which also found problems in department record-keeping practices before Clinton’s tenure, undermined Clinton’s earlier defenses of her emails, likely adding to Democratic anxieties about public perceptions of the candidate. A majority of voters say Clinton is dishonest, according to multiple polls.

The report concluded that Clinton would not have been allowed to use the server in her home had she asked the department officials in charge of information security. The report said that staff who later raised concerns were told to keep quiet. Several suspected hacking attempts in 2011 were never reported to department information security officials, in breach of department rules, it said.

The editors of the Washington Post declaimed:

HILLARY CLINTON’S use of a private email server while secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 has been justifiably criticized as an error of judgment. What the new report from the State Department inspector general makes clear is that it also was not a casual oversight. Ms. Clinton had plenty of warnings to use official government communications methods, so as to make sure that her records were properly preserved and to minimize cybersecurity risks. She ignored them.

and the editors of the Wall Street Journal add:

Hillary Clinton has said for more than a year that her use of a private email server as Secretary of State violated no federal rules and posed no security risk. Only the gullible believed that, and now everyone has proof of her deceptions in a scathing report from State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.

The report obtained by news outlets Wednesday is ostensibly an audit of the email practices of five secretaries of State. But the majority of the report, and the most withering criticism, focuses on Mrs. Clinton. The IG concludes that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee broke federal record-keeping rules, never received permission for her off-grid server, ignored security concerns raised by other officials, and employed a staff that flouted the rules with the same disdain she did.

Whether the report is “scathing” or a “nothingburger” depends somewhat on where the author sits. Austin Bay remarks:

In a pre-release copy of a report on Hillary Cinton’s failure to obey federal record-keeping laws, which Politico obtained, the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) delivers an 83-page doozy.

The State Department inspector general’s office concluded that the former Secretary of State violated legally-mandated record keeping requirements. Quote: “Secretary Clinton should have preserved any federal records she created and received on her personal account by printing and filing those records with the related files in the Office of the Secretary. At a minimum, Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with Department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act.” (That’s on document page 23, page 26 of the pdf. Check it out.)

Bureaucratese riddles that last sentence, but the message is clear: she broke the law. Hillary Clinton has indeed done something wrong—her claims of innocence to the contrary.

while Josh Marshall, always a reliable weathervane of the DNC position, wearily writes:

A brief note on the State Department IG Report on the Clinton email issue. The ledes of a lot of stories present this as a rough hit for Clinton, bad news blah blah blah. Let’s focus on the essential point: Despite the fact that there are some real questions about the impartiality of the IG, the report says the issues with the management of the Secretary of State’s emails are of longstanding and go back with the last five Secretaries of State. The report also singles out Colin Powell, who had a similar set up. The criticism is there. It definitely wasn’t a good arrangement. But to see this as a damaging report after the hyperbolic and frequently insane coverage of this issue is crazy. This was never more than some poor judgment overlayed by a big bureaucratic pissing match all slathered over by a thick layer of partisan game playing and media derp.

Like most Clinton scandals, if there there hadn’t been months, maybe more than a year of weird conspiracy theories, expected perp walks and general nonsense, one might read this and say, wow, that’s disappointing. But after all that, it’s just a big nothingburger. Like it almost always is.

The reactions from defenders of Hillary Clinton follow a well-trod path: it’s old news and everybody does it. Neither of those is exculpatory. And arguing that everybody does it is the basis of Donald Trump’s campaign. Indeed, it seems to me that if that’s your argument, you’re advocating a vote for Trump, the “Control-Alt-Delete candidate”.

The IG’s report increases the urgency of the FBI’s report on its investigation. If the FBI fails to indict, it will call the agency’s integrity into question and, based on the leaks from the FBI, I would expect some insurgency from within the organization.

I hope the report is forthcoming before the California primary. That would, at least, provide the Democratic Party with some options that may be foreclosed later on.


The Rectification of Names

Assault and battery are not legitimate forms of protest. Neither are throwing rocks at police, smashing doors in, and breaking down barriers.

Let’s not dignify these actions by calling them “protests”. They’re thuggery. Or rioting.


Send in the Clown

The Tribune reports that WGN Chicago is considering reviving Bozo’s Circus:

So now, of course, WGN-Ch. 9 needs to bring back “Bozo’s Circus.”

After all, what’s the point of WGN declaring its independence from The CW Network if not to march to the beat of its own big-top band once more?

There will be very big shoes to fill, to be sure. But 15 years after axing the final iteration of arguably the most popular and enduring local kids show in the history of American television, there’s still no single person or character as associated with Channel 9 as Bozo.

If they do, I hope they do it with sincerity and without irony. Why ruin old memories?

WGN’s severing its connection with CW, whose programming has been picked up by WPWR, Chicago’s Fox-owned station, really sounds like its going to put WPWR in a strong position.


The Voting Dead

CBS Los Angeles has compared voting records with death records and found hundreds of people who have ostensibly continued to vote for well after a decade following their demise:

LOS ANGELES ( — A comparison of records by David Goldstein, investigative reporter for CBS2/KCAL9, has revealed hundreds of so-called dead voters in Southern California, a vast majority of them in Los Angeles County.

“He took a lot of time choosing his candidates,” said Annette Givans of her father, John Cenkner.

Cenkner died in Palmdale in 2003. Despite this, records show that he somehow voted from the grave in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

But he’s not the only one.

CBS2 compared millions of voting records from the California Secretary of State’s office with death records from the Social Security Administration and found hundreds of so-called dead voters.

So far there’s no polling data on which candidates are preferred by the dead.

A few hundred out of hundreds of thousands of registered voters doesn’t sound like many but a) that’s just in LA County and b) quite a few elections are determined by very small numbers of votes.


Lies and Damned Lies

There’s a wonderful little book called How to Lie With Statistics. I first read it more than fifty years ago and I think it’s just as fresh now as it was when it first came out in 1954. I think it should be required reading for high school kids. Better than a lot of what they’re reading.