Bookmark and Share

Who: Kimball Corson. Text and Photos not disclaimed or that are obviously not mine are copyright (c) Kimball Corson 2004-2016
Port: Lake Pleasant, AZ
View Complete Profile »
SailBlogs Friends
Two Views on Snowden
Kimball Corson
07/12/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Two Views on Snowden

Mr. X Too many assume 1 Snowden is being truthful and 2 this is all bad. I don't, on either count. I think Snowden is reckless, irresponsible and a serious criminal. If he had concerns, he should have raised them with members of Congress. His actions were arrogant and harmful to the nation. To the extent his revelations were useful to public discourse, it was not his decision to make.

We have, in a democracy, elected officials to make important policy decisions -- in this case the members of Congress to whom he should have brought his concerns. By going over the heads of all of our elected officials and making this profoundly important decision on his own, he violated the public trust and endangered the nation. Your admiration for him mystifies me.

As you know, I am a staunch civil libertarian, but what he did deserves only scorn. It shows the courage of a Sirhan Sirhan or a Lee Harvey Oswald, who also thought they were acting in the public interest. There are no doubt those who think they were.

Yours Truly: My take is different. I tend to believe Snowden because the government has quite clearly lied to us about these matters, e.g., 1) It is now clear NSA gathers all communications into and out of the U.S., despite its earlier claim that it only intercepts foreign traffic coming in; 2) NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander lied to Congress by saying the agency could not determine how many U.S. communications are gathered - but NSA's auditing tool, Boundless Informant, does just that; 3) NSA has also lied by saying such data gathered by NSA programs can only be analyzed when linked to foreign targets; and 4) other examples. I could go on.

Secrecy covers a multitude of sins here I suspect, and too badly compromises on the public's right to know, a concern redoubled where our own constitutional rights are at stake within the scope of what is claimed to be secret. Why should Snowden lie, render himself homeless and place himself at risk so? To be sure, he has violated the law by his disclosures and has also made himself a homeless fugitive, cut off from family and friends. He knew as much would occur before hand.

As for whistle-blowing on NSA within proper channels, that has been tried by at least three others who have been shunted aside and left isolated and intimidated. Mr. X trusts to the democratic process and trust elected officials to act in the public interest much more than I do, particularly with my training and observations as an economist. I tend to agree with Robert Kuttner's view that history will look more kindly on Snowden than Mr X does because of the lies emerging and the ensuing and long overdue national debate that he is bringing to the fore. More examples of such lying emerge daily.

I am even more radical than Mr. X or Kuttner and contend events surrounding Snowden are a historical watershed marking the start of a long run and widespread collapse of trust in our government, which has also breached that trust in too many other and earlier regards as well, especially on economic matters. An adversarial relationship of mutual distrust is slowly developing in an ever broadening segment of the American public with its government. The problem moves out of just the fringes, I suggest.

Did They Really Get Rid of Morsi in Egypt?
Kimball Corson
07/12/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

"Did They Really Get Rid of Morsi in Egypt?"

Why Aren't We Screaming Bloody Murder about the Prospective Deficit and Spending Cuts in Washington?
Kimball Corson
07/12/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Why Aren't We Screaming Bloody Murder about the Prospective Deficit and Spending Cuts in Washington?

Those who understand MMT, modern money theory, and even conventional Keynesians of any stripe similar to Nobel Laureates Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz, as well as most other mainstream economists and the American public at large, too, should be up in arms over the deficit or spending cuts occurring and threatened in Washington. They will damage the economy, contract it and increase unemployment, other things equal, and invariably leave us worse off than before.

Both political parties are to blame. Especially Obama who agreed with the economic ignoramuses controlling the Republican party to the sequestration agenda. Now the US government faces big, destructive cuts that will damage the economy unless those politicians involved come to their senses. I see little signs of that. Obama sold us out and Boehner carries the water bucket. Of course, the cuts, other than to defense, are targeted to hit hardest those who can least afford them and the losses they entail. The economic atrophication ahead, to please the haters of government who dominate conservatives, is more befitting a nation of zombies than living people with good sense.

This is America's inane equivalent to the Greeks and the EU's failed austerity programs which seek to gain credibility, by the way, by finger pointing to America's sequestration and hatcheting folly. Both run against everything mainstream and heterodox economists know, understand and believe, yet mindlessly we plow ahead with our dunderheaded politicians at the helm, including most sadly Obama himself.

Perhaps I should start calling us Zombie Nation, land of the ineffectuals.

[The full photograph is only to demonstrate I have retained my sense of humor. We should all be able to enjoy a clown when we see one.]

A Tool of Oppression Being Readied, Courtesy of Obama
Kimball Corson
07/12/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

A Tool of Oppression Being Readied, Courtesy of Obama

"The Obama Administration's Disturbing Acceleration Of Police Militarization... 'They Throw Kids On The Ground, Put Guns To Their Heads. They're Kicking In Doors. They Just Don't Care'... 'They Hit That School Like It Was A Crack House'... 'I Thought It Was A Home Invasion. I Was Fearful That I Was About To Be Executed'"

In 1997, Congress added a section to a defense appropriations bill creating an agency to transfer surplus military gear to state and local police departments. Since then, and especially under Obama, millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on a battlefield -- such as tanks, bayonets, M-16s, and armored personnel carriers -- have been given to domestic police agencies for use on American streets, against American citizens.

This isn't the idea of community policing held by earlier police officials. In the late 1990s, criminologist Peter Kraska found, for example, that many police chiefs consider frequent SWAT raids and similarly aggressive policing to be a core part of a community policing strategy. In fact, some said they considered sending SWAT teams to patrol entire neighborhoods to be sound community policing.

The Department of Homeland Security, under my former law partner, Janet Napolitano, has been giving its own grants to police agencies. These grants have been used to purchase military-grade equipment in the name of fighting terrorism. The grants are going to cities and towns all over America, including to unlikely terrorist targets like Fargo, N.D.; Fond du Lac, Wis.; and Canyon County, Idaho. Once they have a new armored personnel carrier, or new high-powered weapons, most of these police agencies then put them to use in more routine police work. The en terrorum effect on the American public is considerable. We are being terrorized not by foreign nationals, but by our own police and federal government.

According to a 2011 report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the federal government has handed out $34 billion in grants since Sept. 11, 2001. The grants have also given rise to contractors that now cater to police agencies looking to cash DHS checks in exchange for battle-grade gear. All of which means there's now an industry -- and inevitably a lobbying interest -- dedicated to perpetuating police militarization.

In 2011, an armed team of federal agents raided the floor of the Gibson guitar factory in Nashville, Tenn. The raid made national headlines and picked up traction in the the tea party movement, largely because it had been conducted to enforce the Lacey Act, a fairly obscure environmental law -- not the sort of policy most people would think would be enforced by armed federal agents. The same year, a SWAT team from the Department of Education conducted a morning raid of what they thought was the home of a woman who was suspected of defrauding federal student loan programs -- again, not the sort of crime usually associated with a SWAT team action. (They also got the wrong house -- the suspect had moved out months earlier.)

The Obama administration has defended the use of aggressive, militaristic police actions in our communities legally in court. In the case Avina v. U.S., DEA agents pointed their guns at an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old during a drug raid on the wrong house. The agents had apparently mistaken the license plate of a suspected drug trafficker for the plate on a car owned by Thomas Avina. Obama's Justice Department argued in federal court that the lawsuit should be dismissed before being heard by a jury because the agents' actions were not unreasonable.

Bottom Line: Don't think about peacefully assembling and protesting too much about the wrongs of our federal government, including this one, because the police, Army and the FEMA/Military camps Obama has created, together with the new laws on the books, are ready to shut us down and can us in a heart beat.

Our democracy in these regards has been badly compromised, mostly by Obama and Congress. He has trashed our Fourth and now First Amendment rights while we have gone about our affairs like the zombies we are. They are ready for us should we ever wake up. You had better believe we are in their cross-hairs now, right where the oligarchy wants us.

Our Inept News Media
Kimball Corson
07/12/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Our Inept News Media

In addition to misreporting or not reporting too much, especially in regard to economic matters, some of what our news media reports is simply wrong. A major recent example here is the claim Edward Snowden gave or allowed the Russians and Chinese access to classified US government information. This was reported by the Washington Post, CNN and the New York Times. Snowden himself says it never happened (perhaps because the Russians and Chinese already know as much). Similarly, a half-dozen news outlets -- the Associated Press, Reuters, ABC News, the Washington Post, CNN and the Los Angeles Times -- all published strikingly similar stories from anonymous officials that Snowden's leaks had prompted terrorists to change the way they communicated. Now, how would those anonymous officials know that and why are they anonymous? Both stories sound too much like an effort to build a public case against Snowden in the press. We have already learned our government has lied repeatedly regarding the activities of the NSA. Why should they be believed in this regard? And why is the press their apparent patsy here. Who has investigated either claim?

Also, why did the English newspaper, the Guardian, learn about Snowden first? Why was the US media trailing edge here as it seems to be too often? Der Spiegal and the London press seem to know and report more that is material about us and do it well than our press does. Why?

The problem, I suggest is American journalists, on average, are 1) less well educated and specialized, 2) do less investigative reporting, 3) rely too much on the wire services, 4) are victims of staff and budget cuts in the newsrooms, 5) don't verify their stories adequately or questionably rely on anonymous government officials speaking off the record, and 6) lack the will to challenge what this administration says for fear of being vindictively and later cut off from news developments as they are announced by the government. Obama is certainly no civil libertarian as my earlier posts make clear.

Without reading the European press, where freedom of speech seems held in higher regard, it is too easy for an American reading only the US news media to be left in the dark about too much.

Retired FISA Court Judge Claims FISA Court System Flawed
Kimball Corson
07/09/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Retired FISA Court Judge Claims FISA Court System Flawed

Judge James Robertson contends the FISA court is badly flawed because only the government's side is presented for the court's deliberation and decision. Robertson explained, "As anyone who has been a judge will tell you, a judge needs to hear both sides of a case." Robertson served on the FISA court from 2002 to 2005, but resigned days after the New York Times revealed widespread NSA warrantless wiretapping by George Bush Jr's administration. He now explains he resigned in protest at the time. His complaint about the lack of an adversarial process before the court echos the view of Law Professor Geoffrey Stone, recently of the University of Chicago.

An outcome of the Snowden disclosures and government's multiple mistatements is Obama has instructed the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to lead a "national conversation" about the NSA secret programs, with authority to take testimony. No explanation was provided on how that was possible, given the secrecy of those programs.

On Snowden
Kimball Corson
07/09/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Snowden's Disclosures Mark a Historical Watershed for The US

They and their immediate aftermath constitute a historical breach and major fissure in Americans' waning trust of their federal government. Before, little from government was seriously questioned. Now, much will be. We no longer trust our government to tell us the truth. We are wary. Once badly burned . . . not again. The distrust will spread across a broader range of topics as time goes on and more is learned.

America's press is out to lunch. We get our information now on these kinds of matters from the likes of The Guardian, der Spiegal and the London Times. The LA and NY Times and even Huffpo, to say nothing of the news networks, are trailing edge news providers in these quarters, at best. This is unfortunate, but true.

We are left too much on our own in regard to what we should believe, by our government and our press, and that is a bad state of affairs. It gives rise to wild speculation and large quantities of false information gaining currency. Reliability becomes as important and as big an issue as the information itself.

Distrust steps to the fore and permeates too much. If the government distrusts us, as evidenced by its spying on us and lying about it, why and how can we trust our government? The relationship starts to become adversarial. We become the enemy of government and the government becomes the enemy of the people.

Should Snowden Be Deemed a Criminal?

Should a person with a top secret security clearance be deemed a criminal if he or she publicly discloses classified information regarding illegal activities of the federal government, especially activities in abrogation of our constitutional rights?

If so, what prevents the government from classifying all information regarding its illegal activities as secret? Without disclosure, what impediment is there to such illegal activities? Does the public have a right to know about such activities that directly affect them as individuals?

In effect, Snowden has been a spy for the American people.

Viewpoints and Facts

Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman claims Edward Snowden has hurt U.S. ties with other countries, but is that true? It depends on your frame of reference and the facts.

On the frame of reference: This guy has it backward. He and his friends hurt US ties with other countries by snooping on them and then deceitfully covering it up. All Snowden did was tell the truth about it.

On the Facts: Hogwash. Other allied countries spy networks are complicit with NSA, the contrary claims of their leaders notwithstanding. They already knew what NSA is doing.

A Current Interview with Edward Snowden: The NSA and Its Willing Helpers

Interviewer: What is the mission of America's National Security Agency (NSA) -- and how is the job it does compatible with the rule of law?

Snowden: They're tasked to know everything of importance that happens outside of the United States. That's a significant challenge. When it is made to appear as though not knowing everything about everyone is an existential crisis, then you feel that bending the rules is okay. Once people hate you for bending those rules, breaking them becomes a matter of survival.

Interviewer: Are German authorities or German politicians involved in the NSA surveillance system?

Snowden: Yes, of course. We're 1 in bed together with the Germans the same as with most other Western countries. For example, we 2 tip them off when someone we want is flying through their airports (that we for example, have learned from the cell phone of a suspected hacker's girlfriend in a totally unrelated third country -- and they hand them over to us. They 3 don't ask to justify how we know something, and vice versa, to insulate their political leaders from the backlash of knowing how grievously they're violating global privacy.

Interviewer: But if details about this system are now exposed, who will be charged?

Snowden: In front of US courts? I'm not sure if you're serious. An investigation found the specific people who authorized the warrantless wiretapping of millions and millions of communications, which per count would have resulted in the longest sentences in world history, and our highest official simply demanded the investigation be halted. Who "can" be brought up on charges is immaterial when the rule of law is not respected. Laws are meant for you, not for them.

Interviewer: Does the NSA partner with other nations, like Israel?

Snowden: Yes. All the time. The NSA has a massive body responsible for this: FAD, the Foreign Affairs Directorate.

Interviewer: Did the NSA help to create Stuxnet? (Stuxnet is the computer worm that was deployed against the Iranian nuclear program.)

Snowden: NSA and Israel co-wrote it.

Interviewer: What are some of the big surveillance programs that are active today and how do international partners aid the NSA?

Snowden: In some cases, the so-called Five Eye Partners 4 go beyond what NSA itself does. For instance, the UK's General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has a system called TEMPORA. TEMPORA is the signals intelligence community's first "full-take" Internet buffer that doesn't care about content type and pays only marginal attention to the Human Rights Act. It snarfs everything, in a rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a single bit. Right now the buffer can hold three days of traffic, but that's being improved. Three days may not sound like much, but remember that that's not metadata. "Full-take" means it doesn't miss anything, and ingests the entirety of each circuit's capacity. If you send a single ICMP packet 5 and it routes through the UK, we get it. If you download something and the CDN (Content Delivery Network) happens to serve from the UK, we get it. If your sick daughter's medical records get processed at a London call center ... well, you get the idea.

Interviewer: Is there a way of circumventing that?

Snowden: As a general rule, so long as you have any choice at all, you should never route through or peer with the UK under any circumstances. Their fibers are radioactive, and even the Queen's selfies to the pool boy get logged.
Interviewer: Do the NSA and its partners across the globe do full dragnet data collection for telephone calls, text and data?

Snowden: Yes, but how much they get depends on the capabilities of the individual collection sites -- i.e., some circuits have fat pipes but tiny collection systems, so they have to be selective. This is more of a problem for overseas collection sites than domestic 6 ones, which is what makes domestic collection so terrifying. NSA isn't limited by power, space and cooling PSC constraints.

Interviewer: The NSA is building a massive new data center in Utah. What is its purpose?

Snowden: The massive data repositories.

Interviewer: How long is the collected data being stored for?

Snowden: As of right now, full-take collection ages off quickly ( a few days) due to its size unless an analyst has "tasked" 7 a target or communication, in which the tasked communications get stored "forever and ever," regardless of policy, because you can always get a waiver. The metadata 8 also ages off, though less quickly. The NSA wants to be at the point where at least all of the metadata is permanently stored. In most cases, content isn't as valuable as metadata because you can either re-fetch content based on the metadata or, if not, simply task all future communications of interest for permanent collection since the metadata tells you what out of their data stream you actually want.

Interviewer: Do private companies help the NSA?

Snowden: Yes. Definitive proof of this is the hard part because the NSA considers the identities of telecom collaborators to be the jewels in their crown of omniscience. As a general rule, US-based multinationals should not be trusted until they prove otherwise. This is sad, because they have the capability to provide the best and most trusted services in the world if they actually desire to do so. To facilitate this, civil liberties organizations should use this disclosure to push them to update their contracts to include enforceable clauses indicating they aren't spying on you, and they need to implement technical changes. If they can get even one company to play ball, it will change the security of global communications forever. If they won't, consider starting that company.

Interviewer: Are there companies that refuse to cooperate with the NSA?

Snowden: Also yes, but I'm not aware of any list. This category will get a lot larger if the collaborators are punished by consumers in the market, which should be considered Priority One for anyone who believes in freedom of thought.

Interviewer: What websites should a person avoid if they don't want to get targeted by the NSA?

Snowden: Normally you'd be specifically selected for targeting based on, for example, your Facebook or webmail content. The only one I personally know of that might get you hit untargeted are jihadi forums.

Interviewer: What happens after the NSA targets a user?

Snowden: They're just owned. An analyst will get a daily (or scheduled based on exfiltration summary) report on what changed on the system, PCAPS 9 of leftover data that wasn't understood by the automated dissectors, and so forth. It's up to the analyst to do whatever they want at that point -- the target's machine doesn't belong to them anymore, it belongs to the US government. All from der Spiegal.


1 "We're" refers to the NSA.

2 "We" refers to the US intelligence service apparatus

3 "They" refers to the other authorities.

4 The "Five Eye Partners" is a reference to the intelligence services of United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

5 "ICMP" is a reference to Internet Control Message Protocol. The answer provided here by Snowden was highly technical, but it was clear that he was referring to all data packets sent to or from Britain.

6 "Domestic" is a reference to the United States. From der Spiegal

A Tribute to Succinctness
Kimball Corson
07/02/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

A Tribute to Succinctness

The basic Republican approach is to cut taxes, cry about the deficits and then cut spending. Shrink government and shrink the economy and shrink employment. Then they wonder why people don't like them.

On Identifying Kookie Republican Organizations
Kimball Corson
07/02/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

On Identifying Kookie Republican Organizations

They strongly tend to have the word "Freedom" or "Enterprise" or "Liberty" or "American" or "Institute" in their titles. Not all by any means, but certainly many. My listing here, while a bit long, is intended to give the reader a sense of the naming conventions on the far right and among conservatives. There definitely are such. Examples here include, in no particular order:

American Freedom Coalition,
The Progress & Freedom Foundation
American Enterprise Institute
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Manhattan Institute
Institute for Historical Review
Institute on the Constitution
Liberty Committee
American Nationalist Union
American Third Position
America's Truth Forum
Americas Majority
American Center for Voting Rights
American Conservative Student Union
American Conservative Union
American Enterprise Institute
American Family Association
American Values Agenda
Americans for a Better Country
Americans for Job Security
Americans for Limited Government
Americans for Tax Reform
Economic Freedom Fund
Free Congress Foundation
Free Enterprise Coalition
Free Republic
Freedom's Watch
Give Me Liberty
Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis
International Republican Institute
New Politics Institute
Project for the New American Century
The American Cause
Vets for Freedom
Young Americans for Freedom

Irony attends on occasion, because often the name suggests the opposite of what is truly intended, such as when the anti-gay organization, The Alliance Defending Freedom, made a last ditch appeal to the US Supreme Court to block gay marriages in California. There is much such double talk or misdirection in Republican names.

Republicans War Not Only With Women, But Also the Unemployed
Kimball Corson
07/02/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Republicans War Not Only With Women, But Also the Unemployed

We know about their war on women, but here is their war against the unemployed, as explained by Paul Krugman:

"Is life too easy for the unemployed? You may not think so, and I certainly don't think so. But that, remarkably, is what many and perhaps most Republicans believe. And they're acting on that belief: there's a nationwide movement under way to punish the unemployed, based on the proposition that we can cure unemployment by making the jobless even more miserable.

"Consider, for example, the case of North Carolina. The state was hit hard by the Great Recession, and its unemployment rate, at 8.8 percent, is among the highest in the nation, higher than in long-suffering California or Michigan. As is the case everywhere, many of the jobless have been out of work for six months or more, thanks to a national environment in which there are three times as many people seeking work as there are job openings.

"Nonetheless, the state's government has just sharply cut aid to the unemployed. In fact, the Republicans controlling that government were so eager to cut off aid that they didn't just reduce the duration of benefits; they also reduced the average weekly benefit, making the state ineligible for about $700 million in federal aid to the long-term unemployed.

It's quite a spectacle, but North Carolina isn't alone . . ."

Don't you just love those Republicans?

The Always-Wrong Club
Kimball Corson
07/01/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

"The Always-Wrong Club

"Aha. Floyd Norris reminds us of the 23-economist letter from 2010, warning of dire consequences -- "currency debasement and inflation" -- from quantitative easing. The signatories are kind of a who's who of wrongness, ranging from Niall Ferguson to Amity Shlaes to John Taylor. And they were wrong again.

"But that won't diminish their reputations on the right, even a bit. How do I know that? Well, also on the list -- presumably because they asked him to be there -- is Kevin Hassett, co-author of Dow 36,000 and also a prominent denier of the existence of a housing bubble. Fool me once, fool me twice, fool me yet again -- hey, never mind.

"Quite amazing." Paul Krugman

Here are the Members of the Always Wrong Club with their affiliations. Note that most are of a conservative to reactionary bent as tend to be their affiliated institutions.

Cliff Asness
AQR Capital

Michael J. Boskin
Stanford University
Former Chairman, President's Council of Economic Advisors (George H.W. Bush Administration)

Richard X. Bove
Rochdale Securities

Charles W. Calomiris
Columbia University Graduate School of Business

Jim Chanos
Kynikos Associates

John F. Cogan
Stanford University
Former Associate Director, U.S. Office of Management and Budget (Reagan Administration)

Niall Ferguson
Harvard University
Author, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World

Nicole Gelinas
Manhattan Institute & e21
Author, After the Fall: Saving Capitalism from Wall Street--and Washington

James Grant
Grant's Interest Rate Observer

Kevin A. Hassett
American Enterprise Institute
Former Senior Economist, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve

Roger Hertog
The Hertog Foundation

Gregory Hess
Claremont McKenna College

Douglas Holtz-Eakin
Former Director, Congressional Budget Office

Seth Klarman
Baupost Group

William Kristol
Editor, The Weekly Standard

David Malpass
Former Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary (Reagan Administration)

Ronald I. McKinnon
Stanford University

Dan Senor
Council on Foreign Relations
Co-Author, Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle

Amity Shlaes
Council on Foreign Relations
Author, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression

Paul E. Singer
Elliott Associates

John B. Taylor
Stanford University
Former Undersecretary of Treasury for International Affairs (George W. Bush Administration)

Peter J. Wallison
American Enterprise Institute
Former Treasury and White House Counsel (Reagan Administration)

Geoffrey Wood
Cass Business School at City University London

A Note on Rampant Economic Illiteracy
Kimball Corson
07/01/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

A Note on Rampant Economic Illiteracy
"In Economics, one is never wrong. The timing may not be correct, but the prediction may one day prove to be accurate. Isn't that's why it's called 'The Dismal Science?'" Mr. A

"If you were to line up all the economists in the world, they would still not reach a conclusion." Mr. B

"How do we know who is right as economics can't be played out in a laboratory? Mr. C

"Left alone, the economy would likely have righted itself.
Recessions come and go and are regarded as cyclical." Mr. D

There is a fundamental misunderstanding about economics evidenced by these comments. Why?

First, almost everyone who balances his or her checkbook or runs a business imagines him or herself to be an economist and speaks out about economics and economic principles. Second, bogus think tanks affiliated with conservatives and/or Koch & Friends spew out huge quantities of bogus economics that are picked up by the mainstream media which can't tell the difference. Much such economic information is willfully and deliberately made false because it is intended to advance political goals or muddy the water to generate viewpoints among the public like those quoted above. Third, Republican politicians and some Democrats do the same thing.

However, as the Chicago Business School regularly does, if you poll some 40 top economists at our leading universities on very specific economic questions, their answer are surprisingly consistent and uniform, belying uninformed and ill-informed comments like these. Like our economically ignorant media, those without economic training and those with poor or ideological economic training and abilities, are simply unable to separate the wheat from the chaff much like the gentlemen quoted above. (See my recent post on "The Always Wrong Club" where I actually name names in these regards.)

So why doesn't Washington adopt sound economic policies? The quick answer is they are rejected for political reasons. Good economists are not listened to because politicians don't like their conclusions. That is it in a nutshell.

So What Is the Dope on Marijuana?
Kimball Corson
06/30/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

So What Is the Dope on Marijuana?

Succiently, it's is messy. Federal law prohibits its cultivation, distribution and use under the Controlled Substances Act. Notwithstanding, some states are legalizing its use, in defiance of federal law, but with an eye to keeping criminal elements out of its cultivation and distribution. As the medical use of marijuana gains credibility for the elderly, those with glaucoma and in other medical situations, federal law enforcement officials increasingly look the other way and now only really target growers and distributors who deal in larger quantities. It is largely therefore becoming a local issue.

Boomers now and on average see no real problem with marijuana use based on their own earlier history with it in college. Most Americans now agree. However, many don't realize the marijuana they smoked in the 1980's only had about 4 percent of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, whereas today the percentage runs closer to 10 percent. Even so, the American population is quickly coming around to the view that recreational pot use is basically O.K. and its problems are overblown.

But is that true? Those informed within the medical profession disagree. First, like alcohol and nicotine, THC is addictive. A habit develops pretty much as with smoking. Addicted users are those who most strongly and vocally advocate legalization and oppose enforcement of federal law. Many have tried to claim a medical need for use. They do not want to be caught breaking the law. Secondly, J. Michael Bostwick, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, sat down and reviewed all the studies on the effects or consequences of marijuana use. In response to those who think smoking pot is no big deal, he found in fact "it is a very big deal." After his review, he noted that many studies on both sides of the issue were too poorly done to warrant credibility. However, that was not true of all studies. Some were well done and disturbing. First, there is the addictive problem mentioned. Secondly, more than one such study found there is a significant long term drop in IQ associated with substantial use of marijuana as a teenager. Thirdly, another set of credible studies found that marijuana can "induce and exacerbate" psychotic illness in susceptible people. Finally, cutting in the opposite direction, there is a significant body of literature suggesting marijuana does have significant medical benefits, but the studies here are not as good as they could be because such research has been stymied by the federal government.

States and cities legalizing the personal, recreational use of marijuana are attempting to control its use by excluding minors, regulating distribution and policing its growth and transportation to exclude criminals and other problems. Medical marijuana distribution is also watch closely in areas where it is legalized. After the California Supreme Court held that cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensaries, the City of Los Angeles voters approved a ballot measure limiting the number of such dispensaries in the city to 135, down from an estimated 1,000. People remain leery even when it is now much more controllable at a local level.

It is indeed a troubled and problematic subject.

Why So Much Bizarre Weather?
Kimball Corson
06/29/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Why So Much Bizarre Weather?

It is the north american jet stream. The jet stream is a huge, fast moving river of air high above the earth. That jet stream, or more precisely, the polar jet stream, is the one that affects the Northern Hemisphere. It basically moves quickly from west to east, dipping down a bit from Alaska into the United States and Canada, and then proceeding in a straight line across the Atlantic and over Europe. It substantially controls our weather.

The jet stream is controlled by the difference between cold temperatures in the Arctic and warmer temperatures in the mid-latitudes. The bigger the temperature difference, the stronger the jet stream, the faster it moves and the straighter it flows. But as the northern polar regions warm two to three times faster than the rest of the world, augmented by unprecedented melting of Arctic sea ice and loss in snow cover, the temperature difference shrinks. When that happens the jet stream slows and undulates more. Lately it's been wobbling and weaving about its usual course. And that creates problems. The more the jet stream undulates in a north and south direction along it basic course, the more changeable and extreme the weather. High and low pressure systems get locked into position longer and patterns of heat and dryness and of storms and heavy rain stay longer with them. Hence, storms, heavy rains and flooding in some areas and periods of drought and high temperatures in others.

The jet stream is about 14 percent slower now than in the 1990's, according to a recent study. And when it slows, it undulates more north and south instead of in a straighter west to east direction, bringing more unusual weather, creating blocking patterns and cutting off low pressure systems from high pressure systems so they are isolated and intensified instead of colliding and neutralizing each other. Bizarre weather results.

Dry spells turn into droughts, hot days into heat waves and moderate rainfall into major storms, rain and flooding. Weather extremes are much in evidence. The numbers of tornadoes and hurricanes rise as well.

Last fall, a dip in the jet stream over the United States and northward bulge of high pressure combined to pull Superstorm Sandy almost due west into New Jersey. That track is so rare and nearly unprecedented that computer models indicate it would happen only once every 714 years, according to a new study by NASA and Columbia University scientists.

During the mostly snowless winter of 2011-12 and the record warm March 2012, the jet stream instead formed a giant upside-down U, curving dramatically in the opposite direction. That trapped warm air over much of the Eastern U.S. A year later the jet stream was again unusual, this time with a sharp U-turn north. This trapped colder and snowier weather in places like Chicago and caused nor'easters in New England.

If global warming at the polar cap, if not everywhere else,too, continues, we can expect the problems to continue, if not significantly worsen.

The Transitional Economic Model for, Ultimately, the World
Kimball Corson
06/28/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

The Transitional Economic Model for, Ultimately, the World

Was Henry George correct that land is the ultimate source of wealth, when coupled with labor, and that its ownership by some and exclusion from it for others, is what too largely generates wealth in the form of monopoly rents and their attending privileges? Yes, and there is little doubt about it among informed economists. Listen carefully to Nobel Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, for example. But is Henry George's notion of but a single tax, placed on land, the solution? Perhaps but perhaps not.

Here is why, in my view. Understanding the basics and certainly the nuisances of the Georgists' position is not as easy as one might think. New purchasers of land, for example, will proclaim that, given the price they paid, they receive no rents and that those who sold to them escaped with them. Much confusion can easily ensue and be extended. It has been some time since the commons was fenced for exclusive, private and privileged use.

I think the better approach near term and as a transitional model is that of the Scandinavian countries where very high and very progressive marginal income tax rates are used to generate a social dividend which is then used for single payor national healthcare systems, good infrastructure, nearly free higher education for all qualified and the like. It is doable and more understandable for most. But we should not stop there as the Scandinavians do, but use their model as a transitional one. But transition to what and how? A model for the world I suggest, in the form I now describe.

We need then to transition from high marginal income tax rates of the Scandinavian countries to a system that targets for taxation monopoly rents and unearned income, lowering income taxes as such new taxes generate equivalent or better revenue. High taxes on unearned income should include those on capital gains, those on interest "earned" from newly created money in the form of bank loans, monopoly rents over and above profits earned without restrictions or restraints on output, and, yes, Henry George's now no longer single, but still a tax on land. The core idea is to tax income that is not earned the old fashion way, by actual human labor.

This moves us strongly in the direction of realizing land and labor are the only real sources of income and wealth. Marx's surplus theory of labor is not far off the mark, especially if we consider land rents as the ultimate source of all capital. Even in Chicago's PhD program I was taught, Marx's labor theory of value did not miss by much but it ignored a return on capital. But is not capital nothing more than accumulated monopoly rents from fencing in the commons and excluding others from the land's use by making the commons private property?

Isn't there a marriage to be had here between Marx's labor theory of value and then Henry George's theory of privilege and land rents, as a replacement for the concept of capital. Not that capital should not receive the value of its marginal product, it is only that that return should now proportionally belong to every one, not just the privileged class, the heirs of and successors to the fencers. I suggest a whole new system that merges the traditional economic model with that impliedly suggested by Henry George and Karl Marx. It would work much better and similarly to what we have, but the mal-distribution of income would largely vanish.

Everyone would earn the value of what their labor produces plus their equal share of rentals from land based income and from other unearned income, the latter of which should be taxed at rates approaching 100 percent as the model suggests. Stability of the economic system would also be much more assured if the lucre of speculation was in effect confiscated.

A whole new model in the path of progress awaits the Scandinavian countries which have already mounted the first hurdle . . . the knee jerk reaction to higher and more progressive income tax rates that conservatives becry as the loss of freedom and liberty and the trashing of the constitution. But so far in America we are penguins waddling in the ice age where regressivists prevail over or at least stop progressivists and the income defense industry works hard to hold us back and keep the lucre where it is.


Powered by SailBlogs