Captain Kirk: The Earth is our only home. Everything out there in space is hellish. We need to start taking care of our home before it, too, becomes a hell.

At age 90, the actor William Shatner got to ride briefly into outer space. He was expecting an epiphany of connection to the Universe out there.

He was not prepared to feel a deep sense of grief.

(I have been making the same argument on this as Shatner for many years now.)

Here is what he wrote:

The age of extinction

My trip to space made me realise we have only one Earth – it must live long and prosper

William Shatner

Star Trek prepared me to feel a connection with the universe. Instead, I felt terrible grief for our planet. At Cop15, our leaders must negotiate to protect it

Wed 7 Dec 2022 10.00 ESTFollow William Shatner

Star Trek actor William Shatner, 90
Click to see figure captionThe age of extinction is supported byAbout this contentLast year, at the age of 90, I had a life-changing experience.

I went to space, after decades of playing a science-fiction character who was exploring the universe and building connections with many diverse life forms and cultures.

I thought I would experience a similar feeling: a feeling of deep connection with the immensity around us, a deep call for endless exploration. A call to indeed boldly go where no one had gone before.

I was absolutely wrong.

As I explained in my latest book, what I felt was totally different. I knew that many before me had experienced a greater sense of care while contemplating our planet from above, because they were struck by the apparent fragility of this suspended blue marble.

I felt that too.

But the strongest feeling, dominating everything else by far, was the deepest grief that I had ever experienced.

While I was looking away from Earth, and turned towards the rest of the universe, I didn’t feel connection; I didn’t feel attraction. What I understood, in the clearest possible way, was that we were living on a tiny oasis of life, surrounded by an immensity of death.

I didn’t see infinite possibilities of worlds to explore, of adventures to have, or living creatures to connect with. I saw the deepest darkness I could have ever imagined, contrasting starkly with the welcoming warmth of our nurturing home planet.

I worry about the world my grandchildren will be living in when they are my ageThis was an immensely powerful awakening for me. It filled me with sadness. I realised that we had spent decades, if not centuries, being obsessed with looking away, with looking outside.

I played my part in popularising the idea that space was the final frontier.

But I had to get to space to understand that Earth is, and will remain, our only home. And that we have been ravaging it, relentlessly, making it uninhabitable.

I was born in Montreal in 1931. During my lifetime, this world has changed faster than for any generation before us. We are now at an ecological tipping point. Without the bold leadership that the times require, we are facing further climate breakdown and ecosystems collapsing before our eyes, with as many as one million species at risk of extinction, according to the latest scientific assessments.‘We are at war with nature’: UN environment chief warns of biodiversity apocalypseRead more

And of all places, it is in the city where I was born that a crucial meeting of the United Nations is being held. At Cop15, the UN biodiversity summit in Montreal, taking place from 7 to 19 December, world governments will negotiate a global deal to stop the loss of biodiversity by the end of the decade. We need world leaders to give their diplomats a powerful mandate for these talks: agree on strong targets to change the way we produce food, to drastically cut pollution, and to conserve 50% of our planet’s land and ocean, with the active leadership of Indigenous peoples and local communities, who have historically been pioneers on all these necessary actions.

I was the oldest man to go to space.

I worry about the world my grandchildren will be living in when they are my age. My generation is leaving them a planet that might pretty soon be barely livable for many of Earth’s inhabitants. My experience in space filled me with sadness, but also with a strong resolve. I don’t want my grandchildren to simply survive. I want them, as an old friend used to say, to be able to live long and prosper.I will do everything I can so that we can protect our one and only home. Our world leaders have an immense responsibility to do the same in Montreal.

William Shatner is a Canadian actor who played Captain James T Kirk in Star Trek for almost 30 years.


He is also author of Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and WonderThe age of extinctionCop15OpinionEnvironmentConservationBiodiversityStar TrekWilliam ShatnerArticleCommentWilliam Shatner

The age of extinction

A Serious Question About COVID

Very serious question here.

Given that:

(a) We are all probably going to get Covid anyway (see this link)

(b) The vaccines are so effective that they make a case of Covid (especially omicron) much like just having a cold;

(c) Those who are old enough to get this free vaccine, but have decided not to, are very obstinate in not facing facts, and are unlikely to be persuaded otherwise;

(d) Very young kids (none of whom can be vaccinated yet) who get Covid (particularly Omicron) have exceedingly low rates of hospitalizations and deaths (see this link)

THEN,

Why don’t we who ARE vaccinated just remove all of our masks **NOW** and go about our business as usual?

In fact, why don’t we have Covid parties so we can get it all over with?

Colds aren’t fun, but they seldom kill.

And then the unvaccinated adult fools can simply *go to hell* when they catch it, get seriously sick, and die.

Your thoughts?

Insights from Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader: While Americans Sleep, Our Corporate Overlords Make Progress Impossible

Posted on  by Jerri-Lynn Scofield

By Ralph Nader, a consumer advocate and the author of “The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future” (2012). His new book is, “Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All” (2020, co-authored with Mark Green).Originally published at Common Dreams

“Polarization” is the word most associated with the positions of the Republicans and Democrats in Congress. The mass media and the commentators never tire of this focus, in part because such clashes create the flashes conducive to daily coverage.

Politicians from both parties exploit voters who don’t do their homework on voting records and let the lawmakers use the people’s sovereign power (remember the Constitution’s “We the People”) against them on behalf of the big corporate bosses.

The quiet harmony between the two parties created by the omnipresent power of Big Business and other powerful single-issue lobbyists is often the status quo. That’s why there are so few changes in this country’s politics.

In many cases, the similarities of both major parties are tied to the fundamental concentration of power by the few over the many. In short, the two parties regularly agree on anti-democratic abuses of power. Granted, there are always a few exceptions among the rank & file. Here are some areas of Republican and Democrat concurrence:

1. The Duopoly shares the same stage on a militaristic, imperial foreign policy and massive unaudited military budgets. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Pentagon budget was voted out of a House committee by the Democrats and the GOP with $24 billion MORE than what President Biden asked for from Congress. Neither party does much of anything to curtail the huge waste, fraud, and abuse of corporate military contractors, or the Pentagon’s violation of federal law since 1992 requiring annual auditable data on DOD spending be provided to Congress, the president, and the public.

2. Both Parties allow unconstitutional wars violating federal laws and international treaties that we signed onto long ago, including restrictions on the use of force under the United Nations Charter.

3. Both Parties ignore the burgeoning corporate welfare subsidies, handouts, giveaways, and bailouts turning oceans of inefficient, mismanaged, and coddled profit-glutted companies into tenured corporate welfare Kings.

4. Both Parties decline to crack down on the nationwide corporate crime spree. They don’t even like to use the phrase “corporate crime” or “corporate crime wave.” They prefer to delicately allude to “white-collar crime.”

Trillions of dollars are at stake every year, yet neither party holds corporate crime hearings nor proposes an update of the obsolete, weak federal corporate criminal laws.

In some instances, there is no criminal penalty at all for willful and knowing violations of safety regulatory laws (e.g., the auto safety and aviation safety laws). Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is trying to find just one Republican Senator to co-sponsor the “Hide No Harm Act” that would make it a crime for a corporate officer to knowingly conceal information about a corporate action or product that poses the danger of death or serious physical injury to consumers or workers.

5. Both Parties allow Wall Street’s inexhaustibly greedy CEOs to prey on innocents, including small investors. They also do nothing to curb hundreds of billions of dollars in computerized billing fraud, especially in the health care industry. (See, License to Steal by Malcolm K. Sparrow and a GAO Report about thirty years ago).

6. The third leading cause of death in the U.S. is fatalities from preventable problems in hospitals and clinics. According to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine study in 2015, a conservative estimate is that 250,000 people yearly are dying from preventable conditions. Neither Congress nor the Executive Branch has an effort remotely up to the scale required to reduce this staggering level of mortality and morbidity. Nor is the American Medical Association (AMA) engaging with this avoidable epidemic.

7. Both Parties sped bailout of over $50 billion to the airline industry during Covid-19, after the companies had spent about $45 billion on unproductive stock buybacks over the last few years to raise the metrics used to boost executive pay.

8. Both Parties starve corporate law enforcement budgets in the Justice Department, the regulatory agencies, and such departments as Labor, Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, and Health and Human Services. The Duopoly’s view is that there be no additional federal cops on the corporate crime beat.

9. Both Parties prostrate themselves before the bank-funded Federal Reserve. There are no congressional audits, no congressional oversight of the Fed’s secret, murky operations, and massive printing of money to juice up Wall Street, while keeping interest rates near zero for trillions of dollars held by over one hundred million small to midsize savers in America.

10. Both Parties are wedded to constant and huge bailouts of the risky declining, uncompetitive (with solar and wind energy) nuclear power industry. This is corporate socialism at its worst. Without your taxpayer and ratepayer dollars, nuclear plants would be closing down faster than is now the case. Bipartisan proposals for more nukes come with large subsidies and guarantees by Uncle Sam.

11. Both Parties hate Third Parties and engage in the political bigotry of obstructing their ballot access (See: Richard Winger’s Ballot Access News), with hurdles, harassing lawsuits, and exclusions from public debates. The goal of both parties is to stop a competitive democracy.

12. Both Parties overwhelmingly rubber-stamp whatever the Israeli government wants in the latest U.S. military weaponry, the suppression of Palestinians and illegal occupation of the remaining Palestinian lands, and the periodic slaughter of Gazans with U.S. weapons. The Duopoly also supports the use of the U.S. veto in the UN Security Council to insulate Israel from UN sanctions.

13. Continuing Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich’s debilitating internal deforms of congressional infrastructures, the Democrats have gone along with the GOP’s shrinking of committee and staff budgets, abolition of the crucial Office of Technology Assessment’s (OTA) budget, and concentration of excessive power in the hands of the Speaker and Senate leader. This little noticed immolation reduces further the legislature’s ability to oversee the huge sprawling Executive Branch. The erosion of congressional power is furthered by the three-day work week Congress has reserved for itself.

14. Even on what might seem to be healthy partisan differences, the Democrats and the GOP agree not to replace or ease out Trump’s Director of the Internal Revenue Service, a former corporate loophole tax lawyer, or the head of the U.S. Postal Service, a former profiteer off the Post Office who will shortly curtail service even more than he did in 2020 (See: First Class: The U.S. Postal Service, Democracy, and the Corporate Threat, by Christopher W Shaw).

Right now, both Parties are readying to give over $50 billion of your tax money to the very profitable under-taxed computer chip industry companies like Intel and Nvidia, so they can make more profit-building plants in the U.S. These companies are loaded with cash. They should invest their own money and stop the stock buyback craze. Isn’t that what capitalism is all about?

Both Parties vote as if the American middle-class taxpayer is a sleeping sucker. Politicians from both parties exploit voters who don’t do their homework on voting records and let the lawmakers use the people’s sovereign power (remember the Constitution’s “We the People”) against them on behalf of the big corporate bosses.

Sleep on America, you have nothing to lose but your dreams.

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This entry was posted in Banana republicGuest PostIncome disparityLegalPoliticsRegulations and regulatorsRidiculously obvious scamsThe destruction of the middle class on  by Jerri-Lynn Scofield.

Vaccines Save Lives. (Duh.)

This graph from today’s NYT shows why.

Disturbing Racist Clauses Found in Early NCA Constitutions & Bylaws

By Guy Brandenburg

Recently, while preparing to give a talk at this year’s Stellafane telescope-makers’ convention, I was disappointed to discover that the National Capital Astronomers (NCA), which I’ve belonged to for about 30 years, specifically excluded Black members for nearly 3 decades: from about 1940 all the way up to1969.

But NCA didn’t start out being overtly racist. Our original 1937 founding document has no such language. It reads, in part,

“The particular business and objects of [the NCA] shall be the education and mutual improvement of its members in the science of Astronomy and the encouragement of an interest in this science among others. (…) The activities of this Association are designed for the enjoyment and cultural profit of all interested in astronomy, whether the member be a beginner, an advanced student, or one whose pursuit of the science is necessarily desultory.”

And today’s NCA home page reads, “All are welcome to join. Everyone who looks up to the sky with wonder is an astronomer and welcomed by NCA. You do not have to own a telescope, but if you do own one that is fine, too. You do not have to be deeply knowledgeable in astronomy, but if you are knowledgeable in astronomy that is fine, too. You do not have to have a degree, but if you do that is fine, too. WE ARE THE MOST DIVERSE local ASTRONOMY CLUB anywhere. Come to our meetings and you will find this out. WE REALLY MEAN THIS!”

But in the 1940’s, the original open-minded and scientific NCA membership policy changed. The January 1946 Star Dust listed a number of changes to be voted on by the membership in the club’s founding documents. (See https://capitalastronomers.org/SD_year/1946/StarDust_1946_01.pdf ) The organization voted to change article III of its constitution as follows:

From:

“only Caucasians over 16 years old are eligible for membership.

To this:

“to include all ages (see by-laws), exclude only the Black race.”

While it may be shocking that a scientific organization like NCA had such a policy, people often forget how racist a nation the USA used to be, and for how long. If you look up actual pages of DC area newspapers from the 1950s, you will note that the classified advertisements were largely segregated both by race and by gender – want ads would very often specify male or female, single or married, White-only or Colored-only jobs, apartments, and so on.

Schools in DC, MD, and Virginia were mostly segregated, either by law or in practice, up until the late 1960s or early 1970s. The 1954 Brown v Board decision had very little real impact in most areas until much, much later. Queens (NYC), PG County (MD) and Boston (MA) had violent movements against integrating schools in the 1970s. I know because I attended demonstrations against those racists and have some scars to prove it.

While the Federal and DC governments offices were integrated immediately after the Civil War, that changed for the worse when Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1912.

Many scientists in the USA and in Europe believed the pseudo-scientific ideas of racial superiority and eugenics that arose around 1900 and were still widespread 50 years ago – and even today, as recent events have sadly shown.

In The War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, Edwin Black explains how august scientific institutions like the Carnegie Institution of Washington (CIW), the American Natural History Museum in New York, and a number of eminent statisticians and biologists for many decades supported the Eugenics Records Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor. So did the fabulously wealthy Rockefeller and Harriman Foundations.

The ERO pushed the concept of the genetic superiority of the ‘Nordic’ race and helped to pass State laws sterilizing the ‘weak’ and forbidding interracial marriage. They were also successful in passing the 1924 Federal immigration law that severely cut back immigration from parts of the world where supposedly ‘inferior’ people lived – e.g. Eastern and Southern Europe. As a result, many Jews who would have loved to escape Hitler’s ovens by crossing the Atlantic never made it.  

Hitler and his acolytes always acknowledged their ideological and procedural debt to American eugenical laws, literature, and propaganda. As we all know, Germany’s Nazis put those ideas to work murdering millions of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and others.

It took more than three decades for the CIW to withdraw their support of the ERO. A CIW committee concluded in 1935 “that the Eugenics Record Office was a worthless endeavor from top to bottom, yielding no real data, and that eugenics itself was not a science but rather a social propaganda campaign with no discernable value to the science of either genetics or human heredity.” (Black, p. 390) The members pointedly compared the work of the ERO to the excesses of Nazi Germany. However, it took four more years for CIW to cut all their ties – shortly after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, starting World War Two.

I don’t know exactly when the ‘Caucasian’-only policy became part of the NCA rules, but it seems to have been between the club founding in 1937, and October 1943 when volume 1, number 1 of Star Dust was printed. At one point, perhaps around 1940, NCA decided that only ‘Caucasians’ over 16 could join. But as indicated above, in 1946, the racial exclusion policy was narrowed to only exclude Black people. Apparently Jews, Italians, young people, Latin Americans, and Asians were eligible to join NCA from 1946 to 1969. But not African-Americans.

While researching my talk, I found that the NCA held amateur telescope-making classes at a number of all-white DC, MD, and VA high schools, from the 1940s through about 1970, both during the days of de jure segregation and the merely de-facto type: McKinley, Roosevelt, Central, Bladensburg, Falls Church, and McLean high schools are listed. While Star Dust mentions a telescope-making course at (the largely-Black) Howard University in 1946, there is no mention of any assistance for that course from NCA.

I also found no evidence in any issue of Star Dust from that era that anybody at the time raised any vocal objections to racial exclusion. Not in 1946, nor 23 years later when the rule prohibiting Black members was quietly dropped (in 1969) when a new constitution was adopted.

A few current or past NCA members confirmed to me that at some point, they noticed that racist language and privately wondered about it. One person told me that they definitely recalled some now-deceased NCA members who were openly racist and not shy about expressing those views. Others told me that they had never heard any discussion of the subject at all.

 (As one who grew up in DC and Montgomery County, and attended essentially-segregated public schools there, I am sorry that neither I nor my family actively spoke up at the time, even though a farm adjacent to ours in Clarksburg was owned by a Black family [with no school-age children at the time]. Amazing how blind one can be! The racists of those days were not shy about committing violence to achieve their ends. Fear might be one reason for silence.)

One possibility is that some of the early NCA meetings might have been held at private residences; perhaps some of the racist members insisted in preventing non-‘Caucasian’ or ‘Black’ people from attending. It is too bad the other NCA members didn’t take the other route and stay true to the original ideas of the club, and tell the racist members to get lost.

Very ironic: the late George Carruthers, a celebrated Naval Research Labs and NASA scientist, and an instrument-maker for numerous astronomical probes and satellites, gave a talk to the NCA in September of 1970 – not too long after the NCA apparently dropped its racist membership rules (April, 1969). So, a mere year and a half before he gave his talk, he could not have legally joined the organization. Nor could he have done so when he was making his own telescopes from scratch as a teenager in the 1940s. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Robert_Carruthers on the life and work of this great African-American scientist and inventor.

To NCA’s credit, we have done better in the past few decades at encouraging participation in telescope viewing parties, telescope making, and lectures by members of all races and ethnic groups. However, I often find that not very many NCA members bring telescopes to viewing events, or show up to judge science fairs, in mostly-minority neighborhoods. Often, it’s just me. That needs to change. We need to encourage an interest in science, astronomy, and the universe in children and the public no matter their skin color or national origin, and we need to combat the racist twaddle that passes for eugenics.

I anticipate that NCA will have a formal vote repudiating the club’s former unscientific and racist policies and behavior. I hope we will redouble our efforts to promote the study of astronomy to members of all ethnic groups, especially those historically under-represented in science.

We could do well to note the words that Albert Einstein wrote in 1946, after he had been living in the US for a decade, and the same year that NCA confirmed that Black people could not join:

“a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the “Whites” toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes.

The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.

Many a sincere person will answer: “Our attitude towards Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability.”

I am firmly convinced that whoever believes this suffers from a fatal misconception. Your ancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force; and in the white man’s quest for wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery. The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.

The ancient Greeks also had slaves. They were not Negroes but white men who had been taken captive in war. There could be no talk of racial differences. And yet Aristotle, one of the great Greek philosophers, declared slaves inferior beings who were justly subdued and deprived of their liberty. It is clear that he was enmeshed in a traditional prejudice from which, despite his extraordinary intellect, he could not free himself.

What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias.

I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed. But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.”

Source: http://www.kganu.net/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/alberteinsteinonthenegroquestion-1946.pdf

I am indebted to Morgan Aronson, Nancy Byrd, Richard Byrd, Geoff Chester, Jeff Guerber, Jay Miller, Jeffrey Norman, Rachel Poe, Todd Supple, Wayne Warren, Elizabeth Warner, and Harold Williams for documents, memories, and/or technical support.

Don’t Give Employers a COVID Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card!

This is by David Sirota and Julia Rock, published in The Guardian.

“Support from Democratic lawmakers for the liability shield legislation comes after the same healthcare lobby group that drafted New York’s law has poured more than $11m into House and Senate Democratic Super PACs.

“The party, though, doesn’t seem to want its own voters to know the details of the deal it is cutting with the Republican party: in a comically on-the-nose attempt at a bait-and-switch, the Democratic senator Joe Manchin touted the legislation as only financial aid for communities – leaving out the fact that it includes a liability shield for corporations.

“US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been one of the few Democratic lawmakers to spotlight what’s really going on. Last week, she tweeted: “If you want to know why Covid-19 relief is tied up in Congress, one key reason is that Republicans are demanding legal immunity for corporations so they can expose their workers to Covid without repercussions.”

“The bipartisan initiative aims to obscure its Dr Evil level of depravity by superficially depicting the liability shield as merely temporary. But that seems like a ruse, as indicated by private equity mogul and senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who said the federal Covid-19 liability shield provision “provides a temporary suspension of any liability-related lawsuits, state or federal level associated with Covid-19, giving states enough time to put in place their own protections”.

“Though full legislative language has not been released, the goal seems clear: to give state legislatures more time to permanently prevent workers from suing employers who endanger them, and to permanently block their families from mounting such lawsuits when the workers die.”

Notably, lawmakers announcing the proposal did not point to a spate of frivolous wrongful death lawsuits that corporations have been warning about as a rationale for the liability shield. Instead, as the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense recently noted, “of more than 4,100 Covid-19 related lawsuits filed, only 75 are for wrongful death or injury as a result of getting sick at work. Two-thirds fall into three categories – insurance disputes, prison cases and civil rights cases, including challenging shelter-in-place orders.”

Liability shields, laundered as a necessary Covid-19 salve, are really designed to permanently remove the last remaining deterrent to corporate abuse

“The liability shield legislation is not some standalone cause – it should be understood as the culmination of a much larger, long-term campaign to remove countervailing force and give capital supreme power over labor.

“Over the last few decades, the government – through legislation and court rulings – has weakened unions, which have used collective bargaining to protect workers rights; limited class action lawsuits and punitive damages, which are designed to punish corporate misbehavior; and gutted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is supposed to enforce the weak workplace safety laws still on the books.”

How Will We Pay For This?

This question is never really asked about all the extremely expensive surveillance spyware and high-tech munitions. It’s only asked about things that will HELP people and the planet, such as the Green New Deal.

The following essay, from Forbes, argues that ‘we’ can pay for all of the suggested GND infrastructure improvements the old fashioned way: printing money. And that no, it won’t lead to inflation – in fact, we have now had 40 years of DEflation, which is much worse.

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90,142 views|Jan 16, 2019,07:15pm EST

The Green New Deal: How We Will Pay For It Isn’t ‘A Thing’ – And Inflation Isn’t Either

Robert Hockett

Robert HockettContributor

Markets

I cover law, justice, money, finance and economics.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s announcement of an ambitious new Green New Deal Initiative in Congress has brought predictable – and predictably silly – callouts from conservative pundits and scared politicians. ‘How will we pay for it?,’ they ask with pretend-incredulity, and ‘what about debt?’ ‘Won’t we have to raise taxes, and will that not crowd-out the job creators?’

Representative Ocasio-Cortez already has given the best answer possible to such queries, most of which seem to be raised in bad faith. Why is it, she retorts, that these questions arise only in connection with useful ideas, not wasteful ideas? Where were the ‘pay-fors’ for Bush’s $5 trillion wars and tax cuts, or for last year’s $2 trillion tax giveaway to billionaires? Why wasn’t financing those massive throwaways as scary as financing the rescue of our planet and middle class now seems to be to these naysayers?

The short answer to ‘how we will pay for’ the Green New Deal is easy. We’ll pay for it just as we pay for all else: Congress will authorize necessary spending, and Treasury will spend. This is how we do it – always has been, always will be.

The money that’s spent, for its part, is never ‘raised’ first. To the contrary, federal spending is what brings that money into existence.

If years of bad or no economic education make that ring counterintuitive to you, you’re not alone: politicians and pundits who ought to know better are with you. But the problem is readily remedied: just take a look at a dollar (or five dollar, or ten dollar, or … dollar) bill. The face you see is George Washington’s – a public official’s – not yours or some other private sector person’s. The signatures you’ll find, for their part, are those of the Treasurer and the Treasury Secretary, not yours or some other private sector person’s. And the inscription you’ll read across the top is ‘Federal Reserve Note,’ not ‘Private Sector Sally’s Note.’

‘Note’ here, note carefully, means ‘promissory note.’ Money betokens a promise. Hence money’s relation to credit. We’ll come back to this later. The money that Treasury spends is, in any event, jointly Fed- and Treasury-issued, not privately issued. That is to say it’s the citizenry’s issuance, not some single citizen’s issuance. It’s like a promise we make to each other. Hence the term ‘full faith and credit’ you’ll hear about when asking what ‘backs’ our currency and our Treasury securities.

This fact of public finance bears real consequences. Chief among them for present purposes is that ‘raising the money’ is never the relevant question for federal spending, any more than ‘finding the promises’ is a question for people who make and keep promises to one another. The relevant question, rather, is what limits, if any, there are on the promises we can make and fulfill. How many promissory notes, in other words, can Fed and Treasury issue without ‘over-promising’?

This is, effectively, the question of inflation – the question of promises’ outstripping capacity to redeem promises and hence losing credibility as promises. (The ‘cred’ of ‘credibility’ is the ‘cred’ of ‘credit,’ not to mention of ‘credo’ – or ‘faith.’) This is precisely why lawyers, accountants, and economists schooled in the simple mechanics of public finance always tell you the relevant constraint upon spending is not some non-existent ‘fundraising constraint,’ but ‘the inflation constraint,’ also known as ‘the resource constraint.’

The truth of the resource constraint is that money usually can be publicly issued and spent only at a rate commensurate with new goods and services supply. If the money supply grows too rapidly for goods and services to keep up, you get the old problem of ‘too many dollars chasing too few goods’ – inflation. If the money supply grows too slowly to keep up with productive capacity, you get the opposite problem – deflation, a far more serious threat, as we’ve seen since the crash of ‘08.

Over the past four decades or so, inflation in consumer goods markets – so-called ‘Consumer Price Inflation,’ or ‘CPI’ – has been by and large nonexistent in the ‘developed’ world. Our problem has been just the opposite – deflation. That is what slow, ‘anemic,’ and even ‘negative’ growth rates across the ‘mature’ economies in recent decades have been about. What inflation we’ve had has been concentrated in financial markets, where the ever-more rich in our ever-more unequal societies gamble their winnings. Meanwhile those below the top have had to spend less and borrow more, bringing deflation and, worse still, debt-deflations after the financial crashes inevitably brought on by asset price hyperinflations in our financial markets.

Which takes us to the Green New Deal. Representative Ocasio-Cortez, whose educational background is in economics, understands as few leaders seem to do that our problems of late have been problems of deflation, not inflation. She also knows well that both inequality and the loss of our middle class have both caused and been worsened by these deflationary trends, along with their mirror images in the financial markets: our asset price hyperinflations – ‘bubbles’ – and busts. Her Green New Deal aims to do nothing short of reversing this slow-motion national suicide – and end our ongoing ‘planet-cide’ in the process.

Because the Green New Deal aims at reversing undeniable long-term deflationary trends in our national economy, there is reason already to deem inflation fears, sure to be stoked by conservative pundits and scared politicians, a silly canard. But we can go further than this. We can catalogue theoretical, empirical, and policy instrument reasons to laugh such fears off.

The theoretical case against inflation worries is straightforward and comes in two parts. Recall the popular ‘too much money chasing too few goods’ adage above. What this slogan captures is that inflation is always a relational matter. It’s about money supply in relation to goods and services supply.

The Green New Deal aims to stoke massive production of a vast array of new products, from solar panels to windmills to new battery and charging station technologies to green power grids and hydroelectric power generation facilities. The new production and new productivity that renewed infrastructure will bring will be virtually unprecedented in our nation’s history. This will be more than enough to absorb all new money spent into our economy. It will also distinguish the Green New Deal starkly from pseudo-stimulus plans of the recent past, none of which flowed to production or infrastructure and nearly all of which simply inflated financial markets.

The second theoretical reason not to fret about Green New Deal inflation is related to but distinct from the first. It is that our economy now is operating at far below capacity even as is, before the Green New Deal adds to capacity. Labor force participation rates still languish at historic lows, and wages and salaries have yet to catch up even to such little growth as we’ve had since our crash of ten years ago. Indeed they have stagnated for decades. These are classic indicators of slack – slack which by definition is opportunity-squandering, and which the Green New Deal now aims to ‘take up.’

The empirical case against inflation worries corroborates the theoretical case, and can also be made from a number of angles. Note first that billions of dollars in tax cuts flowed into the economy during the Reagan years, while multiple trillions more in both tax cuts and war spending flowed during the George W. Bush years. The tax cuts of December 2017 pumped yet more trillions – two of them – into the economy just a bit over a year ago. And still we have seen nothing – nothing – in the way of undesired price inflation in consumer goods and services markets. Indeed no ‘developed’ economy has seen significant CPI inflation for some forty years. Why do inflation ‘Chicken Littles’ think ‘this time [or place] is different?’

My referring to ‘undesired’ price inflation just now hints at another empirical reason to scoff at inflation scolds. Since 2012, the Fed has formally aimed at a 2% inflation target that it has informally targeted even longer. Yet in only a few quarters during all of these years has

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, and Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., stand together on the House... [+] floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, on the first day of the 116th Congress with Democrats holding the majority. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, and Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., stand together on the House… [+]

 ASSOCIATED PRESS

it managed, just barely, to reach it. If the Fed with its massive balance sheet cannot get our inflation rate up to its very low 2% target even while trying to do so, why does Chicken Little think things will grow scary even should the Fed seek one day to tamp prices down?

The final empirical reason to dismiss the inflation Scaredy Cats comes from investors themselves. For years now the Treasury Department has issued ‘inflation-protected’ securities along with traditional ones. The ‘spread’ between prices of the former and prices of the latter is effectively a measure of investors’ inflationary expectations: if they are willing to pay substantially more for inflation-protected than for ordinary Treasurys, they have substantial inflation fears; otherwise not. So what is that spread? It is virtually nil, and has been for years.

But what if the Green New Deal works so well that inflation comes anyway, Chicken Little now asks, notwithstanding all the theoretical and empirical reasons to discount such worries? Here we find even more reasons for comfort. For the ‘toolbox’ of counter-inflationary policy instruments is filled to near overflowing. Let’s consider a few of them.

We can begin with the familiar. Targeted taxes and bond sales, long familiar to most of us, have long been employed to absorb ‘excess money’ during times of high growth. This is precisely what they are for. Because money is issued by citizenrys rather than citizens as noted above, sovereign taxes and bond sales are never about ‘raising money,’ but about ‘lowering money aggregates.’ If inflation should one day emerge, we shall use them accordingly. Once again: always have, always will.

We should note also that such tools can be targeted at specific sources of inflation. A financial transaction tax such as that favored by Representative Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, would operate on financial market inflation – asset price ‘bubbles’ – of the sort that have plagued us in recent years. A ‘value added tax’ – a ‘VAT’ – on particular items that become objects of speculation would work similarly. Such are the real aims of taxation – to act on incentives and press down on price pressures – not to ‘raise money’ we already issue. We know how to use them, and can use them again should it ever prove necessary.

Similar truths hold of the other familiar anti-inflationary policy instrument just mentioned – sovereign bond sales. Treasury already offers a variety of these instruments, classified by time-to-maturity and yield. Such classification offers the option of soaking up money from different sectors of society, from those seeking short-term yield to those seeking longer-term yield. These sales are swaps of unspendable instruments for spendable instruments – dollars, a.k.a. ‘legal tender.’ The New York Fed trading desk does this daily to fine-tune the money supply – we call its activities ‘open market operations.’ It would do likewise, save in the opposite direction, were inflation ever again to become ‘a thing.’

Turning now to less familiar policy instruments, note next that much of financial regulation both can be and should be deployed in the cause of what I call money modulation – that is, inflation- and deflation-prevention. Banks ‘create’ – they generate – money by lending; any banker will tell you that. So do most other financial institutions – especially those of the so-called ‘shadow banking’ sector. This is the sense in which credit is money, or what smart economists call ‘credit-money.’

Regulations that we impose upon credit-extension are accordingly regulations on money-creation. Require banks to raise more equity capital per dollar’s worth of credit that they extend, and you effectively lessen the amount of dollar-denominated credit, hence money, that they can generate. Place greater limits on what kinds of lending or investing they can do, and you do likewise.

We call these things ‘capital’ (or ‘leverage’) and ‘portfolio’ regulation, respectively. And though we initially developed them to protect individual institutions and their depositors or investors, we now use them also to modulate credit aggregates economy-wide. It’s called ‘macroprudential regulation,’ and its rediscovery post-crash in the last decade is one of the signal achievements of the post-crisis era. But its importance for Green New Deal purposes is that it’s a powerful anti-inflationary as well as anti-deflationary tool, all thanks to money’s relation to credit.

As if these tools were not enough, there are yet others we could use but don’t use as yet, presumably because we’ve not needed to yet. I’ve proposed these in other work. One is for the New York Fed trading desk to buy or sell not only Treasury securities of varying maturities and yields, but also other financial instruments – in order to target specific prices of broad economic significance when they grow too low or too high (what I call ‘systemically important prices’).

During the Fed’s experiments with ‘quantitative easing’ (‘QE’), for example, commodity prices ended up rising in ways that harmed lower income Americans. I therefore proposed the Fed ‘short’ commodities in its open market operations to put downward pressure on their prices. Though I worked at the Fed at the time, the central bank didn’t take me up on my suggestion. But it could have done so. And it can in the future, in as narrowly targeted a manner as necessary, if ever inflation emerges. And with a balance sheet of its size, it can influence prices quite massively.

A final way we might combat inflation, should it ever emerge, is by use of a new infrastructure that I’ve proposed elsewhere. Suppose, for a moment, that the Fed offered what I call interest-bearing ‘Citizen Accounts’ for all citizens, instead of just offering ‘reserve accounts’ to privileged banks as it does now. Were it to do so, we’d not only eliminate our nation’s ‘financial inclusion’ problem in one swoop, we’d also gain a most powerful money modulation tool.

During deflations like that after 2008, for example, the Fed could drop debt-free ‘helicopter money’ directly into Citizen Accounts rather than giving it to banks in the hope that they’ll lend (which they didn’t – hence the notorious ‘pushing on a string’ problem of the post-2008 period). And were inflation ever to emerge, the Fed could likewise simply raise interest rates on Citizen Accounts, thereby inducing more saving and less spending.

I believe that the ‘fintech’ revolution renders something like what I’m proposing here all but inevitable. The point for present purposes, though, is simply that once this thing happens we’ll have yet another quite powerful anti-inflationary and anti-deflationary policy tool – and therefore yet more reason not to be timid about moving ahead energetically with the Green New Deal.

Have I succeeded, then? Have I convinced you both that there isn’t a ‘pay for’ challenge and that there isn’t, thanks to a multitude of theoretical, empirical, and policy lever reasons, an ‘inflation’ challenge either? If you are bold, know finance, and care about our future, you probably didn’t need much convincing. If instead you are frightened, financially untutored, or cavalier about our economy or our planet, please buck up, wise up, and suit up. It is time to say game on for the Green New Deal.

Robert Hockett

Robert Hockett

I teach legal, financial and some philosophical subjects at Cornell University in New York, where I am the Edward Cornell Professor of Law and a Professor of Public Policy. I also am Senior Counsel at Westwood Capital, a socially responsible investment bank in midtown Manhattan, and a Fellow of The Century Foundation, a think tank near Battery Park in lower Manhattan. My principal research, writing, and practical concerns are with the legal and institutional prerequisites to a just, prosperous, and sustainable economic order. I have worked at the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and continue to serve in a consultative capacity for a number of U.S. federal, state, and local legislators and regulators. I grew up mainly in New Orleans, America’s most wonderful city (sorry, New York), and return to it often. I was educated at Yale, Oxford (as a Rhodes Scholar), and the University of Kansas.

 

Suggestions on what to do about the Supreme Court nominee, redux

Remember the list of suggestions by Bill Svelmoe for what to do about Amy Coney Barrett’s illegitimate nomination to the US Supreme Court?

The list went viral, as you may be able to read below.

I hope that Harris and other senators are taking those suggestions seriously.

COVID daily deaths around the world

Please bookmark this page: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries

It gives all sorts of data on infections, recoveries, testing, deaths, and so on from all over the world. If you look at it, you will see that none of MangoMussolini’s boasts are correct, and that some nations seem to have ‘beaten’ the virus — at least for now.

(Yes, I know, all data is somewhat suspect, and some countries are probably low-balling their numbers. But this is all the data we have.)

I will share some graphs I copied from that source, so you can see which nations appear to be doing a good job at shutting down the current pandemic. I will first show the world, then the USA, then about a dozen nations, arranged alphabetically. You will see that the US is very, very obviously not one of the countries whose leadership has been able to defeat this disease.

I will also share the number of deaths per million people.

0. THE WORLD:

This is for the entire world, and it’s deaths per day, as of today, August 4, 2020. Deaths are not going down. Worldwide, we have lost 90 people per million to this disease so far.
  1. THE UNITED STATES:
The vertical scale is obviously different from the one for the world. As you can see, deaths from COVID in the US are now about 1000 per day, and rising. The US has lost 481 people per million so far.

2. BRAZIL:

Brazil’s deaths never declined. They have lost 446 people per million.

3. CHINA:

That big spike in the middle is when the Chinese regime discovered they had left out a lot of COVID deaths. Since that time, they have had very, very few. They have lost 3 (yes, THREE) people per million so far.

4. FRANCE:

Another country that successfully beat back the pandemic. They have lost 464 people per million so far.

5. GERMANY:

As did Germany. Their total dead work out to 110 per million people so far.

6. INDIA:

India, on the other hand, has not been successful. Deaths are increasing steadily; also, it would not be surprising if a lot of them are not even being counted. They report 28 people dead per million so far.

7. ITALY:

Italy was hit hard, and hit early. However, its daily death rates appear to be going in the right direction: down. Their toll is 582 dead per million.

8. MEXICO:

Mexico’s death rates do not appear to be going down. One might wonder if all of the COVID-19 deaths are even being counted. Their death total stands at 372 per million.

9. RUSSIA:

These figures are not going in the right direction. Plus, there are protests in Russia because folks in their Far East have evidence of serious undercounting. Their toll is 98 dead per million.

10. SOUTH AFRICA:

Not going in the right direction. Their toll is 144 per million.

11. SPAIN:

Like Italy, Spain was hit hard and early, but the daily death tolls now are approaching zero. Their death toll is 609 per million, one of the highest in the world.

12. SWEDEN:

Unlike the rest of Scandinavia, Sweden decided not to lock down at all. While the death rates are going down, they are doing so much more slowly than in most other European (and Scandinavian) nations.

Their death toll is 569 per million, one of the highest anywhere.

13: UNITED KINGDOM (BRITAIN)

The United Kingdom (aka Great Britain) was hit early, and its daily death toll is going down much more slowly than in other European nations.

Their death toll is 680 per million, which is, again, one of the highest anywhere.

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I don’t think you will guess the nation with the highest total COVID death rate per million, so I’ll just tell you: it’s tiny San Marino at 1238. Next come Belgium (with 850) and the UK (with 680).

Here is a table listing the top 17 nations. Being in this group is not a good thing.

RankNationDeaths per million
1San Marino1,238
2Belgium850
3UK680
4Andorra673
5Spain609
6Peru600
7Italy582
8Sweden569
9Chile507
10USA481
11France464
12Brazil446
13Sint Maarten373
14Mexico372
15Netherlands359
16Ireland357
17Panama346

How to decide if anybody should listen to your ideas on how and whether to re-open schools, or maybe you should just hush.

Peter Greene has provided a nice flow chart to let you decide whether you should open your mouth with your ideas on how and whether to re-open the public schools, or whether you should just be quiet and listen.

So, should you just hush, or do you have something valuable to contribute to this subject?

My wife and I each taught for 30 years or so, and so we would be in the ‘speak right up’ category, but I don’t really know how the USA can get public education to work next year, especially since the danger is not going away, but apparently once more growing at an exponential clip.

Nobody should be listening to billionaires or their bought-and-paid-for policy wonks who once spent a whole two years in a classroom.

A few quotes from Greene’s column. (He is a much better writer than me, and much more original as well.)

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To everyone who was never a classroom teacher but who has some ideas about how school should be reopened in the fall:

Hush.

Just hush.

There are some special categories of life experiences. Divorce. Parenthood. Deafness. Living as a Black person in the US. Classroom teacher. They are very different experiences, but they all have on thing in common.

You can read about these things. But if you haven’t lived it, you don’t know. You can study up, read up, talk to people. And in some rare cases that brings you close enough to knowing that your insights might actually be useful.

But mostly, you are a Dunning-Krueger case study just waiting to be written up.

The last thirty-seven-ish years of education have been marked by one major feature– a whole lot of people who just don’t know, throwing their weight around and trying to set the conditions under which the people who actually do the work will have to try to actually do the work. Policy wonks, privateers, Teach for America pass-throughs, guys who wanted to run for President, folks walking by on the street who happen to be filthy rich, amateurs who believe their ignorance is a qualification– everyone has stuck their oar in to try to reshape US education. And in ordinary times, as much as I argue against these folks, I would not wave my magic wand to silence them, because 1) educators are just as susceptible as anyone to becoming too insular and entrenched and convinced of their own eternal rightness and 2) it is a teacher’s job to serve all those amateurs, so it behooves the education world to listen, even if what they hear is 98% bosh.

But that’s in ordinary times, and these are not ordinary times.

There’s a whole lot of discussion about the issues involved in starting up school this fall. The discussion is made difficult by the fact that all options stink. It is further complicated by the loud voices of people who literally do not know what they are talking about.

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