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Sanctions On Iran Are Hitting Hezbollah

Sanctions On Iran Are Hitting Hezbollah

That is the top headline, upper right corner front page, of today’s Washington Post, a quite long article by Liz Sly and Suzan Haidamous.  WaPo has been much criticized by Trump and his supporters for alleged “fake news” critical of his leaving the Iran nuclear deal while Iran was compliant and not only reimposing the sanctions put on by Obama to get Iran to the negotiating table for that deal, but adding more and yet more leading to a military escalation that may have peaked.  So, now maybe WaPo is rewarding Trump for saying he does not want a war with Iran (I approve of that) by headlining this story that has long been pushed by his fans as a justification for all this sanctions imposing on Iran.  Maybe Iran has been well behaved on the nuclear deal (while wickedly testing ballistic missiles, not part of the deal), but, ah ha! the sanctions will hurt its evil terrorist proxies like Hezbollah, and, wow, now we learn they are, whoopee!

It does look that indeed the heightened economic sanctions on Iran have reduced its financial support for Hezbollah, and I am not a big fan of that group.   One source quoted in the WaPo story put Iran as providing about 70 percent of Hezbollah’s funding, with it unclear by how much that has been reduced.  Hezbollah has publicly reported that it has had its funding reduced and has initiated lots of fundraisers to help offset that.  It claims not to have reduced its support of social services or paying “families of martyrs.”  It is unclear if it has had to pull back much from its involvement in the war in Syria, where the final round is probably now in place in Idlib province in the Northwest.

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TDS vs ODS vs BDS

TDS vs ODS vs BDS

This is motivated by running on in the econoblogosphere to Trump supporters who when confronted with hard facts they cannot refute revert to name calling that those stating actual facts are suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (TDS).  I have recently seen it thrown out “liberally.”  What is going on here?

The beginning of this odd label dates to the George W. Bush era, specifically 2003 when the late Charles Krauthammer, a supporter of W. upset by widespread criticism apparently coined the term “Bush Derangement Syndrome” (BDS). to describe persistent W. critics, apparently especially Barbra Streisand.  As it was, while the term was out there it was not that  frequently used during Bush’s presidency as later, although it was used enough to become established as a legit term.

When Obama came in its obvious successor, Obama Derangement Syndrome (ODS) became a serious phenomenom.  The first version of it was the infamous “birtherism,” led by non  other than Donald J. Trump, now POTUS. This was a total lie, which at an obscure moment in 2016 that got no notice, Trump admitted officially was a lie. But reportedly now his most supremely fave adviser is Lou Dobbs of the CNBC network, who was also long a hard core birtherist.

We were subjected to a later stream of less obviously false accusations against Obama that the ODS crowd accepted without question, even as their factual underpinnings were undermined. So we had a string of supposed scandals that  to this  day anyone living in the Fox News  etc bubble believes without doubt.  So there was there “Fast and Furious,” a complicated matter of US guns being sent across the  Mexican border that later ended up killing US people. This is a complicated matter with arguably some Obama admin input, but ultimately it was a W. Bush program that went sour.

Another hot deal for the ODS crowd, still showing up was the supposedly great IRS scandal that  in the end also turned out to be a big nothing, although this fact has probably had less reporting.  So after the big Tea Party win in 2010 a bunch of their groups showed up at the IRS claiming to be “general welfare” groups but not  “political” groups.  Of course they were all political groups, and it was a low level IRS employee, reportedly a Republican, who initiated the obviously completely appropriate investigation of a bunch of groups claiming tax exempt status for not being political who were blatantly political. In the end they all got their undeserved tax breaks after the ODS gang got going with their false stories that this was all due to Obama plotting.

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Justice Stevens Shoots At Gun Decision

Justice Stevens Shoots At Gun Decision

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, now 99 years old, has written a book, The Making of a Justice: My First 94 Years. Apparently he considers the  District of Columbia versus Heller decision to be the worst of all those that was made during his time on the Supreme Court, that one on  a 5-4 vote.  That decision upended the interpretations of the Second Amendment that had been in place since the amendment was adopted, with Stevens noting that in fact this longstanding interpretation reflected gun laws from even the colonial era.  That interpretation allowed for gun control legislation for civilians as it was always assumed that the opening phrase about “maintaining a militia” (by state governments) meant that the second phrase about “the right to bear arms shall  not be ingfringed” only applied to those in the military.  The Heller decision undid that, making the right to bear arms disconnected from the business about militias and essentially absolute.

Clearly Stevens feels guilty about what has happened since then, most clearly the epidemic of mass murders with high-powered weapons that were actually banned for civilian use for a decade after 1994, during when such mass murders happened at a lower rate than before or after.  That law was allowed to lapse, when instead the US should have extended it and followed a policy more like what Australia did by buying up outstanding such weapons, which was followed by a dramatic decline in gun-related homicides.   As it is, the US now has a far higher rate of per capita gun ownership than any other nation, more than twice as many as Serbia, the nation with the next highest such rate.

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Who Needs Critical Thinking?

Who Needs Critical Thinking?

Apparently not the US military.

“Critical thinking” has long been a buzz phrase of US higher education.  There was a time when I could not hear a speech by a higher administrative person at my or other higher ed institutions that did not tout critical thinking as a really important goal of higher ed.  We were all supposed to be teaching it all the time.  I got a bit tired of these incessant speeches, but in fact I agreed with that and continue to. I have not heard these speeches for some time, but critical thinking remains officially a goal in widespread statements in writing throughout higher ed.

However this may be changing in a disturbing part of higher ed.  I was at a dinner in Washington last evening.  Attending this was someone who teaches at the National Defense University who reported on what I consider a disturbing development there.  Apparently this commonplace of having critical thinking being a goal of higher ed was in place officially at the NDU. However, after “Mad Dog” Mattis resigned, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs replaced the Commandant of the NDU.  The new Commandant has made a big deal of getting rid of this goal and replacing it with an emphasis on training for “war execution.”

Apparently the push on this from the new Commandant has been so intense that it led to a large pushback from the faculty at the NDU.  Aside from stated dissenting views, apparently 15 members of the NDu faculty have resigned over this in protest (not including my interlocuter, who nevertheless sides with those resigning over this).  So our military is now to be trained just to fight wars, but without doing any thinking about it.

Something making this more important is that there have been large cuts in the budget of the State Department, with a large reduction in diplomatic personnel.  This means that the military increasingly will be performing diplomatic functions.  But rather than being trained for that or any sort of peacemaking or, well, thinking, the military is being pushed towards mindless war fighting.

Barkley Rosser

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Robert J. Samuelson Denounces Economists

Robert J. Samuelson Denounces Economists

While often on Mondays at the Washington Post, Robert J. Samuelson is spouting VSP lines about how we must be responsible and cut Social Security benefits.  However, today he has written on “What economists don’t know,” which comes across as a pretty big spanking for economists, among whom he does not make much differentiation.  We are all pretty much as ignorant as each other and just plain not willing to admit it, given that we are also all (actually here he admits not all) trying to “gain and retain political relevance and power.”  Shame on us! (or at least some of us)

OK OK, before digging into his more specific complaints, of course I and others here at Econospeak agree that there is a lot that economists do not know, pretty much all of us, and there is also an Establishment that poses as knowing much more than it does that has fallen on its face on quite a few occasions, but nevertheless just keeps putting itself forward as knowing more than others, in many cases indeed apparently out of a pursuit for “political relevance and power.”  Indeed, we like to think that we have exposed this Establishment for its high crimes and misdemeanors, at least on a few occasions, even if we ourselves sometimes make erroneous remarks as well on various matters (and, of course, we get visited by good old Egmont from time to time, whose denunciations of all economists except for himself and maybe one or two others makes Samuelson’s complaints look like high praise).

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The Psilocybin Referendum In Denver

The Psilocybin Referendum In Denver

This is one of the last things I was expecting to see happen; that a referendum in Denver would effectively decriminalize magic mushrooms or more specifically the main constituent component of them, the psychedelic drug, psilocybin.  But this has happened in the Mile High City, if by a narrow margin.  I largely welcome this.  After all, it has always been sort of ridiculous to arrest someone for owning a naturally growing mushroom, especially one known to grow especially in cowpies.

This gets personal.  I had my first psychedelic experience 55 years ago from ingesting a completely  legal, and still legal, substance, morning glory seeds, certain brands  of which (Heavenly Blue and Pearly Gates) containing LSD-6, a weaker form of LSD-25, the usual form of “acid” that people take, which is a Schedule 1 drug  along with marijuana, illegal for half a century here in the US, asi is psilocybin also.  As it is, psilocybin has long been known to be much milder than other psychedelics, especially LSD.  That long-ago experience massively changed me and my view of the world, I think mostly for the  better.

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Iran: An Unfortunate Anniversary And Getting Worse

Iran: An Unfortunate Anniversary And Getting Worse

It was a year ago today that President Trump removed the United States from the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran as well as Russia, China, UK, France, Germany, and the EU, under the auspices of the UN Security Council.  According to IAEA inspectors, Iran was fulfilling its part of the agreement, and it has continued to do so up until now as well, despite this unwarranted action by the US, although that may be about to change.  The other signatories have strongly opposed the US action, although it has been supported by Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt somewhat less enthusiastically.  Nevertheless, the nations opposing this US action have been ineffectual in blocking US actions following up on this.

These actions have involved reintroducing economic sanctions on Iran. Oil exports from Iran have fallen by half since then and are likely to fall further as the US ended waivers on May 2 for a set of nations from the oil sanctions, although reportedly at least China and maybe Turkey will ignore these sanctions.  The decision to end these waivers has been followed by increased volatility in world oil prices.  The sanctions have also been imposed on any businesses operating in Iran, with many large European companies such as Total in France withdrawing from Iran, even as their governments oppose the US actions.  Efforts have been made to establish alternative payment systems, but so far the US effort has had a large effect on reducing foreign economic activity in Iran.  The upshot has been to increase economic problems in Iran, with GDP down by at least 6 percent in the last year as well as the inflation rate rising.

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The John Bates Clark Award And Me Getting Old

The John Bates Clark Award And Me Getting Old

Yes, this is going to all be about me! 🙂

So, before getting to me, me, me, let me congratulate Emi Nakamura of the UC-Berkeley economics dept for receiving the John Bates Clark Award. It seems to be well deserved for her innovative and influential work on looking at high frequency detailed micro data sets to get more accurate estimates of macro variables, including both inflation rates and fiscal multipliers.  At 38 she is young enough (one must be under 40).  She is also now a coeditor of the American Economic Review.  I have seen some grumbling that her frequent coauthor and husband, Jon Steinnson, did not share in it or get it himself.  He is now too old at 42, and while her three most cited papers are coauthored with him, many others of hers are not, and several important papers of hers are sole authored.

As for how this relates to me, the really important part of this post, :-), I have never met her.  However, I know her mother, Alice Orcutt Nakamura, an economist at the University of  Alberta, who just happens to be the first woman ever to publish in the American Economic Review back in 1979. She was also the first woman president of the Canadian Economics Association in 1994-95.  She has done  lots of work on econmetrics, labor markets, and, interestingly, in the sort of micro studies of price changes that have since become a major focus of her daughter’s highly influential research.

 

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Trump Drops The Other Iran Oil Shoe

Trump Drops The Other Iran Oil Shoe

US SecState Pompeo announced early today that the waivers granted to 8 nations allowing them to continue to import oil from Iran will not bee renewed when they expire in early May.  I am not sure of the identity of three of those nations, but the big five are China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey.  None of them have made any public statement so far, nor has Iran.  It has been announced that Saudi Arabia and the UAE and maybe also Iraq will increase oil production to offset this, nevertheless the price of Brent crude rose about 3 percent today, with WTI close behind.

Supposedly some of Trump’s advisers warned him against this action, presumably putting themselves in danger of being part of the next round of underlings to get fired for being insufficiently subservient.  The situation is potentially aggravated by Trump calling up General Hiftar in Libya and offering support for his drive to take over the whole country. Based in Benghazi, he has moved on Tripoli, reportedly with the encouragement and financial support of the Saudis.  The drive has apparently stalled out, which could lead to production cuts in Libya, although I think the admin people may be betting that Hiftar will win, which might lead to a stabilization of production there.

My guess is that why Trump is doing this now is to provide some distraction from the ongoing discussions of the Mueller Report, with his followers loud proclamations of “no collusion! no obstruction!” appearing not to be convincing anybody not already hooked onto Fox News.  Trump has had considerable success at imposing his will on the world regarding economic sanctions aginst Iran, even as all but a handful of nations strongly disapprove of his removing the US from the Iran nuclear accord, which Iran has continued to follow.  It is a bit absurd that in bragging about the supposed success of their policies, the Trump people have pointed to that as a success, even though supposedly this deal was simply awful.  As it is, their claims this will lead to a new and better deal completely lack credibility.

 

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Media Continues VSP Story On Social Security

Media Continues VSP Story On Social Security

Here we go again.  We have arrived at the time for the release of the annual Social Security Administration (SSA) report.  It got the usual headlines across the media, that the SSA will “run out of money” in 2034. Most of the stories played it all scary, although noting that after the system will still pay 3/4 of what it was.  But, of course, Congress can act now to fix the system the stories say, leaving it vague what that would amount to.  Two points on this.

The first is that basically this is a repeat of the deadlines reported last year, 2034 still the year estimated for the trust fund comes to an end, the moment when the baby boomers arguably stop paying for their own retirement, as was put in place back in 1983, the year of the last major change in the system.  So, no new news on those fronts, although most of the media did not note this.  This was supposed to be dramatic new revelation.

The second is that there actually is a piece of new news, and it happens to be good.  It is that the Disability System seems to have become financially stabilized.  This was probably the part of the system that had been recently in the worst financial shape, but now it is doing much better.  However, this good news was downplayed, to the extent it was reported at all. This would have distracted from the bad news stories, which the VSPs like to push so as to suggest cuts in benefits so those tax cuts for the rich can be preserved.

Barkley Rosser

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