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Watch corporations strip-mine their future (and ours)

18 April 2014

Summary: Al Qaeda (Bin Laden’s organization, if it still exists in meaningful form) is a threat to America. A greater threat are our CEO’s, some of whom who have discovered discovered a formula to vast personal wealth: leverage the company up (borrow), use those funds to buy back stock (boosting earnings per share), cut capital expenditures (capex) to boost short-term profits, pay most of the profits in dividends — all of which disguises massive payouts to senior managers (via salary, benefits, pensions, golden parachutes, grants of stock and stock options, etc). They’re strip-mining away America’s future. Slowly people begin to fit these pieces together. Today we help you to do so.

Executive Pay

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Contents

  1. An example of how it’s done
  2. Cutting capex: short-selling the future
  3. For More Information

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(1)  An example of how it’s done

List most stories about corporate finance, it’s complex. These articles clearly explain the game using IBM as an example (just one of many), but have to be read. The excepts are just teasers.

(a) Stockholders Got Plundered In IBM’s Hocus-Pocus Machine“, Wolf Richter, Testosterone Pit, 17 October 2013 — Opening:

I’m not picking on IBM. I’m almost sure they have some decent products. So they had a crummy quarter – the sixth quarter in a row of sales declines. And their hardware sales in China have collapsed since Snowden’s revelations about the NSA and its collaboration with American tech companies. But in one area, IBM excels: its hocus-pocus machine.

IBM isn’t alone in its excellence and isn’t even at the top of the heap in that respect. There are many corporations like IBM, mastodons that successfully pull a bag over investors’ heads, aided and abetted by Wall Street with its “analysts,” and by the Fed, to hide the stockholder plunder taking place behind a billowing smokescreen of verbiage.

(b) Big Blue: Stock Buyback Machine On Steroids“, David Stockman, at his website Contra Corner, 17 April 2014 — Opening:

The Fed’s financial repression policies destroy price discovery and honest capital markets. In the process these deformations turn financial markets into casinos and corporate executives into prevaricating gamblers. To be specific, most CEOs of the Fortune 500 are no longer running commercial businesses; they are in the stock-rigging game, harvesting a mother lode of stock option winnings as the go along.

Those munificently rising stock prices and options cash-outs owe much to the Fed’s campaign to suppress interest rates and fuel stock market based ”wealth effects”, but the CEOs are doing their part, too. They have become full-time financial engineers who use the Fed’s flood of liquidity, cheap debt and soaring stock prices to perform a giant strip-mining operation on their own companies. That is, through endless stock buybacks and M&A maneuvers they create the appearance of “growth” while actually liquidating the balance sheet equity and future asset base on which legitimate earnings growth depends.

Read more…

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Should we listen to amateurs’ analysis of climate science?

16 April 2014

Summary: What is the role of amateurs’ analysis in the climate science debate? They’re increasingly dominating the debate, even declaring the work of scientists as invalid or flawed. Are they valuable voices, or chaff — reducing this vital debate to cacophony?

Experts

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Contents

  1. Are amateurs needed?
  2. Their role in the public debate
  3. Why should laypeople listen to amateurs’ analysis of climate science?
  4. For More Information

(1)  Are amateurs needed?

Often difficult to spot — they often speak like experts, sometimes like a Pope of Science — amateurs have become an increasingly loud voice in the public discussions of climate science.  They can help experts — climate scientists and meteorologists  – in many ways, such as data collection and analysis, synthesis of new ideas. But what about the role of amateurs in the public debate about science, especially in issues with major public policy implications?

Do we need more people giving us analysis of climate change? Speaking as long-time reporter on climate change (over 200 posts), I cannot follow the output of experts written for laypeople (like myself) from…

  1. the many climate-related agencies, including the IPCC and BEST;
  2. articles for laypeople in the major peer-reviewed journals;
  3. articles in the lay-science news media (e.g., New Scientist, Scientific America);
  4. blogs by climate scientists (e.g., RealClimate, Climate Etc);
  5. publications by meteorologists (e.g., the Browning newsletter)
  6. statements by scientists’ professional organizations (e.g., American Physical Society)

Much of this is high quality, clear and easy to understand. Do we need a legion of amateurs to provide more? I see to much to track, let alone read. It’s a deluge. We need a Noah, not more water.

(2)  Their role in the public debate

Given the vast body of material by scientists written for the public about climate change, why do both sides in the climate debate increasingly rely on amateurs? Worse, the voices of amateurs increasingly drown out that of scientists. They not only give their own data, analysis, and theories — but often declare the work of actual scientists to be flawed or invalid, or even declare the scientists themselves to be illegitimate in their own field. See the posts documenting the Left’s abandonment of the IPCC for more extreme views (often without strong science foundations). The Right has their counterparts, some even denying the fact of past anthropogenic warming.

Read more…

We live in an age of ignorance, but can decide to fix this – today

15 April 2014

Summary:  One of the great themes of the FM website is our clouded vision, the American people’s inability to clearly see the world and our susceptibility to propaganda. It’s central to almost all of our large problems. It’s one of the most important issues of our time, for I doubt that reform remains impossible for a people so confused and gullible. Today we have an incisive essay about this by Charles Simic, a poet and keen observer of our society.

Girl looks into a mirror

If only we had a mirror in which to see ourselves, and the nature of our folly

Matthew 7:5: “… first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Contents

  1. The Age of Ignorance
  2. My comment on Simic’s essay
  3. About the author
  4. For More Information

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Age of Ignorance

by Charles Simic, Blog of the New York Review of Books
20 March 2012
Posted with their generous permission.

Widespread ignorance bordering on idiocy is our new national goal. It’s no use pretending otherwise and telling us, as Thomas Friedman did in the Times a few days ago, that educated people are the nation’s most valuable resources. Sure, they are, but do we still want them? It doesn’t look to me as if we do. The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.

An educated, well-informed population, the kind that a functioning democracy requires, would be difficult to lie to, and could not be led by the nose by the various vested interests running amok in this country. Most of our politicians and their political advisers and lobbyists would find themselves unemployed, and so would the gasbags who pass themselves off as our opinion makers. Luckily for them, nothing so catastrophic, even though perfectly well-deserved and widely-welcome, has a remote chance of occurring any time soon. For starters, there’s more money to be made from the ignorant than the enlightened, and deceiving Americans is one of the few growing home industries we still have in this country. A truly educated populace would be bad, both for politicians and for business.

It took years of indifference and stupidity to make us as ignorant as we are today. Anyone who has taught college over the last forty years, as I have, can tell you how much less students coming out of high school know every year. At first it was shocking, but it no longer surprises any college instructor that the nice and eager young people enrolled in your classes have no ability to grasp most of the material being taught.

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Captain America: the Winter Soldier – high-quality indoctrination for sheep

14 April 2014

Summary:  Myths reflect how a people see themselves and their aspirations. Great peoples have great myths. We, early 21st C Americans, see our myths on the big screen, the spectacles of our day. They reveal much about our nature. It’s not a pretty picture. For example, see “Captain America: the Winter Soldier”. See links to other examples at the end.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
— Joan Didion, The White Album (1979)

“People need stories, more than bread itself. They teach us how to live, and why. “
— The master storyteller in the film “Arabian Nights” (2000)

“{M}yth supplies models for human behavior, and gives meaning and value to life.”
— Mircea Eliade in Myth and Reality (1963)

“A third function of mythology is to support the current social order, to integrate the individual organically with his group”
— Joseph Campbell in Masks of God: Occidental Mythology (1968)

“The rise and fall of civilisations in the long, broad course of history can be seen largely to be a function of the integrity and cogency of their supporting canons of myth; for not authority but aspiration is the motivator, builder, and transformer of civilisation. A mythological canon is an organisation of symbols, ineffable in import, by which the energies of aspiration are evoked and gathered toward a focus.

— Joseph Campbell in Masks of God: Creative Mythology (1968)

Spoiler below — Spoiler below — Spoiler below — Spoiler below — Spoiler below — Spoiler below

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What China Wants Us to Understand about China’s Rise

11 April 2014

Summary:  With President Obama going to Asia, it’s apropos to revisit this March 2012 post by Franz Gayl (Major, USMC, retired), in which he provides perspective on one of the most important developments of the 21st century. Correctly understanding and reacting to this is essential for America, if we are to have a successful grand strategy in the 21st century.

China dragon

Image from Forbes

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Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What China Wants Us to Understand about China’s Rise
  3. About the author
  4. For more information

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(1) Introduction by Franz Gayl

On 9 September 2011 the FM website republished Will China become a superpower?, with articles by by Minxin Pei (Prof of Government at Claremont McKenna College; his latest book is China: Trapped Transition) and Young J. Kim (former Captain in the US Army, currently a PhD candidate at Korea University in Seoul). It’s worth reading in full.

This widely accessed piece has since benefited from extensive expert critique, a discussion that is still on-going in the comments. The discussion has provide an education for me on various aspects of China’s observed course and general historical precedents. I am neither a historian nor an economist, and there is little that I can add to those expert comments.

However, one voice that could be added to the discussion that began in 2011 is a definitive Chinese government position on China’s rise. During my development of a wider-ranging ICAF research paper in 2005 – 2006, I was permitted to interview Consular Jia Xiudong at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Washington, D.C. where he then served. The paper in which the interview is nested has been posted on the FM website. Unfortunately, the length of my paper was as a major flaw, and the interview was effectively buried within it out of sight. Yet, Consular Jia’s observations in that interview would appear critical for the balance of FM’s China discussions today.

The interview is certainly dated in that it was conducted six years ago. This will be seen as many of the contemporary events discussed from that period have evolved or changed in quantitative scope. One cannot assume exactly what the Chinese would say today without conducting another interview in 2012. At the same, looking at the contents and given consistency-focused Chinese government strategic communications, it is unlikely a 2012 interview would yield much different positions, especially on critical themes.

My questions were wide-ranging and submitted to the Embassy almost two months in advance of the interview. Consular Jia was surprisingly candid in his detailed, Chinese Government approved answers to me. The interview was reviewed and approved by the Chinese again after I typed it up my notes so as to constitute a joint understanding of the 2006 interview contents shared by author and the Chinese Government in the published paper. I contend that its contents are overwhelmingly what China wants us to understand about China’s rise even today.

This is especially true when it comes to the topic of Taiwan and its employment by the U.S. defense industry as a justification for increased military expenditures focused on containing China. Taiwan is a salient topic today as industry and military interests are, according to public sources and media reports having significant success in influencing the Congress and Administration decision makers in this regard.


(2) What China Wants Us to know about its Rise

Excerpt from
Realism and Realpolitik – Setting the Conditions for America’s Survival in the 21st Century

By Franz Gayl (Major, USMC, retired)
His thesis at the National Defense University
Industrial College of the Armed Forces research paper
June 2006

(a) General Introduction

China is committed to peaceful domestic development in the context of globalization, and seeks to contribute internationally as a partner in a multi-polar world. China’s leadership is also faced with great domestic challenges, as the people of China have different concerns and interests throughout society.

On the international front, China is committed to peace and cooperation. In terms of U.S.-Chinese bilateral relations, misunderstandings have arisen that cause Americans to question Chinese intentions, and the implications of her rapid development. Americans ask, is China a partner to be engaged or a threat to be contained. These misunderstandings can best be mitigated through franker bilateral communications on sensitive issues, including perceiving China and the U.S. through the eyes of the Chinese themselves, i.e. standing in the Chinese shoes. It also includes prioritizing the self interests of our nations as core, vital, and important, and finding the commonalities between them, i.e. the purpose of this interview.

Click here to read the rest of the this article.

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Why don’t political protests work? What are the larger lessons from our repeated failures?

10 April 2014

Summary: Except for issues about which the 1% have no interest (e.g., who sleeps with who, how the peons marry), reform efforts in America have proven themselves mostly ineffective for several generations. Here we look at one aspect of that failure, our reliance on demonstrations — and why this results from deeper errors: our failure to organize around leaders and programs. Perhaps when we’re desperate we’ll become serious about reform (unless it’s too late by then). At the end are links to learn how we can do better.

Occupy Wall Street

Saving the nation from banks, one unicorn at a time

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(1) Do protests ever work?“, Joshua Keating , blog of Foreign Policy, 2 April 2009 — Excerpt:

{Phil} Collins names Gandhi’s march to the sea and Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington as the ultimate effective demonstrations in this sense. They mobilized huge groups in support of a definable and achievable goal rather than opposing an amorphous concept like “capitalism.”

The fact that much of the street activism against the U.S. war in Iraq has been led by a group called Act Now to Stop War & End Racism is a good indication of why the antiwar movement has never really been a factor in debates over U.S. foreign policy. Rather than organizing around a specific political goal, ending the war, these marches tend to devolve into general lefty free-for-alls encompassing everything from Palestine to free trade to the environment to capital punishment.

(2) Why Demonstrations and Petitions Do Not Work“, Phil B, undated — This doesn’t show that demonstrations do not work, but rather that the bar for their success is quite high. Excerpt:

There are two main reasons why demonstrations and petitions do not work.

  1. the leaders who make decisions and influence changes are well shielded from protesters. These leaders most likely never even know that there are riots and protests nearby and even more so for peaceful demonstrations and petitions.
  2. business leaders with money and power belong to a much higher class than the average demonstrator. As a result, these leaders do not care much about the issues and causes of most middle and lower class people.
  3. a lot of rich people can not even relate to most of these issues either. Therefore, demonstrations and petitions mean very little to rich people when compared to the average person.

Zeynep Tufekci

(3) After the Protests“, Zeynep Tufekci (Asst Prof, U NC), op-ed in the New York Times, 19 March 2014

Yet often these huge mobilizations of citizens inexplicably wither away without the impact on policy you might expect from their scale.

This muted effect is not because social media isn’t good at what it does, but, in a way, because it’s very good at what it does. Digital tools make it much easier to build up movements quickly, and they greatly lower coordination costs. This seems like a good thing at first, but it often results in an unanticipated weakness: Before the Internet, the tedious work of organizing that was required to circumvent censorship or to organize a protest also helped build infrastructure for decision making and strategies for sustaining momentum. Now movements can rush past that step, often to their own detriment.

Media in the hands of citizens can rattle regimes. It makes it much harder for rulers to maintain legitimacy by controlling the public sphere. But activists, who have made such effective use of technology to rally supporters, still need to figure out how to convert that energy into greater impact. The point isn’t just to challenge power; it’s to change it.

Captain America visits the Tea Party

Cosplay as political activism

(4) Why Street Protests Don’t Work“, Moisés Naím (bio), The Atlantic, 7 April 2014 — “How can so many demonstrations accomplish so little?” Excerpt:

Street protests are in. From Bangkok to Caracas, and Madrid to Moscow, these days not a week goes by without news that a massive crowd has amassed in the streets of another of the world’s big cities. The reasons for the protests vary (bad and too-costly public transport or education, the plan to raze a park, police abuse, etc.). Often, the grievance quickly expands to include a repudiation of the government, or its head, or more general denunciations of corruption and economic inequality.

Aerial photos of the anti-government marches routinely show an intimidating sea of people furiously demanding change. And yet, it is surprising how little these crowds achieve. The fervent political energy on the ground is hugely disproportionate to the practical results of these demonstrations.

…The hodgepodge groups that participated had no formal affiliation with one another, no clear hierarchy, and no obvious leaders. But social networks helped to virally replicate the movement so that the basic patterns of camping, protesting, fundraising, communicating with the media, and interacting with the authorities were similar from place to place.

… In fact, government responses usually amount to little more than rhetorical appeasement, and certainly no major political reforms.  … How can so many extremely motivated people achieve so little?

One answer might be found in the results of an experiment conducted by Anders Colding-Jørgensen of the University of Copenhagen. In 2009, he created a Facebook group to protest the demolition of the historic Stork Fountain in a major square of the Danish capital. Ten thousand people joined in the first week; after two weeks, the group was 27,000 members-strong. That was the extent of the experiment. There was never a plan to demolish the fountain — Colding-Jørgensen simply wanted to show how easy it was to create a relatively large group using social media.

… The problem is what happens after the march. Sometimes it ends in violent confrontation with the police, and more often than not it simply fizzles out. Behind massive street demonstrations there is rarely a well-oiled and more-permanent organization capable of following up on protesters’ demands and undertaking the complex, face-to-face, and dull political work that produces real change in government.

… Achieving that motion requires organizations capable of old-fashioned and permanent political work that can leverage street demonstrations into political change and policy reforms.

… What we’ve witnessed in recent years is the popularization of street marches without a plan for what happens next and how to keep protesters engaged and integrated in the political process. It’s just the latest manifestation of the dangerous illusion that it is possible to have democracy without political parties—and that street protests based more on social media than sustained political organizing is the way to change society.

(5)  For More Information

(a)  Reforming America: steps to political change – all posts about the theory and practice of organizing and executing reform movements

(b)  Posts about organizing to reform America:

  1. The First Step to reforming America — Organizing
  2. The second step to reforming America — Building a big organization
  3. How to recruit people to the cause of reforming America
  4. How do protests like the Tea Party and OWS differ from effective political action?
  5. How to stage effective protests in the 21st century

(c)  Posts about the Tea Party Movement

(d)  Posts about the Occupy Wall Street Movement

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More debate about who predicted the Great Recession, and lessons learned

9 April 2014

Summary:  The comments on the FM website often have Socratic dialogues, clashing views in the search of truth. Yesterday we had one at the intersection of several of our long-standing themes: debt, deflation, economic theory, making forecasts, and the credibility of experts. Participating was the distinguished economist Steve Keen, discussing if he “predicted” the Great Recession. This is what the Internet could be, if we worked at it.

Raphael: Plato & Aristotle

Group picture taken during the debate (Raphael’s “The School of Athens” (1510)

All the perplexities, confusions, and distresses in America arise, not from defects in their constitution or confederation, nor from want of honor or virtue, as much from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation.
— John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, 25 August 1787True then; true today.

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Contents

  1. A dialogue with Keen
  2. About Steve Keen
  3. Paul Krugman looks at Keen’s work
  4. For More Information

(1)  A dialogue with Keen

The opening act: Looking back at claims to have predicted the Great Recession, 8 April 2014

Many economists and financial experts claim to have predicted the Great Recession. That’s important, since these are the people we should be listening to. Oddly, they seldom quote or cite what must be their greatest accomplishment. Let’s look at one such claim, by Steve Keen.

Steve Keen replies (he provided URL’s; I’ve added full citations and sometimes abstracts).


Good grief Maximus,

Why are you even looking at journal papers or book chapters for proof of calling the crisis before it happened? That’s an inherently straw man critique of such claims: have you never heard of publication lags?

My 1995 paper, for example, was written in 1992, and accepted for publication in 1993–and then took two years to turn up in print in the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics.

At worst you should be looking for working papers or monographs, and at best media articles and interviews–because if you think (as I did from December 2005) that a really serious crisis was coming, you don’t bother with the academic production mill with its refereeing and editorial delays. You go for the mainstream media (and of course blogs).

BTW I chose to use Dirk’s Vox paper rather than the work on which it was based because that was an immediate URL rather than link to a PDF as with the paper. If you had checked that –- which you should have, given the claims you’re making here –- then you would have seen this link:  Keen, S. (2006). “The Lily and the Pond“. Interview reported by the Evans {Ed: sic, s/b Evatt} Foundations, 12 December 2006.

The is the story behind Australia’s private debt. It has been growing more than 4% faster than our GDP for 53 years. … It is 147.1% now. If the rate of growth doesn’t slow down, it will crack 150% of GDP by March 2007, and it will exceed 160% of GDP by the end of 2007. We simply can’t keep borrowing at that rate. We have to not merely stop the rise in debt, but reverse it.

Unfortunately, long before we manage to do so, the economy will be in a recession. … So when will this recession begin? On current data, the domestic economy may already be in one.

That’s far from the first such warning I gave of the causes and severity of the crisis I expected (with a focus on Australia since that’s where I live). Here are a few other links for you:

(a) Keen, S. (2006). “The Lily and the Pond“. Interview reported by the Evans {Ed: sic, s/b Evatt} Foundations, 12 December 2006.

The is the story behind Australia’s private debt. It has been growing more than 4% faster than our GDP for 53 years. … It is 147.1% now. If the rate of growth doesn’t slow down, it will crack 150% of GDP by March 2007, and it will exceed 160% of GDP by the end of 2007. We simply can’t keep borrowing at that rate. We have to not merely stop the rise in debt, but reverse it.

Unfortunately, long before we manage to do so, the economy will be in a recession. … So when will this recession begin? On current data, the domestic economy may already be in one.

(b) Why deflation is really possible“, Paul Amery, MoneyWeek, 7 February 2008

(c) Boom in Australia goes bust as global slowdown hits“, USA Today, 28 December 2008

The financial crisis is hitting debt-laden Australians hard. “We’re headed for a recession for the same reason the USA is in one now — the bursting of a debt-financed speculative bubble” … Keen predicts the downturn will unfold a bit differently than it did in the USA, where problems began in the housing market and spread to the broader economy. “We’re likely to go into the macro crisis first as debt growth plummets; then a housing crisis as the newly unemployed are unable to maintain their mortgages; and finally a credit crunch where the banks’ solvency doesn’t look so hot anymore.”

(d) To intervene or not to intervene“, ABC (Australia), 3 November 2008

(e) Holding tight: can Australia ride the storm?“, The Age, 11 October 2008

“I think the comparison (with the Great Depression) is valid and the prognosis is extremely bleak,” suggested Sydney academic Steve Keen this week. … And Steve Keen, a University of Western Sydney lecturer, holds dire views. He has long warned of Australians’ “unsustainable debt addiction”. His latest musings put it this way: “We are not in a Great Depression — not yet anyway — but a key pre-condition for one has developed right under the noses of central banks: excessive private debt.

(f) Economics Meltdown 101“, Reporter: Steve Keen, The Age, sometime in 2008 {Similar content to the (e) article}

(g) Australia facing debt-driven depression“, ABC (Australia), 3 February 2009

The world is facing a “full-blown depression” and Australia needs to drastically rethink its attitude to debt if it is to climb out of its current economic trap, says leading economist Steve Keen.


Prof Keen,

I used that link because it was what you cited. It does not disprove your claim, but does not support it either (as you claimed). Also, as I noted, this shows the crash in US stock and residential home prices — so this is not a case of publication lag.

All that out of the way, thank you for these cites! I looked for an article or blog posts by you following up on your predictions, but could not find it (perhaps limitations of Google, or of my searching skills). I suggest that you write one. Good predictions are too rare to go undocumented, especially amidst all the chaff.

Read more…

Looking back at claims to have predicted the Great Recession

8 April 2014

Many economists and financial experts claim to have predicted the Great Recession. That’s important, since these are the people we should be listening to.  Oddly, they seldom quote or cite what must be their greatest accomplishment. Let’s look at one such claim, by Steve Keen.

Update: Steve Keen provides additional citations in the comments.

Crystal Ball

First, a background note. By 2006 and 2007 it was clear to many people, not just experts, that the US had a large asset price bubble in residential real estate. Some of the the most obvious symptoms: rising vacancy rates, inappropriate credit extension to borrowers (often fraudulent), and obviously unsustainable prices.

What very few saw was that the collapse of the bubble would send the US into the most severe recession since the 1930. What nobody saw, so far as I know, was that this would spark a global crisis. There were many factors that magnified a sector crisis in America into a global downturn, but the top of the list were the collapse of US and foreign banks. This was unexpected, probably even to senior executives at those banks. The widespread belief as late as early 2008 was that the US might fall into a recession, but that the banks were strong. Banking collapses are the one of the two most common causes of severe economic downturns (wars are the other).

Back to the forecasting game. One economist often cited as predicting the crisis is Steve Keen (retired Prof Economics, U Western Sydney.). He often makes this claim, most recently (and unusually mildly):

Back in the Olde Days, before the global finan­cial cri­sis, when I was one of a hand­ful rais­ing the alarm

Let’s look at the link Keen gives as evidence of his predictive skill: “‘No one saw this coming’ – or did they?“, Dirk Bezemer (Asst Prof Economic, U Groningen), Vox, 30 September 2009 (see the full paper here):

Read more…

Cutting to the heart of the public policy debate about climate change

4 April 2014

Summary:  After a quarter-century of the climate wars, the chaff thrown up by political activists on both sides has largely obscured the key questions which we must answer in order to deal with this, perhaps the most important of the many shockwaves facing us. Today we look at the most important question of logic in the decision-making process.

“This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phase: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”
– Carl Sagan in The Demon-haunted World – Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995), using the phrase attributed to British astrophysicist Martin Rees

Globe Aflame

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Content

  1. The very heart of the climate debate
  2. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence
  3. Isn’t the climate signal from humanity obvious?
  4. For More Information

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(1)  The very heart of the climate debate

Judith Curry (Prof Atmospheric Science, GA Inst Tech) carved to the heart of the climate wars — the debate over the public policy response to climate change (running on a different track than the policy debate in the pubic arena) comes down to questions of epistemology and logic. How do we leap from a body of evidence to knowing enough to rely on theories? Especially when the theories are compelling, but there is as yet minimal evidence to validate or prove them.

Curry starts with the basics of scientific reasoning, with two methodologies — both equally legitimate. Which to use depends on one’s professional judgement.

Recall the dueling papers on Climate Null Hypotheses by myself and Kevin Trenberth.   Depending on which null hypothesis you select as a default position when conducting research you approach the problem in a different way.

  1. Humans have no influence on extreme weather events
  2. Humans are influencing extreme weather events

For #1, the null would be rejected if you find evidence of a human influence. In the absence of such evidence, #1 is not rejected. This is what Roger Pielke Jr argued.

For #2, the null would be rejected if there is evidence of no influence. RealClimate and Kerry Emanuel  {Prof Meteorology, MIT} essentially conclude that the data is insufficient, so they argue from ‘physics’ and state that there is no evidence of absence.

To me, the ‘no evidence of absence’ argument is rather fatuous given that simple thermodynamical reasoning is not really useful in elucidating the impacts of AGW on extreme weather events.

This grounds the debate in science and logic, not a matter of certainty as implied by activists.  For those of us who are not scientists, let’s look at this logical tool: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” What does it mean?

(2)  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

Its first known use is by the British astrophysicist Martin Rees, discussing the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI):

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Destroying campaign finance laws, another win for the 1%. Another step to a New America.

3 April 2014

Summary: It’s fun to read the shocked, shocked reactions to the Supreme Court’s latest gutting of the campaign finance laws. The 1% have been gathering wealth, income, and political power for 40 years. What did the Left expect the 1% to once they owned the high ground n every aspect of American society? Like Bruce Wayne, dedicate themselves to building a better America for its people — especially the poor and working poor?

Scalia and Roberts

Please with themselves: Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia & John Roberts. Reuters/Brendan McDermid; AP/Larry Downing

The 1% are regular people, ambitious and greedy, so of course they’re wielding their power to consolidate their position, to break down the barriers hemming them in, and shifting the tax burden to others. And the sun will rise tomorrow.

They will continue to gain power. The process has passed the point when any easy reforms will slow, let alone stop, the process. Reversing it, restoring the Second Republic (or building a Third), is a goal beyond my sight today.

Doing the least of these things will require us to change ourselves, to again become citizens (not subjects).

Doing the greatest of these will require effort and risk beyond anything we’ve done in generations. Perhaps since the Civil War.

Below are reports about the latest step the Supreme Court has taken to boost the power of the 1%, which for most of American history has been its primary role. These stories, like most political reporting, are read by Americans as entertainment. Opportunities to cheer our side and boo the bad guys.  How sad. If these do not incite you to action, then why read them? Find a more productive or fulfilling way to spend your time — for they have no useful information content except to politicians, political operatives, lobbyists, and reformers.

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(a) Roberts Court: Government Must Be By, and For, the Wealthy“, Scott Lemieux (Prof History & Political Science, College of St Rose), The American Prospect, 2 April 2014 — Excerpt:

Everyone who thinks that the rich don’t have enough influence on American politics can rest easier.

In an expected but still depressing decision today, the Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits on how much an individual can donate to politicians and political parties within a 2-year window as a violation of the First Amendment. Having already made it impossible for Congress to place significant restrictions on campaign spending, a bare majority of the Court is now chipping away at the ability of Congress to place limits on donations as well.

… To the Roberts Court, money should talk as loudly as possible while ordinary voters can take a walk.

(b) The Supreme Court’s Ideology: More Money, Less Voting“, Ari Berman, The Nation, 2 April 2014

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