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

Manchin on Voting Rights

The news is that Joe Manchin has described a voting rights compromise which he supports. Also Republicans immediately said it was unacceptable to them. This reminds everyone that there will be no bipartisan compromise on an issue where the two parties have diametrically opposite interests. If there were any Republicans who did not equate democrats with Democrats, and pigs could fly, it would be different, but there aren’t.

I am reasonably confident that nothing will come of this. To pass a bill it would be necessary to eliminate the filibuster and Manchin (and Sinema) won’t do that. However, I am actually interested in an incredibly vague part of Manchin’s proposed bill “Ban partisan gerrymandering and ‘use computer models,’ the latter of which isn’t further specified;”

It does seem that “computer models” doesn’t narrow things down much. However, I think it is quite simple really. It is possible to use precinct level data to calculate the ratio of Republicans elected to Republican votes statewide implied by districts. It is easy to compare proposed districting with the rule that if the ratio is closer to one with one set of districts then it must be preferred. The only non obvious detail I propose is that the results of the most recent 2 elections be used, because the turnout in midterm elections is very different from that in presidential year elections.

I would propose that only if two proposed sets of districts have the exact same estimated partisan bias according to this formula may any other properties of the districts be considered. I am reasonably confident that the bias can be reduced to the fact that we can cut congress people in half (even if the idea is sometimes appealing). In any case, the party with a minority in the state legislature has a very strong incentive to look very hard for proposals to reduce the bias.

I often read that Democrats are necessarily automatically at a disadvantage, because, even aside from partisan gerrymandering, Democratic voters are concentrated in cities and so many Democratic votes must be wasted. I do not believe this at all. Rather I think not explicitly partisan rules about compactness and respecting municipal and county boundries if possible favor the Republicans. There is no reason such rules deserve consideration at all comparabile to the importance that legislative majorities correspond as nearly as possible to the popular vote. I think that (except of course for the US Senate) they can correspond almost exactly.

I would like a law requiring that they do.

Again, I don’t expect to get it, or anything, but the problem is very simple, and the solution is obvious.

The Big Lie

Ross Barnett didn’t invent the big lie, but he was a practitioner. One might even say that Ross was to the manor born. The big lie had been a southern thing from the get go; comes with the turf. First you must lie to yourself, and so they did. Hitler appropriated, without acknowledgment, the concept in Mein Kampf, Chapter 10. That wasn’t all he appropriated from the American South; they had beaten him to a lot of the Nazi shtick.

Joseph McCarthy had given it a pretty good ride in the 1950s. Many a pol has flirted with it since then. Ross’s run was in the tumult of the early 1960s. Then, just when he thought he was being slick, he got exposed by northerners Jack and Bobby. Then, his whole career was flushed down the drain.

Of late, it has been Katy Bar the Door. After all these many years now, Newt is still purveying with all his little heart. Grover having done Goebbels proud; is still at it. Once the flood gates were opened, the Darrells, Treys, Dougs, Jims, Jims, Mitchs, Devins, Teds, Joshs, Mos, Marjories, Marthas, Cindys, Sarahs, . . . have just kept pouring in. The big lie, the profession, was not limited to politicians; in fact, in some cases, talk show hosts and opinion writers preceded the pols; paving the road to hell, if you will. Speaking of which, big-time practitioner Fox News paved the road for a lot of the political practitioners of the big lie. Not to mention any names, but a recently disposed SOB does come to mind.

Turns out, he, the SOB, that is, has long been a student of Adolf’s (Adolf ist SOB auf deutsch). Purloined the whole accusing your victim of what you yourself are doing, and so much more, von seinem lieben Anführer. Such as: leveraging a small percentage of support into the control of a larger group, co-opting law enforcement, defense, state, . . .

Tabloid politics has been around; Murdoch and Ailes didn’t invent it. They did weaponize it with propaganda and deploy it on a heretofore unknown scale. The recently disposed, epitomized, practiced, tabloid politics. Took him from the bowels of NYC’s tabloids to The White House. With a little help from Fox & Co, slimed his way to the top.

All of which has the psychologists still scratching their heads; why do so many of us like to be lied to?

Wings

Why the reference to the wings in re the two major political parties? Are we being asked to envision either of our two major political parties as a bird, an aircraft. If so, each would surely have two matching wings, one on either side of the body/fuselage. Maybe they meant to make an analogy with the sides of an aisle in a room, or the banks of a river as in rive gauche or rive droite, or to those seated on the far left hand side of the room or on the far right hand side of the room from the front? All, implying that there is a body politic made up of members from both parties that is pretty much in the center of wherever. Sounds nice, but has nothing whatsoever to do with today’s politics.

How many Republican members of the House could be considered centrists? The majority of those who opposed bringing charges against Trump in either of the two impeachment hearings? The 147 out of 197 House Republicans who voted against certifying Biden’s electoral college victory? 50 out of 197 does not a centrist majority make; but it might a start. 147 out of 197 does a right wing majority make. Someone should be asking, “Who are, where are, all these centrist Republicans we hear spoken of?”

In the Senate, it is politics uber alles for Senate Republicans. Most of whom almost always do what Mitch McConnell asks/tells them to do; Mitch being constituent to none of them excepting maybe Rand, son of Ron. What do the Senators’ actual constituents think of their Senator working for someone else? Out of the 53, only three or four have even pretended to have a mind of their own. Turns out, only two or three ever really did. These are they who would have gleefully convicted a Democratic President for sneezing or forgetting to wash their hands. Almost all of the Senators from red states support the NRA, the Second Amendment, Pro-life, increased defense spending, and suppressing the non-white-Christian vote. Sound centrist to you? It is almost impossible to name a Republican Senator who isn’t far to the right of any definable center.

The party aligns itself with the Heritage Foundation (recently caught on tape bragging that it had helped write or written the voter suppression laws being proposed in 40 states) and the Federalists Society; two organizations that are definitely not centrist. Does a party mostly made up of the Christian Right, Libertarian conservatives, Neoconservatives, Paleoconservatives, Traditional conservatives, the Freedom Caucus, and the Tea Party sound centrist?

What would a centrist/moderate Republican politician look like? Would they be known as left wing Republicans and support such as the right to vote, gun control, a woman’s right to chose? Any American’s right to any thing other than to own a gun, or perhaps to buy a politician or two? Would they be someone who is of this century? Someone who looks to the future instead of to the past? Someone who subscribes to equality? Who favors a more egalitarian society?

Today’s Republican party is the very definition of right wing.

Slamming Chase CEO Jamie Dimon – Overdraft Fees

Elizabeth Warren Slams JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon on Overdraft Fees – Rolling Stone

I could watch this over and over. It is similar to when she put the spotlight on John Roberts in the Senate.

This is a good take down of Jamie Dimon by Senator Elizabeth Warren. The Senator is relentless. It appears Chase was given a hall pass by the Fed to be late on payments and not be penalized for it. Chase was very happy for the help.

Except, Chase did not allow its customers the same privilege. Instead, Chase charges them Overdraft fees for being late.

Senator Warrens asks Jamie Dimon if this is fair. And why isn’t Chase extending the same to it’s customers. Chase profited by $1.5 billion. If waiving the Overdraft fees, Chase would stil make $27 billion.

There is a longer version of the video on Crooks and Liars. I am not able to copy it to Angry Bear.

Do Languages Get Simpler When They Get More Complicated?

Do Languages Get Simpler When They Get More Complicated?

 Oh, a minor diversion from the usual political economy stuff that goes up here.  

This is triggered by an article in last week’s The Economist on the nearly dead San language, Nluu.  It has only two living fully fluent speakers alive, both in their 80s.  The San languages are among the world’s most ancient, although arguably reflecting a simpler world than the one we live in, although certainly with many complications we know nothing of.  But the point that caught my attention was that it has 45 distinct click sounds, along with 114 basic sound units. It is one of only three languages in the world (all of them San) that have something called the double lip-full kiss click, whatever that is. I only know that if one sees an exclamation point that means some sort of click. So probably the most numerous living San group are the !Kung, yeah, some sort of click on the front end of that name.

I have known about this matter of clicks in southern African languages for some time but had no idea there were so many different ones.  Not only the San languages but also the Khoechan (or Khoi khoi) languages have lots of them.  Some clicks can also be found in the much more widespread Xhosa languages, one of which was the mother tongue of Nelson Mandela, who almost certainly had some Khoi or San ancestry.  But beyond these languages, I am not aware of any others that have any clicks.  They have disappeared in later languages, and I am unaware of any other language having anywhere near the number of basic sound units that apparently this nearly extinct Nluu language has.

Farm and Ranch Report, May 2021 Beef Cattle Prices

This particular post is coming out of Angry Bear’s comment section. Mike Smith is the author. Mike grows various food items on his farm and has a hands-on knowledge of what is occurring in the beef industry today.

What Mike is touching upon today is the small farmer industry and how the farmers are being squeezed out in bringing beef to market. The wholesalers and larger food chains such as Walmart can manipulate pricing to benefit themselves at the expense of small farmers who do not have the herd sizes or grazing capability to support the former and to push back. I will let Mike explain further.

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As we look at the data coming in for inflationary pressures from around the economy, I wanted to pick one that I have seen some anecdotal evidence to support price gauging by processors particularly in the beef industry that is not due to inflationary pressures, at all. Now, the beef industry is one that has been given very little light over the course of the pandemic.

The beef packing industry has been quick to point out that COVID-19 related response has meant that the processing plants needed to space out, and therefore become less efficient in their processing, in Texas, the trend has been since the beginning of the year to be “let’s go back to the way it was” in pretty much all aspects, and packaging plants are no exception.

Let me get some jargon out of the way:

Grading the U.S. response to the pandemic

How should we grade our collective response to the covid pandemic?  What lessons should we draw for the future? 

I believe that our response was poor.  To see why, just imagine where we would be today if effective vaccines had not been developed.  Our current strategy of moderate social distancing, intermittent partial lockdowns, and economic assistance for businesses and the unemployed would not have been sustainable for another 1 or 2 years as the covid virus slowly burned its way through an unvaccinated population.  We would inevitably have shifted to a different approach – very likely a de facto “herd immunity” strategy that lets the virus rip. Perhaps we would have offered some additional protections to the most vulnerable, but I doubt it.

An alternative strategy of mass testing, contact tracing, careful and humane isolation of infected people, widespread availability of high-quality masks, and improved treatments would have been far preferable, but we did not do the necessary preparation to implement it, even though quick development of an effective vaccine was considered unlikely by many experts, and the value of increasing testing capacity and mask production was understood by many academics, policymakers, and practitioners.

The value of an aggressive, multi-pronged approach to virus suppression and treatment would have been even higher if covid had been more transmissible or had a higher infection fatality rate. 

Below is a partial list of policy failures related to covid, with just a bit of commentary.  These are failures that come easily to mind.  No doubt others could be added to the list, and it is certainly possible that some are not really failures.

Windsor, VA

Recently, in Windsor, Virginia, United States of America, a local police officer, Police Officer Gutierrez, pulled over Army Second Lieutenant Nazario; ostensibly for the lack of displayed license plate. As it was to turn out, a temporary plate was on display in the vehicle’s rear window. When Lt. Nazario slowly proceeded to a well lighted area in front of a convenience store, pulled over, and stopped, Police Officer Gutierrez, and a second, back up, officer approached the Lt.’s vehicle with guns drawn and pointed at Lt. Nazario while giving somewhat conflicting commands. Lt. Nazario is heard to say that he is afraid to get out of the car.

Was it reasonable force for the two police officers to draw to their weapons for a traffic stop after it was evident that there was no reason to make the stop in the first place? In the video, Police Officer Gutierrez is heard to say, “You received an order, obey it.” Do police have a god-given right to be obeyed? What is so suspicious about an army officer in fatigues near Hampton Roads, VA, (an area as aswarm with military installations and personnel as any in the world)? Why did the police officers demand that Lt. Nazario get out of his vehicle? Why not start with conversation? What right did the officers have to demand that the Second Lt. Nazario lie face down on the pavement? What compelled them to do so? Shouldn’t the police be required to produce proof of suspicious behavior before taking such drastic measures?

The politics of vaccine-stretching

When the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were first approved, it was clear that they were highly effective at preventing covid and that they would be in short supply for months.  The clinical trial data also suggested that, at least in the short-run, one dose of the vaccines would provide almost as much protection against covid as the two-dose protocol that was tested and approved by the FDA. 

This led a number of economists and public health professionals to argue that we could gain an edge in the fight against covid – and likely save tens of thousands of lives – by prioritizing first doses and delaying second doses (“first doses first”).  We could also stretch existing supplies by giving people half-doses, and by giving one dose to people who have recovered from covid and have some degree of natural immunity to reinfection, or simply by delaying their vaccination until more vulnerable people have been protected.

Most of the debate over vaccine stretching policies has been technocratic.  Proponents argue that first-doses-first and other vaccine stretching policies will save lives, and opponents point to various risks.  In my view the technocratic case for first-doses-first and other vaccine stretching policies is strong, but the politics are difficult.  Unfortunately, proponents of these policies have failed to think creatively about how to overcome political obstacles to vaccine stretching.  So let’s think about the political challenges and ask how the Biden administration might have been persuaded to try using first-doses-first, half-doses, and similar policies

The politics of first doses first are challenging

Keeping Fingers Crossed As US Commits To Removing Military From Afghanistan

Keeping Fingers Crossed As US Commits To Removing Military From Afghanistan

 Yes, President Biden has bitten the bullet to remove US troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack that triggered our initial entry into that nation for our longest war.  Of course, we shall not quite be fully out as not only will there still be some Marines guarding the embassy in Kabul, but probably covert CIA forces will continue to operate and drone bombing will probably continue and possibly even continue the expansion that has been going on for some time, with over 7000 bombs dropped on the nation by the US in 2019 according to Juan Cole.  But, hey, still looking good.

Needless to say many are upset and whining and worrying.  David Ignatius in WaPo worries that the Taliban will take Kabul after a bloody war and allow al Qaeda or ISIS to establish themselves there, saying that the worst thing would be for the US to have to go back in again after having left the way we went back into Iraq after ISIS grabbed lots of territories after we left there.  But Biden has been through these discussions and decisions and was long reported to want out from Afghanistan way back when Obama was increasing troop levels up to about 100,000, with them now down to just a few thousand.  Most of the withdrawal has already happened, and with Trump having promised a May 1 withdrawal an effort to go back on that with lots of conditions would probably trigger an upsurge of Taliban attacks on US troops, making a mess of things.