08 Jul 2009

NYT Calls It "Torture" When Iran Does It

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It’s not surprising that Glenn Greenwald busted the NYT on its double-standard regarding the use of the word “torture.” (Hint: Americans don’t torture.) But if you’re interested, click on the link and see just how red-handed the NYT gets caught. Here’s Glenn:

It’s not particularly unusual for a government to permit itself to do something that it prohibits others from doing. The U.S. is hardly the only country that does that. But when that country’s media collectively abets that government effort by molding its language to reflect that exceptionalism, it elevates the propaganda to a much different level.

Then he got medieval on their hineys by quoting himself from a previous article:

Pointing to other governments and highlighting their oppressive behavior can be cathartic, fun and gratifying in a self-justifying sort of way. Ask Fred Hiatt; it’s virtually all he ever does. But the first duty of the American media — like the first duty of American citizens — is to oppose oppressive behavior by our own government. That’s not as fun or as easy, but it is far more important. Moreover, obsessively complaining about the rights-abridging behavior of other countries while ignoring the same behavior from our own government is worse than a mere failure of duty. It is propagandistic and deceitful, as it paints a misleading picture that it is other governments — but not our own — which engage in such conduct.

The thing is, I don’t think it’s actually as devious as GG portrays it to be. In a very real sense, it is much more unbearable to have strange foreigners doing awful things to you, than it would be to have kids who look like you, carrying them out.

In other words, when you read the description of what Iran interrogators would do to people, that really is a lot scarier than listening to descriptions of what the US did to its detainees. So it’s easier to automatically call that “torture.” Part of the whole nightmare of torture is not understanding and hence not being able to predict what your holders would do next to you. And so obviously NYT writers are going to classify it as “torture” without a moment’s thought, when it’s Iranians doing it.

08 Jul 2009

Potpourri

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* I am going to be in Las Vegas for FreedomFest for a few days, so drop me an email if you will be too.

* Doug French favorably reviews my new book.

* Vasko Kohlmayer favorably reviews my new book.

* Mercedes Rules asks me, in regard to the reports about Goldman Sachs’ trading code getting stolen, “So, is Goldman publicly admitting they developed a computer program that can manipulate markets?” I had thought the same thing when the news broke. Yet another, “Is everyone else taking crazy pills?!” moment. (Here’s the money quote: “The bank has raised the possibility that there is a danger that somebody who knew how to use this program could use it to manipulate markets in unfair ways,” [Assistant U.S. Attorney] Facciponti said, according to a recording of the hearing made public today.)

* In yet another post from Bizarro Land, Scott Sumner agrees with me that what the Fed is doing now under Bernanke, is exactly what they did in the early 1930s. So Scott and I are agreed that what they’re doing right now, is the way to replicate the Great Depression. The reason I put Scott in Bizarro Land is that his conclusion from all this is that Bernanke should pump in even more dollars created by the stroke of the pen (or click of the mouse). I, on the other hand, think that the way to break the symmetry with the 1930s is for the Fed to stop “helping” the markets at all. Interest rates are prices and they really convey information about the state of the economy; you don’t help investors by blindfolding them.

* Krugman is back, this time saying it is speculation driving up oil prices. I was amazed to agree with him back in 2008, when he said it was (fundamental) supply and demand, which is what I said too. The lack of a smoking gun that time was no build-up in oil inventories, whereas Krugman says crude inventories are building up now. Unfortunately he links to a site that requires you to buy a subscription. I’m not kidding, how much of a kickback does Krugman get for something like that? I bet that site got 10,000 hits the day the post first ran. In any event, now I have to go check the EIA website to see what we can see about oil inventories in 2009.

07 Jul 2009

Potpourri

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In my weakened state, I can’t do full-blown blog analysis. I must opt for s list of links…

* “Lilburne” kicks a horse on its deathbed, but to good effect. There are some juicy Krugman (and Keynes) quotes in here, on the whole issue of “Did Paul Krugman actually suggest that Greenspan deliberately engineer a housing boom to save the economy?!”

* Gene Callahan takes on the anti-medieval canard that those dumb Christians believed the earth was flat. I’ve heard Gene (and others) explain this before, but Gene made a new point: “What’s really amazing is that this author [who believes the medieval Europeans lost the Greek knowledge that the earth was a sphere], if he had stopped to think about this for a moment, would have realized that the Copernican model of the solar system had to defeat… the Ptolemaic model, in which the earth was at the center of a series of concentric spheres.”

* I don’t get all this bank capitalization stuff. For example, Brad DeLong seems to be saying: (a) it won’t reduce bank equity if they buy back some of their preferred shares, but (b) it WILL reduce bank equity if they buy back some outstanding warrants on their stock. Is that right?

* I do my part to rekindle the Fairfax/Auburn feuding, here and here. (For those who don’t know, the Austro-libertarians at GMU often fight with the Austro-libertarians at the Mises Institute. Seriously, those guys are nuts! I can’t believe their views on the socialist calculation debate! Insane.)

07 Jul 2009

Am I Delirious, or Did Paul Krugman Just Say What I Think He Said…?

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I am in bed all day–well, except for right now–because I’m pretty sick, and I’m trying to get over this runny nose/headache/fever/achiness before Freedom Fest (imagine the possibilities!).

So I thought maybe I was suffering from delirium, when I read Paul Krugman’s recent blog post on the paradox of thrift. It is hands down the most classic example of someone not seeing (and dealing with) an obvious objection to his theory that I have ever seen. (In contrast, when he claims that the rising unemployment rate is proof that the “stimulus” wasn’t big enough–rather than proof that the stimulus critics were right–I give him and DeLong a pass, because had things gone the other way, with unemployment rates falling amidst massive government spending on bridges and what-not, I wouldn’t have squirmed at all. After all, the whole Austrian theory of what happened with the housing boom is that Greenspan short-circuited the cleansing process after the dot-com crash.)

Anyway, the first comment at Krugman’s blog points out the nudity of the emperor, albeit the question is from a true believer who wants to see the fine garments and chides himself for his blindness. (Or maybe it’s actually a free market guy, who worried that the NYT would veto his comment if he just came out and said, “Duh, Paul, you’re missing the most obvious explanation of the data.”)

P.S. One final treat in Krugman’s post, apropos of the Wenzel/Murphy throwdown: Note that Krugman says matter-of-factly that savings=investment no matter what. The Keynesians actually don’t analyze things the way Wenzel (and I guess Rothbard?) think they do, on this score. There’s a distinction between ex ante and ex post, that might be behind the confusion. (I.e. if “planned savings” exceed “planned investment”–perhaps because of evil hoarding–then the Keynesian says national income falls until “actual savings” equal “actual investment.”) But anyway, just be careful if you go around saying, “Austrians like Rothbard know that savings must equal investment, whereas Keynesians don’t think so.” That’s not really accurate.

06 Jul 2009

"Man Dies as Bug Hits Cruise Ship"

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That was the headline on this BBC story, so I naturally clicked on the link. I was imagining a really really heavy beetle that smacked into the hull, knocking the guy who was doing his Leonardo DiCaprio impression into the icy sea. But that seemed absurd, so my second thought was that a motorist died while driving his Volkswagen off a bridge and into a cruise ship.

The real story is far more conventional.

06 Jul 2009

Monday Murphy Twin Spin

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* If you have never really gotten into the economics of climate change, and want an accessible introduction, here you go.

* If you have been laying awake at night, worrying that the depression of 1937-38 proves the success of Keynesianism, here you go. An excerpt:

In any event, Hoover’s last fiscal year was FY 1933, which ran from July 1, 1932, to June 30, 1933. (Roosevelt was sworn in on March 4, 1933.) Unemployment in 1933 averaged 25 percent. But, as Romer told us in the block quotation above, the unemployment rate fell rapidly once Roosevelt took over and cranked up the spending.

Yet look at the relatively insignificant increase in deficits. In the rock-bottom FY 1933, the deficit was 4.5 percent of GDP. In the first three years of the New Deal — when Romer says the economy illustrated the success of (modest) Keynesianism — the deficit averaged 5.1 percent of GDP.

Isn’t that a rather subtle result? Romer and the other Keynesians are claiming that the timid 4.5 percent deficit under Hoover, allowed the economy to sink into the worst Depression in US history, with monthly unemployment rates above 25 percent. Yet by bumping up the deficit’s share of the economy by a mere 60 basis points, FDR was able to achieve the most spectacular turnaround in US history.

05 Jul 2009

Phew! State Governments Pledge Not to Implant Microchips Against Your Will *Unless a Judge Orders It

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I recently became aware of the theory that the elites behind the scenes ultimately want to put microchips in all of us. When I first heard it, I laughed out loud because I thought it was so dumb.

It turns out we have nothing to fear; various states have banned forced microchipping of people. Here’s a story (HT2LRC) about the latest attempt to do so in Pennsylvania:

HARRISBURG – Invasion of privacy is an issue that really gets under State Rep. Babette Josephs’ skin.

That’s why the Philadelphia Democrat introduced a bill, passed unanimously last week by the House, that would ban the forced implantation of computer chips in humans.

Conjuring Orwellian images, Josephs worries the identification devices – the size of a grain of rice – could lead to a real-life Big Brother nightmare.

“I’m doing, I think, what the legislature does too little of,” she said. “This is a problem on the horizon, and I want to address it before it becomes a societal disgrace.”

Though the technology hasn’t debuted in Pennsylvania, VeriChip, a company in Florida, received federal Food and Drug Administration clearance in 2004 to market the implanted microchips, which were tested on 200 Alzheimer’s patients.

Injected into the triceps, the chips have unique 16-digit codes and GPS capabilities that allow nursing homes to find wandering patients.

“I think it’s really horrible that we want to chip them like barcoded packages of meat,” said Kim Sultzbaugh, a research specialist who helped Josephs write the bill.

California, North Dakota, and Wisconsin have enacted laws similar to the ban Josephs is proposing.

Note that the ban is not as airtight and straightforward as one might have hoped:

Josephs said electronic ankle bracelets could keep track of someone in a less-invasive manner.

But for some “murderers, killers, and rapists,” ankle bracelets won’t do the trick, said State Rep. Dan Moul (R., Adams).

Moul amended Josephs’ bill to allow chips to be implanted by court order. The bill also would allow the chips to be implanted in Guantanamo Bay detainees who end up in Pennsylvania.

“Terrorists could take that ankle bracelet off with a saw and strap it to a dog and let them run around,” Moul said. “We need to know if these people are returning to the war to fight against America.”

I see it clearly now. I don’t know how long it will take, but at some point it will be routine for average Americans to have their newborns implanted with a microchip that allows government officials to track their movements and purchases. And then, when I say, “The conspiracy nutjobs were right!! Wake up people!!” the response will be, “Oh give me a break, this isn’t due to a conspiracy. This is just typical government overkill. There are lots of legitimate reasons that consumers wanted these products. Occam’s Razor, my friend. We don’t need to assume Masons are behind this.”

05 Jul 2009

Knappenberger Takes on Krugman on Climate

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Over at MasterResource climate researcher Chip Knappenberger takes on Paul Krugman’s op ed where he pulled an Ann Coulter and accused his enemies of treason. Here was my favorite part:

[CHIP:] Krugman completely misinterprets the science on Americans’ response to heat waves. He said:

[KRUGMAN:] Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves — the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation — may become annual or biannual events.

In other words, we’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?

[CHIP:] Well, how about this justification—the hottest places in the U.S. are the ones which experience the fewest number of deaths during heat waves. We have shown this on repeated occasions (in the scientific literature, see references below) in research that I have been involved with examining the relationship between excessive heat and human mortality. Not only did we show that the nations hottest (both in terms of temperature and humidity) cities, for example, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Tampa, Miami, have the lowest incidences of heat-related mortality in the country, but that in major cities all across the country, the population has grown less sensitive to heat waves even as urban temperatures have increased over the past four decades or so (Figure 1).

Clearly, what is happening is that as high temperatures become more commonplace, we better incorporate them into our daily lives—through better access to air-conditioning, community awareness programs, heat watch/warning programs, improved medical technologies, and just plain common sense. And, as has been shown in examples from Chicago (Palecki et al., 2001) and France (Fouillet et al., 2008), these adaptations can take place quickly. It is the rare and unexpected heat wave that kills people, not the common ones. So Krugman’s meant-to-scare example about “deadly heat waves” runs counter to the best science on the subject.