Saturday, February 06, 2016

the naivete of peace

D.C., as we all know, swims in a culture of impunity. Denizens of the New Republic, who in the Bush years showed such a hawkish appetite for the invasion of Iraq that the jaws of the advocates seemed to be dripping with the blood – let me hasten to say, with the blood of freedom, free enterprise and muscular liberalism – are out in force throwing contempt on Sanders’ lack of foreign policy knowledge and … muscular liberalism.
This article from Business Insider is typical Clinton wants to lead in the Middle East, whereas Sanders idea that there could be a coalition between Iran and Saudi Arabia is just “puzzling”. Indeed it is, since it calls the game: do the Saudis really want to defeat Isis? After all that money from Saudi sources flowed to Isis at the beginning of their revolt against Iraq?

I agree with the criticism that Sanders is a bit naïve about foreign policy, in as much as he hasn’t oriented himself to pounding into the heads of the populace that negotiation is not a sign of weakness, but of humanity. But to see the Clinton camp, unquestioned, tell us Sanders wants to let Iranian soldiers into Syria, on “the very border of Israel”, begs questions of its own.
For instance, here’s one, a lonely one, so far unasked by any reporter that I can see:
What does Clinton think of the fact that the Cia has supervised Saudi training and arming of rebels in Syria in  2013?  Does she  think the Saudis are trying to forge a secular state in Syria?
Ah, but why ask that question – a question that has been answered in the past, with the Mujahedeen in Afganistan, and with Sunni insurgents in Iraq during the occupation, and the Saudi invasion of Bahrain during Clinton’s term of office at State – when it betrays terrible naivete! Why, everything will turn out for the best in the best of all possible worlds. In maybe fifteen years – about the amount of time  the US and all of King Saul’s army has been battling the Taliban in Afghanistan.

I do fault Sanders for not questioning this more. If, as the odds show, Clinton is nominated, there will not  be a chance again to question the utter bankruptcy of hawkish policy in the Middle East.  

Thursday, February 04, 2016

quid pro quo culture

The quid pro quo culture
Clinton’s response to the question about being paid 625,000 dollars for giving three speeches to Goldman Sachs stirred up some interest, and a lot of vitriol from Sanders supporters. While I understand the vitriol, I think it is important to broaden the response. Clinton didn’t invent this culture. She simply floats in it.
It is a matter not so much of being bought, but of being cognitively captured – which by easy degrees effects the career arc. Instead of using Clinton as an example, lets use Bernanke.
In 2009, the Fed, along with Treasury, engineered a controversial bailout of AIG. AIG was the party to financial instruments – bets – made, on a tremendous scale, by numerous counterparties. Among those counterparties was Citadel, a Chicago based hedge fund.
Now, Citadel was hit by the meltdown in 2008. According to Bloomberg Business:

“Investors in Citadel Investment Group’s two main hedge funds can take solace in the fact that 2008 has finally come to an end. Of course, that won’t ease the pain of seeing those two porfolios lose about 53% of their value going into the final week of the year.

Thus, there is every reason to believe that Citadel was on its last legs in 2009. But it survived. One of the bright spots in that year was that AIG, far from dealing with Citadel as a bankrupt insurance firm and thus paying out a penny on the dollar, dealt with Citadel as a company with the infinite resources of the U.S. Government behind it and paid out a dollar on a dollar – 200 million of them.
Thus, Citadel owes its continued existence, in no small part, to the decisions of Ben Bernanke.
And now Ben Bernanke is making a considerable sum – probably in the millions – working for Citadel.
Do I think that Ken Griffen, Citadel’s Daddy Bucks, sat down with Ben B. and said, you get us that 200 million and you have a job with us, wink wink? No, of course not. Rather, in the course of time, as Bernanke was feeling his way to the exit at the Fed, an offer to a highly respected figure in the financial community was perhaps made by some intermediary that led to Bernanke taking his job with Citadel. That’s how the revolving door works.

This is the problem that Sanders is hammering on. Clinton was not bribed to do anything in particular for Goldman Sachs. But it is very likely that Goldman Sachs will get a very respectful hearing when she is president. I expect she will be president, in fact. I am hoping that Sanders shrill denunciations make the relationship between the Clinton administration and the banks much less comfortable. 

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

morning in santa monica

Morning in Santa Monica. For a long time, now, I have been walking Adam to school and then returning home to work, or to read. I’ve been enclosed in a little capsule of winter routine. Today I decided to walk down to the ocean. The beach was largely empty – meaning, really, that there were few people there. I walked across the expanse of sand to where the bank over where the ocean was lapping up on shore, then loped my way down the beach, heading away from the pier, towards Malibu. I encountered birds, lots of seabirds. One colony of very large pelicans, five of them, with those faces, elongated, brightly colored, somehow reminiscent of an African mask, or of Picasso’s Demoiselles D’Avignon. Slightly frightening, the length of beak. As I passed them I actually glanced back, as if they might be following me.
I came upon a curlew. It was on the edge of the watermark left by the ocean, which at this hour was rumpled by low tide. It had the nice curved beak, not the sandpiper’s straight beak. I stopped. The curlew stopped. I began to think about the curlew’s life. We are told that the beasts of the air and those that creep upon the ground are driven primarily by sex and food. There’s some validity to that p.o.v. – it is one in which we have simply the species and the vehicle of the species, the contingent piece of it. However, what the p.o.v. doesn’t indicate is all the down time in between. This curlew, for instance, stopped perhaps because of me, perhaps because he just stopped. He was evidently having as much of a down time moment as I was myself. First, he waggled his tail, then he strutted a bit, then he stopped. He seemed to be contemplating his bill. If he were a character in a Victorian novel, I would say that he was contemplating his bill with enormous satisfaction.  He also had his head cocked in a certain way, so that he seemed to be listening to the ocean’s eternal laundering. Of course, I am aware that my ocean and my sounds depend entirely on my sensory equipment, which is at setting different from his. Birds, I have read, commonly hear sounds at a higher frequency than humans. If that makes sense. And of course the whole rods n cones arrangement of the eyes is different. The curlew was seeing or processing different pictures than I was. Probably it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to take what we know about bird physiology and fashion some Virtual Reality helmet so that we see and hear on the settings that they see and hear. Yet I don’t think this would get us too near what the bird – what my bird, the curlew – is like, to use Nagel’s phrase. It would be like reading a bad and misleading translation of a book from a foreign language.
The curlew, at rest, stood first on his two legs, then, after a while, on one leg only. I didn’t catch it when he lifted up the other leg. It happened in an instant. I must say that my concentration on the bird was interupted by glances up the beach, and oceanward. I wondered again when we were ever going to visit the Catalina Islands. I wondered about a few things that I decided were distracting me from the beach, like the news. Fuck the news.
Then the curlew was back in a two legged posture, and then it strutted down to the watermark. It stood there and the ocean came up and foamed around its talons. It was indifferent to the water. When the water receded, it started hunting with its curved beak in the sand, and finding things I couldn’t see. The vehicle was seized by the species urge. I bestirred myself and made off in the direction of the pedestrian bridge that is right after the repairs they are making to the entrance to the PCH at California ave.  When I got on the bridge, I saw two men filming a man and a woman. The man, a lanky, older white guy, bald, but with a fringe of somewhat ridiculous long hair, was doing a dance step in synch with a lithe younger black woman. Two steps to one side, two steps to the other side, throw your arms up. I could see the man was the worse dancer. I could tell the dancer from the dance easy enough. I interrupted the session and crossed over the bridge.
Those dancers, I thought. Species or vehicle, vehicle or species.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

the solution-suck: Sanders single payer plan and the neo-liberal attack dogs

You will have noticed that Sanders single payer plan has been extensively attacked. It has been dismissed by Paul Krugman and savaged by Vox, which is turning into the 21st century version of the old New Republic (the Marty Peretz New Republic that marketed its liberal reputation to put across reactionary ideas).

These logic behind these political attacks is pretty simple. Sanders has been hammering on a problem, a massive problem, with healthcare in America. It is fantastically expensive; and, for the majority of people, that is, those who live in households thatmake below around 100 thousand, it is a subject of constant, rational worry, since it is precisely those households for which every rachet upward of the medical machine makes medical care ruinous.  32 million non-elderly Americans are still uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And even for those who are insured,  According to the Commonwealth Fund:

“New estimates from the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey, 2014, indicate that 23 percent of 19-to-64-year-old adults who were insured all year—or 31 million people—had such high out-of-pocket costs or deductibles relative to their incomes that they were underinsured. These estimates are statistically unchanged from 2010 and 2012, but nearly double those found in 2003 when the measure was first introduced in the survey. The share of continuously insured adults with high deductibles has tripled, rising from 3 percent in 2003 to 11 percent in 2014. Half (51%) of underinsured adults reported problems with medical bills or debt and more than two of five (44%) reported not getting needed care because of cost. Among adults who were paying off medical bills, half of underinsured adults and 41 percent of privately insured adults with high deductibles had debt loads of $4,000 or more.
Even this survey doesn’t represent the reality of the medical care burden. Those in the 19 to 64 group are connected by family ties to those in the 64 and above group, and often have to dip into what savings they have for medical expenses that the retirees can’t pay.
This survey received a lot of news coverage. It is relevant to the medical care crisis:
“Approximately 63% of Americans have no emergency savings for things such as a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair, according to a survey released Wednesday of 1,000 adults by personal finance website, up slightly from 62% last year. Faced with an emergency, they say they would raise the money by reducing spending elsewhere (23%), borrowing from family and/or friends (15%) or using credit cards to bridge the gap (15%).
It is in this environment of economic precarity that we are seeing a rather amazing rise in the cost of medicines: From Business insider:
“Cost trends for prescription drug coverage are projected to increase by 8.6% in 2015 and by 11.3% in 2016 for active plan and retiree plan members under 65, according to a survey released Thursday by benefits, compensation and human resources consulting firm The Segal Group Inc. That compares with an increase of 10.7% in 2014.
New York-based Segal predicts the cost trend rate for specialty and biotechnology drugs, which treat conditions like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, will hit 19.4% in 2015 and 18.9% in 2016, the survey showed.”
This is of course an impressionistic survey of the medical landscape, but it is enough of one to pose the question: is there a problem here?
This question is not, however, posed by any of the attacks on Sanders so far. What one wants is a comprehensive survey of the costs to the American public of medical care, and then a comparison of the two plans, Clintons and Sanders, which address it. Instead, what we are getting is the well known solution-suck program. One concentrates on the flaws in a solution to the elimination of everything else. In this way, we forget that even if we have no plan, we have a crisis in costs in the US. The difference, of course, is in who is going to pay for it: whether it is going to continue to be on the backs of the working class, or whether the costs are going to be met through some universal medical care system. The second question is whether the costs can be mitigated or even lowered by government action.
What is never said about the later question is that the costs are siginificantly increased by government action. There are three drivers of cost in the US: guilds, monopolies and intermediaries. Guilds are labor forces that are artificially restricted by government required licences. Monopolies are both IP driven and trust driven. And intermediaries are complex interactions that include both insurance companies and health care providers. When I have to go to a doctor to get a prescription to get a drug, I am paying an intermediary premium.
We might well want doctors and nurses to be licenced, and patent protection to work. But this doesn’t mean that we have to have the system we have now. For instance, patents, as Dean Baker has suggested, should better be treated as a premium on licencing products. Instead of the inventors of x drug having a 20 year monopoly on producing it, Baker’s suggestion is that the government auction the design of the drug and give a percentage of the profits of the drug to the inventor from all those who bid to produce it. Thus, we would have both competition and a fair compensation for invention.
In any case, the solution-suck strategy is being pulled on Sanders. The way to fight back is to bring the conversation continually, obsessively back to the problem. Because in reality, the solution-suck strategy is simply neo-liberalism’s way of keeping things the way they are. And the way they are is becoming, increasingly, a horror.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...