Friday, October 27, 2023

The Souring of America


I can't get over this chart, from early September in The Economist, which I saw somewhere on Substack—sadly can't reconstruct where exactly.

The light blue line is the University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment, which has been going on since 1946 and is regarded as a very reliable indicator of how Americans feel about the economy and predictor of how much money they're going to feel like spending. The dark blue line is an index constructed by the magazine (after an initial idea by a Twitter user called @quantian1) to predict what consumer sentiment ought to be, based on a bundle of 13 economic indicators like inflation, unemployment, and gas prices, and as you can see it does a really good job for the first 40 years to which they applied it, tracking the actual U of M consumer sentiment very closely (the real consumer feelings are more emotional, more depressed during the lows and more excited in the highs)—it accounts for 86% of the movement in the traditional number.

And then it goes wacky, immediately after the first financial crisis of COVID in 2020. It continues to show the same shape as the actual consumer sentiment, low when it's low and high when it's high, but at a distance of some 30 points.

Judge Not

In fact Jung did not say that, Dr. Google informs me; he did say something resembling that, but meaning something quite different, in his 1959 Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies:

The story of how Jung came to write the book is kind of funny: in a kind of general-interest interview profile in 1954, he'd told a Swiss journalist that, while he had no relevant expertise, he was skeptical about UFOs, but impressed by how many people with professional qualifications seemed to take them seriously; four years later, this suddenly blew up in the international press in the form of the false report that "PROFESSOR JUNG BELIEVES IN FLYING SAUCERS". He issued a statement to clarify his actual position, but that went entirely unnoticed.

Why, Jung wondered, was the world so eager to hear that he believed in flying saucers, and so completely uninterested in hearing that he didn't? It struck him, as a psychoanalyst, to see them as expressing an unconscious need—that they wanted flying saucers to exist, and embraced supporting evidence of whatever kind they could find—and wrote up an analysis of the case, published in German in 1958.

You can see where he was going to go in the bit quoted above, with its digs at his erstwhile colleagues Sigmund Freud, who had died in 1939 and Alfred Adler, in 1937, and their obsessions with sex and power respectively. The "wholeness" concept of religious instinct was his own obsession, and that is how he would understand the appeal of the UFOs, twinkling over us after World War II the way the stars did in antiquity, with their strange movements (neither toward us nor away from us, just independent, with their own impenetrable purposes), and perhaps benevolent or protective:

As they did no harm and refrained from all hostile 
acts it was assumed that their appearance over the earth was 
due to curiosity or to the need for aerial reconnaissance. It also 
seemed that airfields and atomic installations in particular held 
a special attraction for them, from which it was concluded that 
the dangerous development of atomic physics and nuclear fission 
had caused a certain disquiet on our neighbouring planets...  

Were the apparitions hoping to save the solar system from the awfulness we had wrought when we split the atom? Were they a sign of a knitting back together of our unraveled and distressed condition? But not something the ordinary sex-ridden and power-fuddled person would be able to analyze—the masses would simply feel the alien presence, and occasionally see it, whether it was a real thing or a hallucination.

Anyway, the thing that actually interests me is the bogus quote in the meme, which uses the word "judgment" in a different way from Jung's sentence; the latter is the theological judgment of whether it exists or not, and the former the moral judgment of whether it's good. The meme accuses people of seeking to evaluate everything rather than understanding it, because evaluation is easier, and it's obviously got nothing intrinsically to do with flying saucers. (Jung seems to be refusing to see that the normal attitude toward UFOs was one of terror, as prefigured in Wells's novel and Welles's radio broadcasts War of the Worlds; the assumption that the aliens would be here to destroy us all and take the planet for their own dark uses, drawn out of our culture's unconscious guilt for its own imperial depredations—I think that's still basically the case, in spite of Steven Spielberg's alternative, Jungian takes.) 

It's a bogus quote, "Thinking is difficult—that's why most people judge", but I kind of like it. It's not Jung, but it's not inauthentic either. It's like the verse in a fast blues song,

Mama mama, take a look at sis
Mama mama, take a look at sis
Mama mama take a look at sis,
she's out on the levee doin the double twist

to which you can tack on practically any last line ("I'm the windin boy, don't deny my name" or "Do I get it now or must I hesitate?"). Of course it's authentic, it springs from the folk, and it's pretty meaningful: analyzing things well does get in the way of judging them. I may have more to say about this. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Hard Times for Tax Evasion


Drawing by Bruce Eric Kaplan.

Here's a little gratification, from John Cassidy at The New Yorker

at the start of this week, the EU Tax Observatory, an independent research laboratory based at the Paris School of Economics, released a new report on global tax evasion, which contained some positive news. “We estimate that offshore tax evasion has declined by a factor of about three over the last 10 years,” the report says. “This success shows that rapid progress can be made against tax evasion if there is the political will to do so.”

That's literally a factor of more than three: before the 2010 passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), 90 to 95% of offshore wealth went unreported to the tax authorities, and the US government alone was losing $100 billion a year to rich Americans parking their gains out of reach. Now it's more like 25%. Other countries, including the members of the OECD, followed suit in 2014, adopting a Common Reporting Standard for accounts opened by foreign residents:

This agreement effectively set up a global system of exchanging private banking information. As of October of 2022, the new report notes, more than a hundred tax jurisdictions, including many offshore tax havens, have applied the new rules, and countries have reached nearly five thousand bilateral agreements to exchange financial information: “This revolutionary development shows that new forms of international cooperation, long deemed utopian, can emerge in a relatively short period of time.”

Sadly, the US has refused to join the CRS, making it easier for the ultra-rich from elsewhere to use our country as a haven from their own tax obligations. This doesn't seem to be entirely the fault of the Trump administration (it has a good deal to do with the problem of reconciling federal law with the laws of bank-loving states like Joe Biden's Delaware and Donald Trump's Florida, along with Nevada and Wyoming), but it was in March 2017 that the European Parliament announced the refusal, so I figure that's when negotiations broke down. And guess whose very large real estate business hugely depended, and I imagine still does, on laundered money from plutocrats in petrostates like Russia and Saudi Arabia.

To me, this is the kind of issue that really matters in the core struggle between those who own almost everything already and aim to have it all, and the rest of us. It's not as exciting to talk about as abortion, or book bans, or even voting rights, but this is what those people truly care about—the other "conservative" stuff is to keep their voters engaged, and is changing all the time as the situation changes—and it looks like a victory for our side.

Did the special craziness of the right start, in point of fact, with the 2008 financial crisis and the efforts to fix the situation, such as they were, of the incoming Obama administration? The Astroturf Tea Party certainly did. Is there a new vulnerability among the incredibly rich, dating back there, making them more irrational than they were before? Between Elon Musk (Wall Street Journal reports that seven banks that loaned him $13 billion for the Twitter purchase can't sell the loans, and are expecting to lose at least 15% of their investment)

and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which seems unable to elect a Speaker. These people are not well.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

For the Record: Miscellany


Olivia Wise/San Francisco Examiner.

Twitter is just about as awful as they tell you now, and I'm spending more time at Bluesky (anybody wants an invite let me know in Twitter DMs), but things still happen at Twitter that I don't want to miss, and I keep getting involved.

"Guards! Guards! Put that bicyclist under arrest!"

"For what?"

"She disrespected me!"

Also Margie:

Here's how Mackey did the "crime of posting memes", if you don't remember:

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

More Happy Warriors

Theme of my weekend Substack post,

an extended version of  Friday's blogpost here, following on a discussion in the comments, which you've probably had a chance to read. 

There was more in those comments I wanted to address, starting with a complaint from longtime blogfriend (and frequent legal adviser to Rectification Central) Jeff Ryan, who put up a very grouchy dismissal of Vice President Harris, in the following terms:

Jeff: I disagree. I haven't been particularly enthralled with her as V.P.

Me: Jeff, you're sounding like one of those kids Scott Lemieux makes fun of, who think voting is supposed to be the expression of your personal consumer choices.

To which he offered a more serious response:

Friday, October 13, 2023



Steve M has a post on two recent profiles of Vice President Kamala Harris, by Elaina Plott Calabro in The Atlantic and Astead Herndon in the New York Times Magazine, that seem to convey a dispiriting message of a kind that's becoming familiar:

Boy, that Kamala Harris seemed so talented, yet she really gives the impression that she's struggling with the job of vice president, and while she's probably ready to be president, you can't blame voters for thinking that she isn't.

The familiar part is the regretful reportorial tone: "I recognize how good this person is, but that's sadly not important; what matters is that ordinary folk don't see it, and I can't imagine what can be done about it." It's something that's being laid on Biden all the time too, particularly over the "age issue", in the Nates' and others' insistence that they're not saying Biden is too old, they're merely saying voters think Biden's too old, and that's what makes it news. Maybe some genius could invent a profession in which reporters could help inform voters about the things the voters are misinformed about. You could call it "journalism".

Steve's point, that this is a problem for Harris, and Biden too—

Harris and Biden both seem to believe that everything they're doing is just fine and the public will come around eventually. They need to acknowledge that that might not happen, even if their opponent is a convicted felon by Election Day. 

—seems pretty much unarguably valid, but one of the things I want to say, as we're maybe sitting around contemplating ways in which they might deal with it, is that it's not exactly their fault. I mean, they have reason to think they're pretty good campaigners, not only because of a long history of winning elections handily in Delaware and California, and Biden's two victories in vice presidential contests in 2008 and 2012, but because of the big national elections they won so convincingly three years ago, against the same presumptive opponent, before he'd even been indicted (not counting the two impeachments, which are indictments in my book, because nobody else seems to take that seriously). 

You want to tell them that style of campaigning won't work any more because why? Because in 2020 they were campaigning against plague, financial breakdown, and the possibility of race war, and now they can't because they already fixed it? Or is it because the bothsiderist media keep telling people they aren't fixed even though they are? The economic problems, as least (on the plague, the media are invested in giving face to the view that it may not be a problem, and the fixes may not work, though they clearly have)? Which they definitely do, in that same regretful tone ("the economy seems to be firing on all cylinders, but there's this perception").

This is a weird conversation in terms of the normal mode of talking about vice presidential nominations. It seems to me they only have a major negative effect on the campaign when they're really disastrous, like Palin. (Quayle in 1992, after the public got to know him, might be another example). Harris's basic function on the ticket is largely the same traditional one as in 2020: to gratify important constituencies the presidential candidate might miss, in her case by being Californian, female, almost-young (she's 58 now), and a member of two key ethnic minorities (three if you count her husband, as I'm happy to do). You'd better not dump her, if you don't want some of those constituencies to feel very betrayed.

Like Pence (evangelical and rural), Biden (very white and union-oriented), Gore (environmentalist), Mondale (northern and liberal). Vice presidential candidates chosen for competence (GHW Bush, Cheney) may have been there to make up for perceived deficits in the top slot, but that was because those perceived deficits (on the part of Reagan and W Bush) were real. And you know how Cheney turned out.

But why does Harris have to go beyond those limitations of the normal to prove that she's some particularly new kind of charismatic figure, the way a presidential candidate does? I think that's the media, doing it for the most shamelessly entertainment-industry reasons. They've been trying for months to work up some primary competition for Biden, that's why they won't stop with the idiotic dementia stories, and now that that's largely failed they're trying to duplicate it at the vice presidential level. (I don't know about Herndon, but Plott made her way to the journalistic top through a National Review Buckley Fellowship, and I've thought she was part of the conspiracy for a while.)

That does't directly help with the question of how Democrats are supposed to cope with this, but maybe in an indirect way: maybe these showbiz aspirations and ratings obsessions were an important part of something we didn't yet understand.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Israel's 9/11

Beach in Gaza City, 1950s, via Quds News Network.

If I'd been a blogger around the time of the 9/11 catastrophe—I was already an opinion-haver, in any case—I'd have written something about the prospects of the Cheney administration launching a punitive expedition to Afghanistan, with or without the aim of capturing Osama bin Laden: that it wouldn't do any good, but was inevitable anyway, if only for political reasons, and it wasn't worth trying to stop it from happening.

It wouldn't do any good in the sense that it wouldn't change any hearts and minds one way or the other; it wouldn't persuade any of those Taliban to recognize the dread consequences of defying the United States, or convince any of their local enemies to resist them, or frighten anybody out of trying to do another 9/11, and I didn't think it would inspire them to violate the traditional law of hospitality by turning their Al-Qa'eda guests over to the Americans. And of course a bunch of civilians would die (in the event, in last three months of 2001, starting from the beginning of "Operation Enduring Freedom" on October 7, between 1,000 and 1,300, according to the Project on Defense Alternatives, killed in US airstrikes, plus maybe 3,200 more of "starvation, exposure, illness, or injury sustained" while they were running away from the bombing), but that couldn't be helped, because the American people, as the politicians understood them, were crying out for vengeance, for the lives lost in the Twin Towers and the other casualties of the day, and the politicians were probably right.

So I could see it would kill a lot of innocent people and accomplish nothing, but I still wouldn't have tried to stop it. What would be the use? Instead, I'd have recommended limiting it, as much as possible, to the status of a punitive expedition, like General Pershing's vain pursuit of Pancho Villa in northern Mexico in 1916-17. I'd have begged Bush not to reject out of hand the Taliban's offer to turn Osama over to a third country after the first week of bombing

Three Things They're Not Talking About

It's horrible, of course, horrible for everybody, for the families of the murdered young people at the Negev rave, itself so close to Gaza, and the hostages taken into Gaza and their families, and the Israeli soldiers in the besieged army posts (which I guess are by now liberated, but some of the soldiers are themselves in Gaza, kidnapped), and the civilians of Gaza whose lives are already so terrible and who are now formally under siege, deprived of fuel and water, and about to be massively invaded by one of the most powerful armies in the world—not especially them, except to the extent that they might be ignored or blamed in a way that people in Israel are not, but you know what I mean.

The former Palestine Tower in Gaza City, targeted by Israeli warplanes yesterday. Photo by  IEFE/EPA/Mohammed Saber

There's a vital point in the New Yorker interview by Isaac Chotiner of Nathan Thrall, former director of the International Crisis Group's Arab-Israeli Project, that I don't think I've seen elsewhere: that the shocking Hamas Organization attacks on Israel over the past two days are suicidal;

It is an attack of unprecedented scope, and Israel will retaliate to a greater degree than it has before, potentially leading to outcomes we haven’t seen before: not just a simple razing of Gaza by airplanes but also a ground incursion and potential reoccupation of parts of Gaza. So the decision to wittingly, knowingly, undertake this comes from a sense that there are no other options and that there’s nothing left to lose. And part of the reason that Hamas, and Palestinians in general, feel that they’re in such a desperate situation is that they have been entirely abandoned by those who should be their allies: the Arab states.

I was thinking about that too. as the first reports came out, of the Hamas fighters scaling the Wall (the one Trump has often celebrated as an inspiration for his own imaginary wall), breaking out on bicycles and hang gliders and motor scooters and trying to occupy IDF installations on the other side of the fence—these guys were begging to be killed!—until we all got distracted by the extraordinary failure of the Israeli intelligence, which was even more shocking, at least for the moment.

Friday, October 6, 2023

The Snakes Are Coming From Inside the Plane


David Kurtz acknowledges he doesn't entirely know what's going on in the House of Representatives,

I’m not going to sit here and pretend I have a grasp on what is happening in the House. I don’t think anyone really does.

which may make him effectively the most reliable guide, and one of the things he does think he understands is that it's much less important who succeeds to the speakership than whether they manage to scrap the Gaetz-devised rule allowing any member to force a vote on whether the Speaker should stay in office:

if the hair-trigger motion to vacate under the current rules is kept in place, then no speaker will have the authority to lead. It would be a phantom majority. Kevin McCarthy stumbled through nine months of that before it all collapsed.

No one wants the job under those circumstances, nor should they.

The rule delivers absolute power in the House to Gaetz, or some replacement for Gaetz as madman-in-chief (not Jordan, I don't suppose, or Taylor Greene, both of whom parked their loyalty with Kevin McCarthy even while maintaining close ties to Trump, and seem to have developed aspirations to "legitimacy", but more of a pure nihilist like Biggs or Rosendale), and it they can't get rid of it, the next Speaker will be just as impotent as McCarthy was.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

They're Not the Same


Rare sighting of ocelot mother and kitten near Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge in South Texas, via MySanAntonio.

So, the latest Biden-is-the-same-as-Trump story, on the subject of wall-building:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday defended his administration’s decision to waive 26 federal laws in South Texas to allow for construction of roughly 20 miles of additional border wall, saying he had no choice but to use the Trump-era funding for the barrier to stop illegal migration from Mexico.

Asked if he thought such walls work, he said flatly, “No.”

The new construction was announced in June, but the funds were appropriated in 2019 before the Democratic president took office. Biden said he tried to get lawmakers to redirect the money but Congress refused, and the law requires the funding to be used as approved and the construction to be completed in 2023.

Leading to frenzied denunciations of the president on the platform formerly known as Twitter for breaking his campaign promise not to engage in any wall building on the southern border:

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Raucous Caucus

 Re-upping this from 9 months ago (just after the third ballot in Kevin McCarthy's Speaker race), with one incorrect prediction and one correct one

Drawing by Harry Bliss.



Then Boebert even got a chance to deliver a funny:

Teenager in the Room

Image via CityWatchLA.

Pushing the snooze button solves nothing, because these same losers will try to pull the same shit in 45 days. I voted yes tonight to keep the government open, but I’m done normalizing this dysfunction. This is not entertainment, it’s governance. 

—Senator John Fetterman

“There has to be an adult in the room,” the speaker said. He suggested that the group of 15 to 20 GOP holdouts who regularly sabotaged Republican-backed votes act like political children.

Actually, apparently unknown to McCarthy, there were dozens and dozens of adults in the room. Whether he actually decided to join them and be an adult himself is up for debate, but I'm not buying it. I think Fetterman's analogy fits better. McCarthy is the teenager in the room, grousing: "Mom, it's not even healthy to get up this early. You're stunting my growth! I had to do a whole impeachment thingy already this week!"

Now the babies in the room have fired him, and there's no Speaker in the House at all. I'm finding that hilarious, as apparently is John Boehner, who made it out of  a similar pickle with a good deal more dignity, though dignity was never his own strong suit: