In Course Pitch, Scooter and Wolfie Admit Iraq War Failures, But Make No Mention of Iraqi Casualties

While I was gone, the NeoCon Hertog Foundation announced an “advanced institute” featuring Scooter Libby and Paul Wolfowitz describing the “unexpected events, rivalries, counter-moves, mistakes, and imperfect understandings” behind the Iraq War, which also appears to offer some second-guessing about how the Iraq War still made sense even in light of the catastrophe it wrought.

It seems Judy Miller is not the only Iraq Hawk trying to relitigate her Iraq failures (the timing may not be unrelated, as Roger Hertog, has funded all three Iraq Hawks, among others).

I’m particularly interested in this paragraph, seemingly admitting the failures of Iraq while weighing it against what is portrayed as the failure of the first Gulf War.

Twice in the last quarter century America has gone to war with Iraq, and the two were in a state of low-level conflict during the interim. Both times America went to war with Congressional authorization, at the head of an international coalition, and in support of U.N. Resolutions. The 1990–1 Persian Gulf War ended quickly with minimal U.S. casualties, but left a brutal dictator in place and American interests at risk. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 quickly removed the regime that had repeatedly defied America and gave Iraqis a chance to devise their own future. However, the war soon devolved into a messy combination of insurgency and sectarian fighting that brought thousands of U.S. casualties, sapped American will and credibility, and worked to the benefit of America’s other regional nemesis, Iran. These events occurred not in isolation, but against the backdrop of broader international developments, particularly the ending of the Cold War, the attacks of 9/11/2001, and the on-going U.S. confrontation with radical Islam.

Iraq War 2.0 removed the defiant Saddam, who purportedly threatened American interests — Scooter and Wolfie judge — but it helped out “America’s other regional nemesis,” Iran.

At least the Iraq War architects are willing to admit their blunders made Iran stronger.

But the assessment of the impact on Iraq is the signature here: America generously gifted Iraqis with “a chance to devise their own future” — Scooter and Wolfie judge, making no mention of America’s past role in Saddam’s rise and success against Iraq — but it brought a “messy combination of insurgency and sectarian fighting … and thousands of U.S. casualties [that] sapped American will and credibility,” as if American will and credibility should have any role in the matter of giving Iraqis a chance to devise their own future, which was only granted, according to this description, because America’s formerly favored dictator threatened its interests.

Not only does the passage make no sense, but it obscures the other horrible thing about Scooter and Wolfie’s legacy: half a million Iraqi dead, or more.

Twelve years after these policy makers brought us to war on a pack of lies, their conception of failures doesn’t even account for the hundreds of thousands of purportedly liberated Iraqis they killed.

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Floating Security

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 11.25.57 AMGreetings! I’m back, just in time to refill the liquor cabinet. Thanks to Rayne, Jim, bmaz, and Ed for their fascinating posts while I was gone (and if you haven’t read it, I especially recommend Ed’s series on paradigms in economics).

As I mentioned before I left, I just took a vacation with my mom, who turned 75 during our trip. Because seeing Russia and Scandinavia were on her bucket list but she has mobility limitations, we decided to go on a Baltic cruise for the trip (it was my first cruise). Which meant, among other things, we we sailing from Germany past Poland and Kaliningrad to Lithuania on the last days of a NATO war game involving the Baltics, and we were docked in St. Petersburg for 3 days.

While I don’t know whether it was related to the war games, on the night of June 17-18, the ship took what a long-time sailor told us the next day seemed like an evasive maneuver at 2 AM that woke everyone I spoke to up. The following day, at around 6 (almost no one was awake because it was our one sailing day), the crew noted a ship tracking us on our starboard side that seemed very unusual to them. It pulled up ahead of the cruise ship far enough I couldn’t get a good picture or binocular check (it had a mostly red flag) when I returned, but was there for about 6 hours. I suck ass at military ship identification but it might have been a frigate. In any case, the New Cold War™ has not yet heated up sufficiently to turn our cruise ship into the Lusitania, so you’re all stuck with me.

I was just as interested in the security procedures for the ship. There are obvious measures (as those of you who have taken cruises surely know): a card check as you get on and off the boat every time, with metal detectors every time you get back on the boat. What I found interesting, though, were the less obvious measures, something you’d need to have for something that would otherwise be such an easy target but for which you wouldn’t want passengers to realize it. For example, there were undercarriage checks (the kind that are meant to be obvious in places like Brazil) that were not obviously visible. There were deck guards (one of whom got sheepish when I got into a conversation about the sunset he was taking a picture of), which are probably intended to minimize teenage pregnancies as much as anything else, but which keep a low profile on outer decks late at night. You couldn’t see security cameras anywhere, but I’m sure they were omnipresent. I’m really interested in the security checks employees undergo, as there can be up to 1,000 tip-dependent employees from developing nations on board. In any case, I imagine the cruise ship tracks everyone’s movement on board through use of key cards.

I was also interested in how cruise ship security intersected with Russian security (Russia has a 3-day exception to its visa requirement for cruise ship passengers who use a tour guide in Russia and return to their ship every night, but it requires going through customs every time you leave the ship and there is fine print that got a few people in trouble). Every time you left the ship, you’d first be scanned off the ship, then interact with a surly Russian border guard (I tried to little avail to butter them up with my very rudimentary Russian). On return, you’d go through a Russian metal detector to get into the port facility — but the guards only made you put bags through their x-ray machine, not all metal, and they pretty much ignored when you set off the metal detector. In other words, while Russia made a show of preventing weapons or bombs from entering the cruise ship terminal, it was pretty ineffective (there was a toll entry to get to the port itself by car, bus, or truck, though, which may limit what kinds of people could even get to the port). Then, you’d be checked out of Russia by the same surly border guards. Next you’d be checked into the boat and put through another metal detector upon entering the ship (though there were a few weak points to this process that I won’t mention). Though admittedly, the ship security was probably also designed as much to find booze and food that passengers were taking onto the ship, both of which had ostensible security purposes, but also served the cruise’s business model of ensuring captive consumption of booze on board.

In any case, the cruise ship obviously didn’t trust Russia’s security measures, but the latter probably rely much more on their own intelligence and policing.

All of which is to say the cruise ship is an exercise in a mix between security theater (the not entirely perfect metal detector on board) and more obscure but presumably more effective measures. Given the volume of passengers that have to be processed in quick order, it would seem to be proof that such an approach is possible in other areas (including aviation), but we choose not to use it. Or maybe cruise ships are 1) better able to do a cost-benefit analysis and 2) subject to fewer US laws. I’m now interested in more about how cruise ships carry out their security, though expect much of it is secret.

One final observation. I found Lithuania (Klaipeda, right on the border with Kaliningrad) to be the most fascinating stop, in part because it has been a cruise destination for a shorter period of time than, say, Tallinn, and so has not been transformed as much. Mom and I took a ferry to the Curonian Spit, then took a taxi down the spit and then back to Klaipeda; our taxi drivers were a son and then his father in succession. That’s where my (as I noted, very rudimentary) Russian was most interesting. At the ferry, I was told clearly not to use it at all by a maybe 55-year old woman. The son, who had excellent Hollywood English, was more measured. His father, who reminded that he had had to use Russia all through school and military service, was very happy to have a quasi conversation in Russian with me (we occasionally resorted to Polish and Czech at times, as better mutually comprehensible languages). I found the mixed feelings about Russian, in a place with a very audible Russian minority, to be fascinating. But then, Lithuania is ground zero for the New Cold War™ and I can understand how rising tensions exacerbate underlying divisions.

Anyway, that’s the sum of my impressions from being unable to entirely turn off the security side of my brain.

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Amid Even More Training Failures, US Frames Syrian Effort as Just Starting. Again.

Alert readers here who have kept their scorecards up to date know that the “secret” US effort to train rebels in Syria actually began as early as November of 2012, more than two and a half years ago, even though Obama did his best to obscure that date once it became expedient to nudge the date of entry for the first graduates of that program. The US later decided to go above-board with the training effort for Syria (after spectacular failures of identifying “moderates”), and last fall approved $500 million to a program to train and arm those elusive “moderates” once again. Despite the huge expenditure authorized for the program, it turns out that the US appears to have overlooked a key detail: the “moderate” rebels whom they seek to now fight only ISIS and not Assad simply don’t exist. We can only presume that those who wish to fight Assad are funneled to the covert program, which appears to have been put into place to topple Assad from power.

Robert Burns of AP has a story today describing how the US program has failed to produce the thousands of trainees that were planned:

Fewer than 100 Syrian rebels are currently being trained by the U.S. military to fight the Islamic State group, a tiny total for a sputtering program with a stated goal of producing 5,400 fighters a year.

The training effort is moving so slowly that critics question whether it can produce enough capable fighters quickly enough to make a difference. Military officials said last week that they still hope for 3,000 by year’s end. Privately, they acknowledge the trend is moving in the wrong direction.

/snip/

The main problem thus far has been finding enough Syrian recruits untainted by extremist affiliations or disqualified by physical or other flaws. Of approximately 6,000 volunteers, about 1,500 have passed muster and await movement to training camps in other countries. Citing security concerns, the Pentagon will not say exactly how many are in training. Officials said that as of Friday, the number was under 100 and that none has completed the program.

“We have set the bar very high on vetting,” said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, the Central Command special operations commander who is heading the program, wants volunteers with more than a will to fight.

“We are trying to recruit and identify people who … can be counted on … to fight, to have the right mindset and ideology,” and at the same time be willing to make combating IS their first priority, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the House Armed Services Committee on June 17.

“It turns out to be very hard to identify people who meet both of those criteria,” Carter said.

Many Syrian rebel volunteers prefer to use their training to fight the government of President Bashar Assad, the original target of their revolution. While IS has been a brutal occupant of much of their country, the rebels see the extremists as fighting a parallel war.

Ah, but fear not, dear US war mongers! Burns reports that when Tammy Duckworth recently asked Joint Chiefs Chair Dempsey if this training effort was worth continuing, he had this ringing endorsement of the the program: “It’s a little too soon to give up on it.”

So, we’ve had the covert training going on for 32 months. We approved $500 million for open training nine months ago, but have under a hundred trainees in the program now, with zero graduates. And yet, if you ask the military, training in Syria is just getting started and it’s too soon to give up on it. Recognizing failure is just not possible in the US military.

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Kuhn and Economics: A Summary

In a series of posts which you can find here, I have been trying to formulate an answer to the question why has neoliberal economics not been tossed out in the wake of its total failure as demonstrated by the Great Crash. I’ve used as a lens Thomas Kuhn’s seminal essay: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I am totally dissatisfied with the usual progressive explanations of bad faith, whether in the form of the ubiquitous quote from Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it;” or direct or indirect accusations of intellectual dishonesty or corruption. The world is more complex, and we need to think more deeply, especially if we want to change things. Here is a list of the most important things I think I learned from the exercise.

1. Kuhn argues that science cannot proceed without a paradigm. That seems true in the hard sciences, but it seems inadequate as a description of the social sciences. Even so, there it remains an important insight. This series offered insights because I used the paradigm paradigm to examine a specific problem.

2. Following Mark Blyth, it seems that there are a number of schools of economics. These include neoliberals, post-Keynesians, Austrians, rational expectations theorists, and real business cycle theorists; to which we can add Modern Money Theorists, Marxians, and perhaps Piketty and his colleagues. Each of these has a paradigm through which it tries to organize the vast amount of data and theory we have accumulated over the centuries. Each has its own incommensurate ideas about what counts as data and about how to interpret the data. In other words, they each have a definition of truth, and their truth claims cannot be settled inside their paradigms, as Kuhn tells us is true about the hard sciences.

That means that the decisions about which, if any, of these schools dominates at any point in time has nothing to do with some transcendent truth, but rather with a struggle over politics.

3. This view was reinforced by a reading of Keynes’ delightful essay The Death of Laissez-Faire, which actually didn’t die despite Keynes best efforts, but lives on in the grifter stylings of Grover Norquist and the rest of the zombie right wing. If Keynes caouldn’t kill it, it is permanent.

4. It is further reinforced by Bronfenbrenner’s suggestion that paradigms in the social sciences are not replaced outright as Kuhn argues, but are met by an antithesis, and eventually fall into a new synthesis. I suggest that Paul Samuelson follows this approach in his textbook, based on the back inside cover. In a Hegelian or Marxian world, this is supposed to represent progress, but I’ve always thought of it a just something different that might or might not be useful in a specific social situation.

5. I laid out the seeds of a paradigm for neoliberal economics in this post. In passing I pointed out that Mankiw’s principles are couched in bland language, but they can easily be interpreted to carry out the neoliberal program. See 8. below. Again in passing, I note that tweaking them, and setting up a slightly different paradigm can produce a better solution to the problems our economy faces. That is an exercise for another day.

6. One crucial problem that arises from the existence of many schools of economics is that each can claim that there are no tests that disprove it. As Kuhn and others point out, that’s because the meaning of facts and truth is determined by the paradigm, and neither facts nor truths are commensurate across paradigms. That’s why the likes of Gary Becker and N. Gregory Mankiw can claim that the Great Crash was not a problem for neoliberal economics. What looks like a failure to a person who got hammered looks like the normal course of events to an ideologue married to a paradigm.

7. The neoliberals recognized the importance of politics in economics long before the liberals. They wrote their views into textbooks, which have a thin veneer of science and a thick veneer of authority, and used them to indoctrinate generations of college grads who only took one or two economics classes. They also arranged to have the basic tenets taught in high school classes mandated in many states on the wonders of capitalism. As Kuhn explains, the textbook is the authoritative teaching tool for creating new scientists and presumably new followers of the dominant school of economics. The tenets of neoliberal economics are taught as if they were the only way to understand capitalism, and any other set of ideas are communist or socialist, by which we are to understand they are evil.

8. One factor Blyth doesn’t discuss is why neoliberal economics has such a hold on the populace. Certainly a big part of that is the domination of authoritative discourse through the textbook process in point 7. Another crucial point is that without quite saying so, Mankiw’s principles of economics play directly to the prejudices of the a large segment of the voting public. Take the first one as an example: People face trade-offs. Some people face the trade-off between summering in the Hamptons or on Martha’s Vineyard. Others face trade-offs between rent and food. These are the same thing to neoliberals, who sneak in a bunch of outmoded Benthamite utility. And these are also the same for a huge number of conservatives. Suck it up and pick. It’s your fault for not being rich.

The rich people who dominate elections and the public discourse in general can rely on those principles in anodyne form to pacify the liberals while dog-whistling to their base of conservatives.

9. As a result, the voices of authority on economic matters don’t have to listen to anyone who disagrees with them. They have a base of voters who think it’s great to screw the poor and don’t even necessarily want to accept anything that comes from the government.

10. We need to focus attention on the political nature of economic paradigms. Neoliberal economics failed. We need to hammer home the failure, to undermine the authority of neoliberals on economic matters.

UPDATE
Here are links to the posts in this series with a note about each.

1. The Two Prongs of the Neoliberal Project. This is a justification of the inclusion of economics at this blog. It is also a general introduction to neoliberal economic theory.

2. Paradigms in Economics. This is an introduction to Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions and an introduction to a theory of paradigms in economics.

4. Paradigm Change in Science and Economics. This is a discussion of Kuhn’s explanation for paradigm change in science, and begins the discussion of the comparable problem in economics.

5. A Possible Paradigm for Neoliberal Economics. N. Gregory Mankiw’s textbook lists 10 principles of economics. This post takes those and a simple methodology as a possible paradigm for neoliberal economics. In passing, I discuss an actual paradigm change that seems to meet the requirements of Kuhn’s analysis.

6. Pragmatic Aspects of Paradigm Change According to Kuhn. This addresses Kuhn’s argument that even in the hard sciences, paradigm change requires persuasion, because the superiority of an alternative paradigm cannot be tested inside a different paradigm. This idea is applied to economics, and specifically to textbooks.

7. Keynes on Paradigm Change. John Maynard Keynes calls for the death of laissez-faire, especially in its virulent form of demanding that government do nothing. Economic ideas don’t die.

8. Paradigm Change Through Authority and Arguments about Truth. This is a discussion of a more sophisticated approach to changes in economics paradigms through a paper by Mark Blyth. Blyth offers a grounded approach to the problem of change as a result of authority and persuasion.

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Criminal Sexual Assault: No Means NO Burden Shifting

CryingJusticeLate last night here, early this morning where many of you are, I saw an article pop up on the New York Times website by Judith Shulevitz on “Regulating Sex”. The title seemed benign enough, but thanks to my friend Scott Greenfield, and his blog Simple Justice, Ms. Shulevitz has been on my radar for a while. So I sent the article (which is worth a read) to Scott knowing he would likely pounce on it when he got up.

And Scott did just that, in a post called “With Friends Like These”, while I was still comfortably tucked in:

A lot of people sent me a link to Judith Shulevitz’s New York Times op-ed, Regulating Sex. As any regular SJ reader knows, there is nothing in there that hasn’t been discussed here, sometimes long ago, at far greater depth. But Shulevitz is against the affirmative consent trend, which she calls a “doctrine,” so it’s all good, right?

What Shulevitz accomplishes is a very well written, easily digestible, version of the problem that serves to alert the general public, those unaware of law, the issues of gender and sexual politics, the litany of excuses that have framed the debate and the seriousness of its implications, to the existence of this deeply problematic trend. She notes that one of its primary ALI proponents, NYU lawprof Stephen J. Schulhofer, calls the case for affirmative consent “compelling.” She neglects to note this is a meaningless word in the discussion. Still, it’s in there.

On the one hand, I think Scott is right that there is really nothing all that new here in the bigger picture, and, really he is right that Ms. Shulevitz is far from a goat, even if a little nebulous and wishy washy.

No, what struck me like a hammer was the ease with which academics like Georgetown’s Abbe Smith and NYU professor Stephen J. Schulhofer, not to mention the truly formidable American Law Institute (ALI) are propagating the idea of alteration of criminal sexual assault law. In short, are willing to put lip gloss on the pig of shifting the burden of proof on a major felony crime of moral turpitude.

And it is an outrageous and destructive concession. This is not a slippery slope, it is a black ice downhill. You might as well be rewriting the American ethos to say “Well, no, all men and women are not created equal”. In criminal law, that is the kind of foundation being attacked here.

Scott did not really hit on this in his main post, but in a reply comment to some poor soul that weighed in with the old trope of “gee, it really is not too much to give” kind of naive rhetoric, Mr. Greenfield hit the true mark:

The reason I (and, I guess, others) haven’t spent a lot of time and energy providing concrete examples is because it’s so obvious. Apparently, not to everyone. So here’s the shift:

Accuser alleges rape because of lack of consent, saying: “He touched me without my consent.” That’s it. Case proven. Nothing more is required and, in the absence of a viable defense, the accused loses.

Now, it’s up to the accused student to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence (which means more than 50%) that there was consent. There was consent at every point in time. There was clear and unambiguous consent. And most importantly, that the accused’s assertion of consent somehow is proven to be more credible than the accuser’s assertion of lack of consent.

Let’s assume the accuser says “I did not consent,” and the accused says, “you did consent.” The two allegations are equally credible. The accused loses, because the accuser’s assertion is sufficient to establish the offense, and the burden then shifts to the accused, whose defense fails to suffice as being more credible than the accusation.

Mind you, under American jurisprudence, this shifting compels the accused to prove innocence, which is something our jurisprudence would not otherwise require, merely upon the fact of an accusation, or be peremptorily “convicted.”

Is that sufficiently concrete for you?

Yeah, and do you want that star chamber logic in not just public university settings, but embedded with a solid foothold in common criminal law? Because those are the stakes. Constitutional law, criminal law, and criminal procedure are not vehicles for feel good patina on general social ills and outrages de jour, in fact they are instead designed, and must be, a bulwark against exactly those people who would claim the former mantle.

First they came for the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and you poo poohed the cries from criminal defense lawyers, going back to at least the mid-80’s, about the dangerous slippery slope that was being germinated. Whether the results have touched you, or your greater “family”, yet or not, it is pretty hard to objectively look at today’s posture and not admit the “slippery slope” criers thirty years ago were right. Of course they were.

People operating from wholly, or mostly, within the criminal justice system, whether as lawyer or client/family, just have a different, and more immediate, perspective. A position rarely understood without having tangible skin in the game.

Maybe listen this time. The battle over racial and sexual equality is far from over, but it is well underway intellectually, and headed in a better direction. It gets better. So, make it better in criminal justice too, do not let it be the destructive war pit morality betterment in the US falls in to.

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Sony Pictures Postmortem Reveals Death by Stupid

FORTUNE_SonyHack-GovtAV_25JUN2015We already knew Sony Pictures Entertainment’s (SPE) hack was bad. We knew that the parent, Sony Group, had been exposed to cyber attacks of all kinds for years across its subsidiaries, and slow to effect real changes to prevent future attacks.

And we knew both Sony Group and SPE shot themselves in the feet, literally asking for trouble by way of bad decisions. Sony Electronics’ 2005 copy protection rootkit scandal and SPE’s utter lack of disregard for geopolitics opened the businesses to risk.

But FORTUNE magazine’s expose about the hacking of SPE — of which only two of three parts have yet been published — reveals a floundering conglomerate unable to do anything but flail ineffectively.

It’s impossible to imagine any Fortune 500 corporation willing to tolerate working with 1990s technology for any length of time, let alone one which had no fail-over redundancies or backup strategies, no emergency business continuity plan to which they could revert in the event of a catastrophe. But FORTUNE reports SPE had been reduced to using fax machines to distribute information, in large part because many of its computers had been completely wiped by malware used in the attack.

Pause here and imagine what you would do (or perhaps, have done) if your computer was completely wiped, taking even the BIOS. What would you do to get back in business? You’ve given more thought about this continuity challenge than it appears most of SPE’s management invested prior to last November’s hack, based on reporting to date.

A mind-boggling part of FORTUNE’s expose is the U.S. government’s reaction to SPE’s hack. The graphic above offers the biggest guffaw, a quote by the FBI’s then-assistant director of its cyber division. Knowing what we know now about the Office of Personnel Management hack, the U.S. government is a less-than-credible expert on hacking prevention. While the U.S. government maintains North Korea was responsible, it’s hard to take them seriously when they’ve failed so egregiously to protect their own turf. Continue reading

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Beautiful Equality Comes To Marriages In America

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 8.10.49 AMLove will find a way, and it finally has. There are many, many friends I am thinking of right now, and they all know exactly who they are. Congratulations, and it was far too long coming. Here is the opinion.

EQUALITY

There is so much to say, that it is hard to know what to actually say. There are many quotes like this one, but it is indicative of the decision:

“laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.”

What I don’t find in the majority decision, as wonderful as it is, is discussion of heightened scrutiny, strict scrutiny, or other clear cut, across the board protection for the status of sexual identity. And that is disappointing. Also why I cried bit when SCOTUS, two years ago to this very day, callously refused to take the incredibly wonderful tee shot that Vaughn Walker gave them in the Proposition 8 case previously.

I guess the handwriting was on the wall when even the old liberal lion Steve Reinhardt, a man I have met, and a judge I truly love and revere, pulled up short and did not have the balls to take the root concept of sexual identity “equality” where it naturally flowed when he had the pen in his wise hand. But he didn’t then, and his old friend Tony Kennedy has not today.

So, while there is so much to cheer right this moment, we, and this country, are still far from where we need to be with regard to inclusion of all our citizens in the concept of equality. It is more than black and white, it is straight, gay and trans too. We are all on this patch of earth together, and we all are equal, and that needs to be admitted legally by the highest court in the land and understood by all the people it serves.

So, there are still miles to be traveled. Let the four, count them four, spittle laced, bigoted, backwards, and disgusting dissents in the Obergefell decision speak for themselves. Honestly, they make me want to puke. For all that were celebrating the enlightened liberal thought of Chief Justice John G. Roberts yesterday, today is a rough reminder of who and what he really is. And you really have to read Scalia and Alito to understand the fucked up pathology of the dissenters. Wow.

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I Am Ted Williams’ Head

sport_art_10-15_t658Okay, long story short, a couple of months ago my wife set me up with her dermatologist for a head to toe skin exam to insure against skin melanoma. A perfectly reasonable thing, though, to be honest, would not have otherwise been on my pretty much lunkheaded list of things to do.

Okay, so, today was that appointment. A rather attractive woman doctor searched me from head to toe (no, not “there” you perverts) and found, after five decades of life in the desert sun, that I had zero issues. But then she asked if I had any “concerns”, and a friend had, a couple of months ago, pointed out some splotches on by bald ass head.

So, I mentioned that and the pretty doctor explored my cranium and, among randomly assholey and curmudgeonly thoughts, found several “surface areas of concern” on my scalp. She promptly took out a Batman Mr. Freeze like can of torture and nuked my crown with some freaking liquid hell. Cool at first, but then quickly like a blowtorch cutting into your skull. Ow!

Oh well, once over, stung a little, but no big deal. Except I looked at me skull in teh mirror and it looks like a lunar landscape. Jeebus.

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Paradigm Change Through Authority and Arguments about Truth

So far in this series, we have encountered a number of answers to my central questions: why hasn’t neoliberal economic theory been thrown out as a result of its horrifying failure? Why hasn’t the paradigm change theory of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolution worked? If Kuhn were right, then the utter failure of the neoliberals would lead to its rejection and replacement by a new paradigm.

Most of the people who followed Kuhn pointed to differences between the natural sciences and the social sciences as part of the reason. That led to explanations like the dialectic, in which an idea is met with an antithesis and eventually a synthesis emerges which solves the tension, but it then attracts its own antithesis, and so on. Another possibility is that bad ideas don’t ever die. We saw that with Keynes’ discussion of the end of the silly ideas of laissez-faire; he points to a number of reasons for its long life.

We might next look at the pendulum idea of intellectual history. There’s an excellent example of this in a paper by Ravi Kanbur of Cornell, The End Of Laissez-Faire, The End Of History, And The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions I’m going to skip that one, though, because I don’t think much of pendulum theories. They don’t help us see the forces that drive the swings. Instead, I’ll look at this paper by Mark Blyth, Paradigms and Paradox: The Politics of Economic Ideas in Two Moments of Crisis. Unfortunately, this excellent paper was published by Wiley, which is trying to screw money out of people, so perhaps you could find it through your library. Here’s the abstract.

This article argues that there is a paradox at the heart of Hall’s “Policy Paradigms” framework stemming from the desire to see both state and society as generative of social learning while employing two different logics to explain how such learning takes place: what I term the “Bayesian” and “constructivist” versions of the policy paradigms causal story. This creates a paradox as both logics cannot be simultaneously true. However, it is a generative paradox insofar as the power of the policy paradigms framework emerges, in part, from this attempt to straddle these distinct positions, producing an argument that is greater than the sum of its parts. In the second part of the article, I discuss the recent global financial crisis, an area where we should see third-order change, but we do no not. That we do not strengthens the case for the constructivist causal story.

This article starts as a discussion of a paper by Peter Hall on the shift of ecocnomic paradigm by the Thatcher government from Keynesian to neoliberal. The “Bayesian” story mentioned in the abstract is the standard version of Kuhn’s theory. It says that the normal process of change in institutional governance is cumulative: “an additive function of policy errors that begin with settings, moves to instruments, and then leads to goals as a function of environmental pressures.” Suppose a policy and a paradigm are accepted by the institutions of government and the private sector as controlling in a certain area. As things change and evolve, the institutions first change the settings, hiking or lowering interest rates or taxes, for example. Then they add or delete the instruments through which the policy is put into practice, perhaps adding a new tax or a new deduction. Only if these fail do questions about the paradigm itself come to the fore. These are the three orders of change in this discussion. Paradigm change only comes in the third order.

The alternative is the “constructivist” view. Blyth isn’t as direct in the definition of this idea, but here’s the general idea. The Bayesian view is that there are “transcendent, objective, and empirical standards through which observations of events and other ‘facts’ can be judged.” In the constructivist view, “Truth is a series of intersubjectively held conventions regarding “the way the world works” among a given community at a given moment.” The Bayesian view is probably eventually true in the natural sciences, even if new data or events can be interpreted in several ways under different paradigms that might exist at some point in time. It is much less true in the social sciences. There, different paradigms produce different facts. As an example, Blyth points to the claim of the monetarists (the sheep’s clothing of the neoliberals) that Keynesianism failed in the 1970s in a way that monetarism didn’t. Within the Keynesian paradigm, that wasn’t so, but the monetarists seized control of the narrative, and the bad performance of the economy was taken as evidence of failure of Keynesianism. Blyth says that the key step was the construction of the evidence of the performance of the economy by the monetarists as failure.

Blyth claims that the 70s did not constitute a natural test of Keynesianism, for reasons he discusses in footnote 8 and are beyond my power to assess. I’ll add that the solution of the monetarists was to hike interest rates and hike unemployment to ridiculous levels to stamp out inflation. The result was a catastrophe for the middle class and the working class, and it made life even more miserable for the poor. There was no reason to stomp on workers to end inflation, but there was a determination to protect the interests of the rich. This, I think, is the direct opposite of any policy Keynes would support.

In the constructivist view, then, truth is a matter for contest among the people allowed to participate in the discourse. Blyth quotes Hall:

Politicians, officials, the spokesmen for social interests, and policy experts all operate within the terms of political discourse that are operative within the nation at a given time, and the terms of political discourse generally have a specific configuration that lends representative legitimacy to some social interests more than others . . . and defines the context in which many issues will be understood (Hall 1993, 289).

This analysis focuses our attention on the actual decision-makers, not just the economists themselves, but the group with authority in any given setting to determine the bounds of discourse. Blyth points out that each of the schools of economics, rational expectations theorists, real business cycle theorists, post-Keynesians and Austrians, along with the neoliberals and the outright laissez-faire school of political economics, have explanations for the Great Crash, but they are all incommensurate, totally different paradigms. The argument, the social argument, is over which will dominate the discourse. That is a sociological problem, not a problem of economics.

Blyth uses this framework to analyze the persistence of neoliberal economics. I’ll summarize them

1. It takes time to work out a new system.

2. After Kuhn, people expect an all or nothing change. It’s quite possible that we have a failure of a paradigm, but no new paradigm to replace it.

3. Economics professors have tenure, and a huge stake in preserving their status.

4. Institutions like the World Bank, the IMF, the European Community Bank and others are slow to change for the same reasons economics professors won’t change.

5. The neoliberal consensus had taken such deep root and its adherents were in control of so many institutions that there was no way to get the public involved in demanding change. The few prominent economists calling the neoliberals out had to spread their attacks over such a huge area that there was insufficient firepower.

Blyth concludes:

… the singular lesson of the recent crisis for the policy paradigms model is that the sociological can trump the scientific precisely because the locus [of] authority did not shift despite the facts. Mere facts will (sometimes) not be allowed to get in the way of a good ideology. Being seen to fail, Obama’s stimulus, for example, can trump actual failure, such as Eurozone austerity packages. In such a world, the “truth” about the crisis and the ideas that made it possible really does depend upon what the most powerful members of a group (or society) consent to believe.

This explains why nothing changed: the people who define the policy also define the evidence and the tests that might question the policy. But there’s more, for another day.

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The Coming Trump Legacy On Immigration

donald-trump-bad-hairHere is a bloody secret about blogging: The best ideas you express often come from others, even if you value add on to them. Welp, there will be no value adding on here, this post is 100% the work of our longtime friend at both Emptywheel and FDL, the one and only Peterr:

I had this vision of Donald Trump taking down the Statue of Liberty, replacing it with an even larger figure of himself, with a new poem inscribed on the base befitting his views on immigrants.

The New New Colossus

Not like the New Colossus, French-built bile
With calling torch and open arms so grand;
Now on this isle a Grander One shall stand:
A mighty huckster with a scam, whose smile
is a racist, hateful sneer, with his pile
of ego-sculpted hair. From his grasping hand
comes a devil’s contract; his beady eyes demand
payment ‘ere any travel one more mile.

“Keep, foreign lands, your homeless poor,” cries he
with flapping lips. “Give me your greedy, your rich,
Your coddled wealthy yearning to pay me,
the grasping powers drawn here by my pitch.
Send these, the makers, ready with my fee;
I snuff the lamp of Liberty, that bitch.”

I leave it to your imagination to envision the figure of The Donald standing astride New York harbor for yourself.

Okay, Peter is a long time friend, and his take totally merited publication. But Lady Liberty takes some attending to. You have to want the freedom of this country, you have to want it bad, and you have to be willing to fight for it, even when that freedom makes your blood curl (props to Sorkin’s American President). But wanting the American ethos is easy for an apparently gerbil topped pretender like Donald Trump. Trump wants the limelight, wants all the glory, and never wants to answer for the hell of stupidity, bankruptcy, loss of jobs and ignorance that he really stands for. Troll on Donald.

So many have given their lives for the right of a hollow shill to troll the American electorate. So many have died for that. So many just to give a blowhard clownshow jackhole the right to parade around like he is diddly shit other than the court jester and a sideshow amusement huckster.

The American people can propagate and tolerate an enormous amount of stupid, but not enough to let a pompous, bankruptcy generated, pompous jackass like Donald Trump through the door. Just an opinion, and a sincere hope.

Nope. George Bush was one thing, Trump is a bridge too far.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse

emptywheel @ourmaninchicago Talk to me when CNN covers it for 24 hours.
2mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @ncweaver https://t.co/am9OmQJua9 Note WL Saudi cables claimed Sauds responsible tho may not be real.
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emptywheel @ncweaver I'm still interested in time someone spamouflaged IRGC just as the time FBI was trying to trap them in sting.
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emptywheel @ncweaver Oh, was just envisioning a spying target (admittedly, not primarily via XKS) that wasn't really about threats.
7mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @ncweaver It's the Merkel threat I'm really worried about.
8mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @JBauerofPrivacy I'm not so much worried about what you're telling your kids as I am that you're listening to all this Journey.
12mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel RT @matthewstoller: Age demographic split on Greek referendum vote was the same split as in Scotland.
13mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @_cypherpunks_ Not me. I'm hoping the banksters sweat some, but I'm not optimistic.
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emptywheel Zero alleged ISIS attacks. And so the press will snooze on this... https://t.co/8FvDjyXKWa
22mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @nancyleong @espinsegall You know, I think we actually do more often than not. It is just that some issues are magnified. Also, I love Eric!
29mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @ncweaver Did you mean "pulling threats" or "pulling threads"?
34mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @Cirincione: BREAKING: NYT runs positive article on #IranDeal: U.N. Nuclear Chief Optimistic About Iranian Cooperation on Review http://…
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