Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Celebrating the Living, at the Moment

Erik Loomis of LG&M tweeted out that Guy Clark has entered a nursing home and is “stable.”

It’s almost surprising he lasted this long. Suzanna, his long-time wife (a songwriter in her own right, who co-wrote “Come From the Heart,” which her husband covered on Old Friends, and “Easy From Now On,” among other classics) died almost four years ago, in June of 2012.

The next year, Clark released what may become his final album, My Favorite Picture of You. Here’s the discussion and title track.

But Susanna was immortalized long before that. “Oh, Susanna, don’t you cry, babe/Love’s a gift that’s truly handmade,” is not just echoic of classic Americana; it has become classic Americana (and, with the possible exception of “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” Clark’s best known song, as covered by Jerry Jeff Walker and Roger Creager, among others):

Here’s his ACL Hall of Fame Inauguration, with testimonies from Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, and others

On a personal note, I saw Kirby Brown at City Winery last week, and this is the one song he covered in his set, so the legend will continue into the next generation:

As a fitting endnote, this is Lyle Lovett discussing and covering the first song Clark ever wrote (and never himself recorded). I don’t know if Guy Clark was ever young, but I defy anyone this side of Prince or Bruce Cockburn to figure out what things are wrong with it:

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The Legacy of Joan Robinson

by Barkley Rosser (originally from Econospeak)

The Legacy of Joan Robinson

Over a week ago Joan Robinson came up in connection with the ongoing controversy over Gerald Friedman’s analysis of Bernie Sanders’s economic plan.  When criticized for apparent problems with it he declared that those who understand what he is doing are “Joan Robinson economists.”  In going after him, Justin Wolfers ridiculed him for this, referring to such people as a “sub-tribe of Keynesians,” which is not inaccurate, but somehow comes across as very sneery.  Noah Smith took this up, declaring that this was the coup de grace by Wolfers, and a commenter on his thread, “Britonomist,” dismissed Robinson as someone who admired the North Korean economy, “maybe the worst economy ever in the world,” with Noah thanking him for this piece of information.  I made some comments on this there, withpgl picking up on this for some further discussion.  Other than to note the reasonableness of  Peter Dorman’s request for  Friedman to provide his model publicly for people to figure out what he is doing (which is becoming less and less important as Bernie’s chances of getting the nomination seem to be approaching epsilon), I have no comments on all of that contretemps.  Rather, on thinking about it I shall  return to Joan Robinson and talk about her and her legacy for modern economics, given that various people have been using her name in vain.

Joan Violet Maurice Robinson (1903-1983) was without doubt the most important woman economist born before 1930 and maybe still the most important woman economist ever.  While she would end her days as a radical leftist, she came out of an elite background, her father a baronet and a major general in the British army in WW I, with her maternal grandfather a famous surgeon who taught at Cambridge University and one of maternal uncles a polymath who advised Winston Churchill.  She was close to her father, who was forced to resign from the British army near the end of WW I for publicly reporting on misconduct by the government in managing the war.  In his final years until his death in 1951 he lived with his daughter in her half of the house she shared with her husband, E.A.G. (Austin) Robinson, whom she married in 1925, who himself was an important Keynesian economist, adviser of the British government, and founder of the International Economic Association, with them producing two daughters.  A story I have from a primary witness is that she had a graduate seminar in her half of the house, and one time there was an unpleasant odor there.  The participants realized that her father was sitting in a chair in the room dead.

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IRS Scrutiny of 501(c)(3)s

by Linda Beale

IRS Scrutiny of 501(c)(3)s

As most everybody is aware by now, the IRS has been under considerable strain for a number of years from budget and staff reductions that have left it underfunded, understaffed, and under pressure.  This is part of the right’s effort to “shrink the government to a bathtub and drown it.”  If the main organization for helping Americans understand their tax obligations is understaffed, it is likely that many people will become irritated with the agency and blame it (and taxes) for all their problems.  If the main organization for enforcing the U.S. tax laws fairly has too few people to audit the most likely scoflaws and too little money to prepare guidance and rulings to make it harder for scofflaws to scoff at the law, then many people will become irritated with the agency and blame it (and taxes) for their problems while many other people (especially the privileged rich) will continue to scoff at the law by overstating their basis when they sell capital assets, hiding assets in tax havens, and just hiring lots of expensive tax attorneys and accountants to come up with schemes for wiggling through the loopholes in the Code to avoid more taxes.

And of course, if the main organization for ensuring that tax-exempt organizations are not abusing their tax exempt status by using “dark money” to allow the domestic elite and foreign powers to influence and control federal elections and legislation, then odds are the rich and elite and foreign powers will wield more and more influence and control over who gets elected and what kind of legislation they pass.  Odds are we will see even more of the kinds of absurd legislation disenfranchising the poor and minorities by making it harder to vote, harder to get a State-issued I.D. card, harder to wait in line for hours at the polls (if you will be fired for not reporting to work), etc.

None of this is any surprise.

None of it is good government.

All of it is supported by the current radicalized uber-right-wing Republican Party hacks that are running many state governments and hold the majority right now in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

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Just watched Bernie Sanders’s speech at a rally in Louisville. It was one of the best speeches I’ve ever seen a politician give.

Sanders was at the very top of his game tonight in Louisville.  A genuinely beautiful speech, delivered in perfectly modulated tone, with a wonderful, mostly young group standing on the stage very close behind him and to his sides, and a crowd that several times broke into chants of “Bernie! Bernie!”.  I felt like I was there.  I hope he uses clips of it in internet ads as he campaigns in California and the other remaining states.

This is the first primary night speech I’ve watched more than just a few minutes of.  I haven’t watched most of the election night speeches at all, and have seen only short clips of a few rally speeches.  But I clicked on the Washington Post website to see the early Indiana returns, and when I saw that Sanders was beginning a speech in Louisville that the Post was showing live, I clicked it.  Watching it was really an experience.  I’m guessing that his convention speech will be a version of tonight’s speech, modified somewhat as necessary—a tremendous spur for the Democratic Party from the top of the ticket on down.

It is a mistake to misread the role Bernie Sanders will play in what will be a tremendous victory for progressives—a true turning point.  He talked tonight about some legislation he’s currently presenting in the Senate, and I’m sure there will be more legislation and a larger focus on it as the convention approaches.  This is what I’ve been hoping he’d do.  He probably won’t be the presidential nominee, but he’s making it clear that progressive governance will be a team effort among progressive Democratic elected officials.  And Hillary Clinton seems to be indicating now that she wants to be a part of that, not a hindrance to it.  Good for her.

Although most of those on the stage with him tonight were young, photos I saw of his rally last night in downtown Indianapolis, with about 8,000 in attendance, showed a largely middle-aged crowd.  Tonight Sanders is winning Marion County, where Indianapolis is, and most of the suburban Indianapolis counties, and the county where Fort Wayne is.  At this writing, with 76% of the vote counted, he’s ahead in Indiana by more than 6%.

Clinton will win the nomination and the general election, but Sanders will be the Most Valuable Player, in November and beyond.  The Democrats are uniting around progressivism.

And both uniting and progressivism are operative words here.

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Defending the IRS Against Right-Wing Attacks

by Linda Beale

Defending the IRS Against Right-Wing Attacks

The IRS is a government agency that endures all kinds of hostile attacks.  Most people don’t really like to pay taxes.  Even I don’t really “like” paying taxes, though I do recognize the importance of paying taxes and supporting the societal infrastructure that pays for the Centers for Disease Control, basic research, the space telescope, programs for those in or near poverty, Pell Grants for students to attend college and many other important and necessary federal programs (not to mention the tax-guzzling military budget that probably could be cut in half, if only we had the gumption to do it).  So the right-wing effort to “drown the government in a bathtub” and make the world safer for the corporatist elites to sock away their wealth without paying a dime to support the society that made that wealth possible tends to demonize the IRS at every possible opportunity under a Democratic president.

ASIDE:  This is on a par with the way other things are treated.  Reagan cut taxes in 1981 and then increased them every year thereafter, mostly increasing the burden on those in the lower end of the income distribution, so Reagan is remembered as the great tax cutter.   Reagan’s administration had the Beirut bombing that killed 241 U.S. soldiers in their barracks, but Obama’s administration bears the millions of dollars spent in eight (and counting) investigations of the four deaths in the Benghazi attacks.  There is a tendency for people to remember events and fiscal policy to suit their preconceived view of things.

So the New York Times on Friday reported on the havoc that the right’s attacks on the IRS’s budget and its employees’ morale has wrought.  Congress writes the tax laws, but the right tends to talk about the executive agency as though it ‘owns’ the tax laws instead.   I.R.S. Fights Back Against House Republicans’ Attacks, New York Times, Apr. 22, 2016.   As the article notes, “the agency even got the blame for the hated tax code, which Congress writes and Republicans have promised for five years to rewrite and simplify.”  (And remember, simplification is the wrong aim–it is part of the propaganda that wants ordinary Americans to support a tax code rewrite that tilts the code even further towards the wealthy.  See the last two posts on Angry Bear.)

As certain as death and taxes, tax season political attacks on the I.R.S. go back decades. But in recent years, the intensity has grown and the agency’s funding in turn shrank more than any other time in memory. The campaign gained strength in 2013, when Republicans seized on management failures to allege that I.R.S. employees had singled out conservative groups for greater scrutiny and delays in reviewing their applications for tax-exempt status as “social welfare” organizations, though liberal-leaning groups were examined as well, investigations showed.


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SCOTUS Approves New Rules for FBI Hacking and Legislates New Law

In 2014, Joseph Hall explained why this could be an issue. “The US Department of Justice is seeking to drastically expand its abilities to search computers remotely through an obscure change in the rules of criminal procedure. This would have the effect of making it easier for law enforcement to remotely break into and search computers worldwide when the computer’s location is concealed. This change is highly dangerous in that it will essentially allow law enforcement to hack into hundreds of millions of computers all over the world. This kind of expansion of power should not be happening in an obscure forum – The Judicial Conference’s Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure – but in open debate and consideration in Congress. Yesterday, I testified before the Advisory Committee, having worked with CDT’s Senior Counsel Harley Geiger on our written testimony.”

This was approved the other day by the Roberts Court changing Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. In the past, a Federal judge in each district would have to approve a warrant to search a computer, telephone, etc. With this change, a warrant just has to be issued by a Federal judge or magistrate and the FBI then has carte blanc to search globally any number of computers technologically concealed, hijacked, or damaged for the same issue. Other courts can not longer reject the one court’s warrant (unless appealed to a higher court).

“Chief Justice John Roberts submitted the rule to Congress on behalf of the Court as part of the justices’ annual package of changes to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The rules form the basis of every federal prosecution in the United States.” It was the court’s decision to decide within the district it resided in and other districts could reject or decide for another district’s decision. The change in Rule 41 by SCOTUS gives a district court the ability to allow the FBI to investigate globally without revealing the location. Why Roberts believes in this expanded power and another attack on the 4th Amendment is . . . ?

Hat Tip to Joseph Lorenzo Hall, CDT “US DOJ Seeks to Search and Seize Data on Computers Worldwide”. Congress still has the power to change the rule with Legislation and advocate for less or no intrusion into 4th Amendment protected privacy. Doubtful it will the same as it failed to stop Usury or Loan Sharking in 1978.

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