IPCC: Cost of Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change Super-Affordable if We Act Now Jeff Masters, Weather Underground
The Mellon Lifestyle as a Brand Times. Wretched excess.
Real-Estate Crowdfunding Finds Its Footing Online WSJ
ARE SPECULATIVE BUBBLES GOOD? The New Yorker
Pay for Performance? It Depends on the Measuring Stick Gretchen Morgenson, Times
Overseas Chinese and the Crimea Crisis The Diplomat
Are Americans really jingoistic yahoos? A cautionary statistical tale Princeton Election Consortium
Big Brother Is Watching You Watch
How LBJ Saved the Civil Rights Act The Atlantic
Democrats settle on fairness issues hoping to avoid a repeat of 2010 midterm disaster WaPo. Five years too late.
The AP downplays its Obamacare scoop CJR. “They say, ‘You are expecting me to pay the premium every month and once I go to the doctor I have to pay $5,000 before there’s coverage?’ Then they walk away.” But 7.1 millions sign-ups!
The other Social Security battle: the squeeze on customer service Reuters. A bit stale, but check this on why some people still like paper: “They’re not that comfortable putting their financial information on Internet.” But why?!
America’s Energy Edge Foreign Affairs
THE DECLINING EFFECTIVENESS OF VIOLENCE Monkey Business
The Slaughter Bench of History The Atlantic
Antidote du jour:here.
By Hites Ahir, Senior research officer, IMF, and Prakash Loungani, Senior resource manager and advisor in the IMF’s Research Department. Originally published at VoxEU.
Since the onset of the Great Recession, much of the world has been in a state of economic winter: nearly 50 countries were in recession in 2009 and 15 countries slipped into recession in 2012. After weak global growth in 2013, economic forecasters are predicting a rosier outlook this year and next. Can these forecasts be trusted? Or are forecasters simply intoning – like Chauncey Gardner, the character played by Peter Sellers in the movie Being There – that “there will be growth in the spring”?The 2008–2012 Record
In a classic 1987 paper, William Nordhaus documented that, as forecasters, we tend to break the “bad news to ourselves slowly, taking too long to allow surprises to be incorporated into our forecasts.” Papers by Herman Stekler (1972) and Victor Zarnowitz (1986) found that forecasters had missed every turning point in the US economy.
These traits appear to have persisted to this day. In our recent work we look at the record of professional forecasters in predicting recessions over the period 2008-2012 (Ahir and Loungani 2014). There were a total of 88 recessions over this period, where a recession is defined as a year in which real GDP fell on a year-over-year basis in a given country. The distribution of recessions over the different years is shown in the left-hand panel of Figure 1.
Figure 1. Number of recessions predicted by September of the previous year
The panel on the right shows the number of cases in which forecasters predicted a fall in real GDP by September of the preceding year. These predictions come from Consensus Forecasts, which provides for each country the real GDP forecasts of a number of prominent economic analysts and reports the individual forecasts as well as simple statistics such as the mean (the consensus).
As shown above, none of the 62 recessions in 2008–09 was predicted as the previous year was drawing to a close. However, once the full realisation of the magnitude and breadth of the Great Recession became known, forecasters did predict by September 2009 that eight countries would be in recession in 2010, which turned out to be the right call in three of these cases. But the recessions in 2011–12 again came largely as a surprise to forecasters.A Robust Finding
In short, the ability of forecasters to predict turning points appears limited. This finding holds up to a number of robustness checks (Loungani, Stekler, and Tamirisa 2013).
- First, lowering the bar on how far in advance the recession is predicted does not appreciably improve the ability to forecast turning points.
- Second, using a more precise definition of recessions based on quarterly data does not change the results.
- Third, the failure to predict turning points is not particular to the Great Recession but holds for earlier periods as well.
Figure 2. Predicting recessions in advanced economies, 1989–2008
These points are illustrated in Figure 2 above, which presents evidence on how well recessions were predicted in advanced economies over the period 1989 to 2008. Consider the panel on the left. The line labelled ‘unconditional forecast’ shows the normal evolution of forecasts of real GDP growth. On average across countries, forecasters start out by predicting – in January of the preceding year – that annual growth in the following year will be about 3%. This forecast is then lowered slightly over the coming 24 months.
The evolution of forecasts in years that will turn out to be recessions is shown by the red bars. While forecasts in recession years start out very close to the unconditional average, they start to depart from it slightly around the middle of the previous year, suggesting that forecasters are already starting to be aware that the year to come is likely to be a departure from the norm. Major departures of the forecasts from the unconditional average, however, only start to occur over the course of the current year and occur in a very smooth fashion. By the end of the forecasting horizon in December, forecasts are only slightly above the average outcome in recession years, which is shown by the solid blue line. (Note that, on average, growth is not negative during recessions in advanced economies because the dating of recession episodes is based on the quarterly data and annual growth tends to remains positive during many recessions.)
The evidence for recessions associated with banking crises is shown in the right panel of Figure 2. Here, the departure from the unconditional forecast starts earlier than it does for other recessions. This is followed by a smooth pattern of downward revisions to the forecast. In this case, even the terminal forecast greatly underestimates the actual decline, which on average is about 1.5%. To summarise, the evidence over the past two decades supports the view that “the record of failure to predict recessions is virtually unblemished,” as Loungani (2001) concluded based on the evidence of the 1990s.Are Official Forecasts Any Better?
Forecasts from the official sector, either from national sources or international agencies, are no better at predicting turning points. In the case of the US, the March 2007 statement by then-Fed Chairman Bernanke that “the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems likely to be contained” has received a lot of attention. Another Fed Chair, Alan Greenspan, told his colleagues in late-August 1990 – a month into a recession – that “those who argue that we are already in a recession are reasonably certain to be wrong.” Forecasts by Fed staff have also missed turning points, as discussed in Sinclair, Joutz and Stekler (2010).
During the Great Recession, Consensus forecasts and official sector forecasts were so similar that statistical horse races to assess which one did better end up in a photo-finish. As an example, Figure 3 compares Consensus forecasts with those made by the OECD. For both the year-ahead forecasts (those made in June of the previous year) and the current year forecasts, the correlation between the two sources of forecasts is extremely high. Hence, an analysis of the OECD’s ability to forecast recessions gives results very similar to those shown earlier for Consensus forecasts.
Figure 3. Correlation between Consensus forecasts and OECD forecasts
For the case of the IMF too, a recent independent evaluation concluded “that the accuracy of IMF short-term forecasts is comparable to that of private forecasts. Both tend to overpredict GDP growth significantly during regional or global recessions, as well as during crises in individual countries” (IMF 2014).Searching for an Explanation
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to fail to forecast a few recessions may be misfortune, to fail to forecast nearly all of them seems like carelessness. Do forecasters simply not update their forecasts often enough to be alert to the onset of recessions? That simple possible explanation turns out not to be true. As shown in Figure 2 earlier, the consensus forecasts in recession years are revised every month; they just are not revised down enough to capture the onset of recessions. Related work by one of us – which looks at the behaviour of individual forecasters rather than just the consensus – also finds that forecasts are updated quite often (Dovern, Fritsche, Loungani, Tamirisa, 2014).
So the explanation for why recessions are not forecasted ahead of time lies in three other classes of theories, which are not mutually exclusive.
- One class says that forecasters do not have enough information to reliably call a recession. Economic models are not reliable enough to predict recessions, or recessions occur because of shocks (e.g. political crises) that are difficult to anticipate.
- A second class of theories says that forecasters do have not have the incentive to predict a recession, which – though not a tail – event are still relatively rare. Included in this class are explanations that rely on asymmetric loss functions: there may be greater loss – reputational and other kinds – for incorrectly calling a recession than benefits from correctly calling one.
- The third class stresses behavioural reasons for why forecasters hold on to their priors and only revise them slowly and insufficiently in response to incoming information (Nordhaus 1987).
Regardless of the explanation for why recessions fail to be forecasted, the evidence suggests that users of these forecasts need to be cognizant of this feature. Forecasters may be predicting that “there will be growth in the spring” but their ability to predict a sudden snowstorm is rather limited.References
Ahir, Hites and Prakash Loungani (2014), “Fail Again? Fail Better? Forecasts by Economists During the Great Recession”, George Washington University Research Program in Forecasting Seminar.
Dovern, Jonas, Ulrich Fritsche, Prakash Loungani, and Natalia Tamirisa (2014), “Information Rigidities: Comparing Average and Individual Forecasts for a Large International Panel”, IMF Working Paper 14/31.
IMF, Independent Evaluation Office (2014), “IMF Forecasts: Process, Quality and Country Perspectives”.
Loungani, Prakash (2001), “How accurate are private sector forecasts? Cross-country evidence from consensus forecasts of output growth”, International Journal of Forecasting, 17(3).
Loungani, Prakash, Herman Stekler, and Natalia Tamirisa (2013), “Information rigidity in growth forecasts: Some cross-country evidence”, International Journal of Forecasting, 29(4).
Nordhaus, William (1987), “Forecasting Efficiency: Concepts and Applications”, Review of Economics and Statistics, 69(4).
Sinclair, Tara M, Fred Joutz, and Herman Stekler (2010), “Can the Fed predict the state of the economy?”, Economics Letters, 108(1).
Stekler, Herman (1972), “An analysis of turning point forecast errors”, American Economic Review, 62.
Zarnowitz, Victor (1986), “The Record and Improvability of Economic Forecasting,” NBER Working Paper 2099.
By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Yesterday, readers mentioned this wonderful artwork from 2012′s Printemps érable in Montreal. And today we have election results from Quebec. The Real News Network interviews Leo Panitch, Canada Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy and a distinguished research professor of political science at York University in Toronto. Here’s the video:
When I lived in Quebec, I thought separatism as advocated by the Parti Québécois (PQ) was madness, because I was invested with the idea that Federalism can support a mosaic of cultures; but now that Harper and the Canadian Conservatives are busily turning Canada into a reactionary petro-state — for which 47 Quebeckers paid with their lives in the Lac-Mégantic oil train explosion — I’m not so sure. Be that as it may, today’s electoral developments in Quebec are entertaining and interesting, both electorally and as partisan politics.
First, a once-progressive party, the PQ, was punished for cynically pretending they were still progressive while at the same time moving right. (It never does to project one’s own electoral politic onto another country, but still; does that sound familiar?)
[PANITCH:] [T]he Parti Québécois got wiped. … [T]he choice that voters had was between that party moving rapidly to the right–as you mentioned in your intro, by making a star candidate P. K. Péladeau, who is Quebec’s most prominent media tycoon, the head of Quebecor, the head of the second-largest newspaper chain in Canada, Sun Media, the owner of the largest cable television network in Quebec. And they thought they were going to be able to get people to vote for them by presenting themselves as having capital on their side.
This blew up in their faces. [Péladeau] had been extremely anti-union, famous for his lockouts of workers. And the notion that the Parti Québécois was so cynical as to put forward someone like that as their candidate to make Quebec separatism respectable amongst capitalists blew up in their faces. And it was a remarkable development in that sense.
Two of the leaders of the student protests ran as Parti Québécois candidates, and they showed themselves [incompr.] like to be opportunists in doing so. [I believe the French word for schadenfreude is... schadenfreude.] … And I think this can be seen as a rebuke to cynical politicians like Pauline Marois, who put on a little red flannel badge, which is a sign of support for the students, when their campaign was going on, joined them in the streets, but then, when she was in, turned her back on what they were standing for.
Second, the party voted in, the Quebec Liberals, necessarily has a weak mandate, because it’s corrupt. (Ditto.)
PERIES: So, Leo, let’s talk about who won. Philippe Couillard, Liberal Party, won big, gaining twenty seats, and a total of 70 seats. And this was a party that was just ruling just before the Parti Québécois was in power.
PANITCH: Yes, and with a very corrupt record, and with an inquiry going on, an official inquiry going on, which was suspended for the election campaign, into all kinds of corruption. The corrupt contracts that the government was engaged in letting in exchange for kickbacks to politicians or to the Liberal Party. And this is likely to resurface.
So Couillard himself, indeed, was doing some business with the head of the Montreal Hospital, who turned out to be accused of very corrupt practices. But this turned out not to harm him, because of the way the PQ could have conducted this campaign so badly.
It will be interesting to see what happens when the offical inquiry resumes!
Third, a good deal of the voting was strategic.
[PANITCH:] [T]he PQ also tried to follow the root of the French right, the French nationalists, in introducing what is known as a secular charter. There was a fear, especially on the part of rural Quebeckers, about immigrants, especially about Muslim immigrants, but not only. There’s a constant fear in Quebec that Quebeckers, who have a low birth rate, will be overwhelmed by people who’d rather be speaking English in the sea of Anglophone North America.
But there was also an element of fear of women with chadors and so on. And the PQ thought that they’d play a smart one and introduce this charter, the secular charter, which would prohibit people who work in the public sector–in hospitals, schools, as well as in government offices–from wearing any religious symbol, which included even a yarmulke, a skullcap that Jews wear, but also included any other garb, including chadors that women wear and so on. And this showed some popularity in rural areas. But, again, it blew up in their faces in the campaign. Quebeckers are not, for the most part, an intolerant people, and they were not prepared, I think, to accept this. Of course, it led, moreover, for a great many people who were from other parts of the world and now live in Montreal and elsewhere who previously, for social justice reasons, might have voted for the PQ, to switch their vote, and to switch their vote in such a way as to ensure they got defeated, which meant rather than voting for Québec Solidaire, they voted–held their noses, no doubt, but voted for the Liberal Party.
Fourth, there are signs of hope for an emergent party to break the PQ/Quebec Liberal duopoly.
[PANITCH:] This does lay the basis for, I think, the growing support for a more substantial independence party, but one that is closer to being socialist. They don’t quite use the term, but they use the term social justice. And this is Québec Solidaire. They had two seats before the recent election. They gained an additional one. All of them are in central Montreal, in the poorer working-class districts of Montreal, all three of them. They are definitely on the left.
And people who supported the Parti Québécois till now, having some substantive social justice reasons for doing so, are now likely to turn to the Québec Solidaire Party. [I think the bulk of the activists in the great student protests in Quebec from just over a year ago would have been in favor of the Québec Solidaire.] And we may, in that sense, be seeing the end of Quebec politics being defined in terms of who’s for or against staying in Canada, above all, and being defined much more clearly in terms of who’s in favor of a socially just Quebec and who’s in favor of kissing the butt of the capitalists, which the PQ, unfortunately, has moved towards being alongside the Liberal Party. …
So, a sophisticated, engaged electorate is doing interesting things. But then, with the round bacon they’ve got to cope with up there, sophisticated and engaged is just what they’d have to be.
* * *
Basically, I’m just arguing for a watching brief, here; this post is background. The Printemps érable came out of nowhere and was very creative in its methods and achieved some results. All it takes — one hopes — is a single tear in the painted canvas of our Potemkin village for the wind to tear the entire fabric and carry the whole flimsy structure away.
 The artworK scrolls horizontally. For whatever reason, swiping works on the iPad but dragging no longer works on my laptop. YMMV!
 Canada counts paper ballots by hand in public: The gold standard, because the likelihood of corruption is far less than with the electronic voting machines we in the United States use. All the ballots are counted in one night.
 OK, OK, I know “progressive” doesn’t really mean anything any more, but you know what I mean. Panitch comments:
Quebec society has been the most left-wing in Canada since the 1960s, having been the most traditional and patriarchal and religious-dominated until them. But Quebec went through a quiet revolution, as it’s called, in the 1960s. The Parti Québécois came out of that with a kind of a left and progressive project of an independent Quebec state, but their main politics were always nationalist, and they, you know, historically, although the unions have been affiliated with that party, have often engaged in a repression of public-sector trade unionism themselves. So they were hoping, as most nationalists do, to create this impression of a cross-class alliance…
 Canada has a “first past the post” system, so Québec Solidaire would have had to have won a majority in those districts.
By Philip Pilkington, a writer and research assistant at Kingston University in London. You can follow him on Twitter @pilkingtonphil. Originally published at Fixing the Economists
One of the nicest stylised facts in applied economics is that if the Fed inverts the yield curve it will cause a recession. Inverting the yield curve basically means that the Fed hikes the short-term interest rate goes higher than the long-term interest rate. In theory this should lead to long-term lending drying up, investment falling significantly (usually in housing and inventories) and, ultimately, a recession.
The track record of this as an indicator of recessions in the US is too impressive to dismiss. Take a look at the chart below. The shaded areas are recessions. As you can see, every time the short-term interest rate (blue line) climbs about the long-term interest rate (red line) we see a recession within around 12 months or so.
The question, however, is whether this is universal economic constant. And when we turn to the data from other countries we quickly see that it is not.
All the data that follows if from the St. Louis Fed but I have done the graphs myself so that I could include lines indicating British and Japanese recessions.
Okay, so let’s take the UK first. This graph is pretty rough but the green lines are the starts of recessions and the thinner black lines are points when the short-term interest rate rose above the long-term interest rate without causing a recession. The short-term interest rate is the blue line and the long-term interest rate is the red line.
As we can see, the story here is a bit more complicated than in the US. Only three out of the five recessions were precipitated by an inverted yield curve. Meanwhile the yield curve inverted seven times without causing a recession.
This does not bode well for the notion that this correlation might be constant across time and space.
So, let’s turn to Japan. Unfortunately, the data available for Japan is only from during the so-called Lost (Two) Decade(s) and so we will be dealing with a rather unusual period. Nevertheless, it should still prove interesting.
As the reader can see I have not bothered to mark the recessions in this chart. Why? Because it is quite clear that the yield curve never inverted in this period. The short-term interest rate (blue) always stayed below the long-term interest rate (red). What’s more, in this period Japan had five recessions. Including a massive one at the beginning of the 1990s. Clearly these were not correlated with and therefore not caused by an inverted yield curve.
So, the question remains: why is this correlation so strong in the US? This is impossible to answer without some doubt but allow me to shoot from the hip a little and throw out some potential causes. (Suggestions welcome in the comments!)
1. The US is a very insulated economy: due to this recessions are caused largely by internal factors.
2. The US economy is more credit-driven than other economies: hence, the interest rate plays a larger role in investment and consumption decisions.
3. The US has tended to use monetary policy more consistently than its neighbors: which is why the economy has become more ‘used’ to falling into recession when monetary policy is aggressively tightened.
4. There is a self-fulfilling belief in the US that an inverted yield curve leads to recessions.
Frankly, I think that the answer lies somewhere in between the four reasons listed above. I think that reason number four is also probably the most important. Folks in the US get very hot and bothered about inverted yield curves — reflecting the American love for projecting engineering-like causality into just about every field — and this likely has a sort of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ effect.
Anyway, whatever the reason the facts are clear: the rule-of-thumb that a recession will generally follow on the back of an inverted yield curve is a good one for the US — whether it is based on hocus pocus or otherwise — but it is probably useless to apply outside of the US. Once again we learn that time-tested lesson: there are no universal laws in that all-too historical field known as economics.
As readers may know, the mislabeled trade deal known as the TransPacific Partnership hasn’t looked like it has great odds of being consummated. The Wikileaks publication of two important draft chapters showed considerable opposition from America’s counterparties on numerous important provisions. As we’ve reported, the Japanese press has said, in pretty direct terms, that the US has not been willing to bargain and Japanese aren’t interested in being ordered about.
In the US, Congress is in revolt. Congress had over time abdicated much of its responsibility for these treaties by giving successive Administrations “fast track” authority, which would allow them to negotiate a trade pact, then present it to both Houses for a yea or nay vote. But the TransPacific Partnership, and its evil sister, the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, have been shrouded in so much secrecy as to raise Congress’ hackles. House Speaker Boehner has said he doesn’t have the votes to pass fast track authority, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has stated he won’t table the bill.
But the Administration has not given up. We warned that it might try pushing a bill through in the lame duck session at the end of this year. And it’s also trying to get those difficult Japanese in line. A plugged-in DC contact wrote, clearly concerned:
[US Trade Representative Froman] is in Japan NOW trying to grease the skids for Obama’s “heroic” deal storyline during April 23-25 AND he is making some headway! No breakthroughs apparently but Ambassador Rude is getting stuff his team who has been there for 3 weeks straight has not. AND if the Ways and Means hearing were not sufficiently intense for a Japanese audience, Froman did a news conf when he landed Tuesday night Japan time and blasted the bilateral trade pact that Japan has just signed with Australia to great fanfare in Japan…. Go figure?
At the same time, the Administration also appears to be ramping up its PR war in the US. As Public Citizen points out in a new paper, it’s become hard to sell the pending trade deals using the usual “free trade” dog whistle. Some of the media has wised up to the fact that past trade pacts such as NAFTA cost the US jobs. And when unemployment is high and most of the jobs being created are low-quality, badly paid service work, ordinary people are more concerned than in the past about preserving employment at home.
So the new pitch for these deals is to sell them as important to foreign policy. But the problem, as Public Citizen points out, is that these hoary old arguments have been shown to be canards. Some of them are actually funny when you think about them, for instance, that trade deals are proof of America’s manhood.
Another bizarre set of arguments surrounds China. Remember that the TPP was first meant to be an “anybody but China” deal, to bolster waning US power in the region. But Obama missed a key Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation session in Bali, when he was busy trying to start a war with Syria. So what happened? As noted in an October post, Chinese President Xi Jinping used the opportunity to take a swipe a the TPP. From Agence France Presse:
But China and even some developing nations included in the TPP have expressed concern that it will set down trade rules primarily benefiting the richest countries and most powerful firms.
“China will commit itself to building a trans-Pacific regional cooperation framework that benefits all parties,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech following Kerry at the APEC business forum.
“We should enhance coordination… deepen regional integration and avoid the spaghetti bowl effect so as to build closer partnerships across the Pacific.”
So what happened next? The official Administration party line is that China could (presumably “later”) join the TPP. Huh?
The Public Citizen report on how 20 years of bogus policy arguments in support of trade deals are being invoked to justify these toxic trade pacts is very much worth reading. For example:
Past free trade agreements (FTAs) failed to counter the rising economic influence of China (or Japan): From 2000 to 2011, U.S. FTAs with eight Latin American countries were sold as bulwarks against foreign economic influence in the hemisphere. The U.S. pacts were implemented and China’s exports to Latin America soared more than 1,280 percent, from $10.5 billion to more than $145 billion, while the U.S. saw only modest export growth. The U.S.-produced share of Latin America’s imported goods fell 36 percent, while China’s share increased 575 percent. Similarly, under the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) first 20 years, the U.S.-produced share of Mexico’s imported goods dropped from almost 70 percent to less than 50 percent, while China’s share rose more than 2,600 percent. Similarly, after hysterical claims that Japan would seize U.S. market share in Latin America by signing its own free trade agreements unless the United States approved NAFTA and other FTAs, such Japanese FTAs were signed anyway.
But what about Japan? Is the US really making headway?
I was skeptical as soon as I read the insider’s summary, that senior level talks between Froman and Economic Policy Minister Akira Amari made progress where talks at the staff level (and even between the USTR’s Wendy Cutler and Vice Minister Hiroshi Oi) were stalled.
Why? Deals are never done at the senior level in Japan, outside of owner-controlled companies. The real decision-makers are a cadre of upper middle level officials, typically in their early 40s. The more senior official serve in a ministerial/external relations capacity. So in a Japanese context, Amari does not have the authority to deal. Anything he and Froman discuss will have to be signed off on by the real power structure in the ministry.
I asked our regular reader of the Japanese-language press, Clive, if he has seen anything that was in keeping with optimistic talk from the Administration. His comments:
Do I buy it (this report of sudden, miraculous TPP negotiations progress)? No, not for one second! Whenever someone talks about achieving a “breakthrough” in the context of US/Japan TPP negotiations, I ask myself “why? what’s changed all of a sudden?”. All the factors that were there three weeks ago (actually, right since the start of negotiations) are still there now. What exactly could a sweet talking US representative bring to the table? Nothing, apart from US concessions.
The only possibility is that the US is talking tough in public (Froman in Congress last week and at the press conference in JP on Tuesday) but caving in big time in private during the negotiations. There’s been absolutely nothing to substantiate that in the Japanese language press though, which is all still going on about “Japan wants to do a deal but serious issues remain” etc. etc. The language would have changed if some major shift had happened and I’ve just not seen that.
However, that is something I wouldn’t discount entirely. Japan would be more than delighted to do a TPP deal that meant that Abe could say he’d delivered an “important wide ranging economic reform” but in reality did nothing substantive. That would allow everyone to claim a success without actually having to change anything – i.e. classic Japan modus operandi!
Now my knowledge runs dry so I can’t really comment on the following with any sort of accuracy – but I wonder. Is there any possibility that the Obama administration is so desperate that it would consider a Potemkin TPP – something that contains little, if anything, in practice but looks or can be spun into something that sounds good? Would Congress pass such a thing? Would US politics see through that or would it be fooled? Is Obama really *that* concerned about his “legacy”? Is he that shallow?
Similarly, I really don’t know what’s with the Australia meat “deal”. When I first read of this in the JP language press, I had to check I wasn’t misreading because I thought it sounded exactly like a – long standing – existing deal. It is a very mildly tweaked version – if you check the details, you realise just how meaningless it is: – e.g. an 8% immediate drop in frozen beef tariffs then 18 years (!!!) to fall another 11%. That’s well within what you might expect exchange rate fluctuations to deliver. And the “anti dumping” cap which is enforced by punitive tariffs once imports to Japanese reach a specified level hasn’t been touched from what I can tell.
I can understand Japan wanting to portray the Aussie meat deal as some sort of triumph – and yes, it does allow Japan to say to the US (with Kabuki mask firmly in place) “hey, we can negotiate, here’s a huge transformative breakthrough we’ve achieved” which is exactly what they’re doing in the press now. But what’s in it for Oz ? That, unfortunately, I can’t work out at all.
Having said that, the Japanese are attentive to the need to not embarrass Obama when he visits later this month. So expect to hear some more noise of progress in the negotiations. But there is still no reason to think that anything has progressed beyond managing appearances.
Cross-Posted from Washington’s Blog.BP and the Government Decided to Temporarily Hide the Oil by Sinking It with Toxic Chemicals … The Gulf Ecosystem Is Now Paying the Price
As we noted at the time, and on the first (and here), second and third anniversaries of BP’s Gulf oil spill, BP and the government made the spill much worse by dumping toxic dispersant in the water in an attempt to to sink – and so temporarily hide – the oil.
In addition, adding dispersant makes oil 52 times more toxic than it would normally be.EPA whistleblowers tried to warn us about the oil spill dangers…
Gulf toxicologist Susan Shaw told us last year:
Covering up the [Gulf] oil spill with Corexit was a deadly action … what happened in the Gulf was a political act, an act of cowardice and greed.
(60 Minutes did a fantastic exposé on the whole shenanigan.)
And the cover up went beyond adding toxic dispersant. BP and the government went so far as hiding dead animals and keeping scientists and reporters away from the spill so they couldn’t document what was really happening.
As the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) notes in a new report, the wildlife is still suffering from this toxic cover up.
Some 900 bottlenose dolphins of all ages—the vast majority of them dead—have been reported stranded in the northern Gulf between April 2010 and March 2014. In 2013, bottlenose dolphins were found dead or stranded at more than three times average rates before the spill. In 2011, dead infant or stillborn dolphins were found at nearly seven times the historical average and these strandings have remained higher than normal in subsequent years. NOAA has been investigating this ongoing wave of bottlenose dolphin strandings across the northern Gulf of Mexico since February 2010, before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded. This is the longest period of above-average strandings in the past two decades and it includes the greatest number of stranded dolphins ever found in the Gulf of Mexico. In December 2013, NOAA published results of a study looking at the health of dolphins in a heavily-oiled section of the Louisiana coast. This researchers found strong evidence that the ill health of the dolphins in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay was related to oil exposure.
Dolphins in Barataria Bay showed evidence of adrenal problems, as has been previously reported in mammals exposed to oil.4 Barataria Bay dolphins also were five times more likely than dolphins from unoiled areas to have moderate-to-severe lung disease. Nearly half the dolphins studied were very ill; 17% of the dolphins were not expected to survive. The study concludes that health effects seen in Barataria Bay dolphins are significant and likely will lead to reduced survival and ability to reproduce.
NWF found many other species have also been harmed by the dispersant-oil mixture:
Roughly 500 stranded sea turtles have been found in the area affected by the spill every year from 2011 to 2013. This is a dramatic increase over the numbers found before the disaster. Other teams of scientists have reported negative impacts of oil on a number of species of fish, including tuna red snapper and mahi-mahi. As we have learned from previous spills far smaller than the 2010 event, it has taken years to understand the full effects on the environment. In some cases, recovery is not complete even decades later. Twenty-five years after the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, clams, mussels, and killer whales are still considered “recovering,” and the Pacific herring population, commercially harvested before the spill, is showing few signs of recovery. [One of the main ingredients in Corexit - 2-butoxyethanol - was also used in the Valdez spill] … the full scope of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the Gulf ecosystem will likely unfold for years or even decades to come.
The Atlantic bluefin tuna is one of the largest fish in the Gulf, reaching average lengths of 6.5 feet and weighing about 550 lbs. A single fish can sell for tens of thousands of dollars.… The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded while the April-May breeding season in the northern Gulf was underway. In 2011, NOAA researchers estimated that as many as 20% of larval fish could have been exposed to oil, with a potential reduction in future populations of about 4%.
A more recent study shows that a chemical in oil from the spill can cause irregular heartbeats in bluefin and yellowfin tuna that can lead to heart attacks, or even death. The effects are believed to be particularly problematic for fish embryos and larvae, as heartbeat changes could affect development of other organs. The researchers suggest that other vertebrate species in the Gulf of Mexico could have been similarly affected. Scientists found that four additional species of large predatory fish—blackfin tuna, blue marlin, mahi-mahi and sailfish—all had fewer larvae in the year of the oil spill than any of the three previous years.
The Deepwater Horizon spill occurred during the blue crab spawning season, when female crabs were migrating out of estuaries into deeper waters of the Gulf to release their eggs.
[Reports indicate problems with crabs.] Blue crabs provide evidence of oil tainting Gulf food web. 2. Alabama Local News. 2013. Blue crab stock declines are concern for Gulf Coast fishermen. 3. Houma Today. 2013. Locals say blue crab catches plummeting. 4. Louisiana Seafood News. 2013. Lack of Crabs in Pontchartrain Basin Leads to Unanswered Questions. 5. Tampa Bay Times. 2013. Gulf oil spill’s effects still have seafood industry nervous. 6. Presentation at the 2014 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference. The Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Blue Crab Megalopal Settlement: A Field Study.
Marine life associated with the deep sea corals also showed visible signs of impact from the oil. In a laboratory study, coral larvae that had been exposed to oil, a chemical dispersant, and an oil/ dispersant mixture all had lower survival rates than the control larvae in clean seawater.
According to a recently published federal report, oyster eggs, sperm and larvae were exposed to oil and dispersants during the 2010 oil spill. Oil compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can be lethal to oyster
In the fall of 2010, even after the Macondo well was capped, oyster larvae were rare or absent in many of the water samples collected across the northern Gulf of Mexico.
There are nearly 1000 known species of foraminifera in the Gulf of Mexico. These small marine creatures form part of the base of the marine food web, serving as a food source for marine snails, sand dollars and fish. Previous research has shown that these sediment-dwelling microorganisms are sensitive to oil damage. Rapid accumulation of oiled sediment on parts of the Gulf floor between late 2010 and early 2011 contributed to a dramatic die-off of foraminifera. Researchers found a significant difference in community structure and abundance during and after the Deepwater Horizon event at sites located from 100-1200 meters deep in the Desoto Canyon, nearly 100 kilometers south-southwest of Pensacola, Florida. Deep sea foraminifera had not recovered in diversity a year and a half after the spill.
Killifish, also known as bull minnows or cockahoe, are prized bait fish and play an important role in the Gulf food web..…This species has been extensively studied in the aftermath of the disaster because of its abundance and its sensitivity to pollution. Oil exposure can alter the killifish’s cellular function in ways that are predictive of developmental abnormalities, decreased hatching success and decreased embryo and larval survival. In 2011, Louisiana State University researchers compared the gill tissue of killifish in an oiled marsh to those in an oil-free marsh. Killifish residing in oiled marshes showed evidence of effects even at low levels of oil exposure which could be significant enough to have an impact at a population level. Additional research has found that four common species of marsh fish, including the Gulf killifish, seem to be avoiding oiled areas. These behaviors, even at small scales, could be significant within marsh communities, leading to changes in food web dynamics.
In the aftermath of the spill, a number of fish, including red snapper, caught in Gulf waters between eastern Louisiana and western Florida had unusual lesions or rotting fins. University of South Florida researchers examined red snapper and other fish and determined that their livers contained oil compounds that had a strong “pattern coherence” to oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.… An analysis of snapper populations in the Gulf that was done between 2011 and 2013 showed an unusual lack of younger snapper. Further research found a significant decline in snapper and other reef fish after the spill. Small plankton-eating fish, such as damselfishes and cardinalfishes, declined most dramatically but red snapper and other larger reef fish also declined.
Seaside sparrows live only in coastal marshes, where they are common year-round residents. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill remains in some marshes, putting seaside sparrows at continued risk from direct oiling, contaminated or reduced food supplies, and continued habitat loss. In 2012 and 2013, seaside sparrows in Louisiana salt marshes were found to have reductions in both overall abundance and likelihood to fledge from the nest. Because these birds are not aquatic, exposure to oil would likely come from incidental contact on the shore or from eating oil or bugs and other creatures that have oil in their systems. Other studies have shown a significant decrease in the insect population in oiled marshes, which could be reducing prey availability for seaside sparrows.
Roughly 700 sperm whales live year-round in the Gulf’s deep waters off the continental shelf…. A researcher at the University of Southern Maine has found higher levels of DNA-damaging metals such as chromium and nickel in sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico compared to sperm whales elsewhere in the world. These metals are present in oil from the spill. Whales closest to the well’s blowout showed the highest levels.
It’s not just BP … or the Gulf. Giant banking and energy companies and the government have a habit of covering up disasters – including not only oil spills, but everything from nuclear accidents to financial problems – instead of actually fixing the problems so that they won’t happen again.
• A California judge has ruled that the state’s prisons violated the Constitution by using excess force against people with mental illness. State officials will now be required to make additional changes to use-of-force procedures and restrict the use of disciplinary segregation for this vulnerable population.
• A bill drafted last summer in the wake of California’s SHU hunger strikes has successfully passed through the Public Safety Committee by a 4-2 vote. If it becomes law, AB 1652 will sharply limit the number of offenses that can qualify someone for isolation, create a five-year maximum for time spent in the SHU, and end the practice of “gang validation.” In These Times featured a Q&A with Tom Ammiano, the Assembly member who introduced the bill.
• Seven guards at Taylorsville prison in North Carolina have been let go as a result of an ongoing investigation into the death of a man incarcerated there. Michael Anthony Kerr, who was being held in solitary confinement when he died, had struggled with mental illness.
• The Treatment Advocacy Center has released a report, “The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey,” including a detailed analysis of the use of solitary confinement.
• According to immigrant justice activists, Tacoma detention center has continued to retaliate against detainees that participated in a recent hunger strike by placing them in isolation. Several prisoners at the SHU at Honolulu’s Federal Detention Center are allegedly also on hunger strike.
• In Colorado, a bill that would prohibit the placement of people with mental illness in solitary confinement has received initial bipartisan support.
• The Executive Director of the National Religious Campaign against Torture has written an open letter in The Huffington Post to Former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., urging him do more to challenge the use of solitary confinement. Jackson spent less than a week in isolation after providing know-your-rights trainings to fellow prisoners.
• An attorney for the Maine Department of Corrections (DOC) has warned that there will be “real consequences” if the state’s Supreme Court does not overturn a previous ruling mandating a higher threshold of evidence for placing someone in solitary. Appellant Franklin Higgins spent about two years in administrative segregation after being indicted by a grand jury, but he was eventually acquitted.
• A circuit court has rejected an appeal from Mark McAdams, currently in long-term administrative segregation in Wyoming, after finding that the conditions on his unit were “not pleasant… [but] not extreme”, and thus did not constitute a breach of due process.
When You Say “It’s the Economy” You Are Buying Into Deregulation Observations on Credit and Surveillance. “The economy isn’t a real thing, it’s just a tally of all transactions counted by economists.”
Why Won’t Washington Take on Wall Street’s Biggest Crimes? James Kwak, The Atlantic
Healbe Hustle: The full story of how a failed Russian cake shop owner humiliated Indiegogo and took “the crowd” for over $1m Pando. I like “scampaign.” And it’s not like Yves didn’t warn people.
Citing safety concerns, BLM calls off cattle roundup Las Vegas Sun (PT).
Big Brother Is Watching You Watch
Heartbleed Bug’s ‘Voluntary’ Origins Online WSJ
Obama Lets N.S.A. Exploit Some Internet Flaws, Officials Say Times. Film at 11.
U.K. GOVT PRESSED OVER ALLEGATIONS CIA USED DIEGO GARCIA AS BLACK SITE Al Jazeera America
A pro-single payer doctor’s concerns about Obamacare PNHP. Important post on out-of-pocket maximums.
False Flags and Imperial Facades: Tales of ‘Progressives’ in Power Empire Burlesque
Ukraine: Donetsk Moves Moon of Alabama
Joe Biden to travel to Ukraine Politico
THOUSANDS IN PARIS AND ROME PROTEST AUSTERITY MEASURES Al Jazeera America
Ohio Geologists Link Earthquake Activity To Fracking CBS Pittsburgh
Cambodia’s lost rock ’n’ roll Al Jazeera America
The Causes of the Great War: An Autobiographic Take The Disorder of Things
Antidote du jour:here.
University of Southern Maine, Facing Organized Opposition from Students and Faculty, Rescinds Proposed Cuts
By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Good news, which I hope travels fast to other universities. Maine Sunday Telegram:
University of Southern Maine President Theodora Kalikow on Friday rescinded the 12 faculty layoffs that had prompted weeks of protests, saying she’s open to alternative plans for finding up to $14 million in cuts.
(I know! I know! [raises hand] You can eliminate the Chancellor’s office, which sucks up $20 million dollars for no apparent reason. You could also hunt down the political appointees previous Democratic governor Baldacci installed throughout the system in highly paid administrative — that is, unproductive — positions.) Of course, Kalikow was at pains to deny that the opposition had anything to do with her decision:
“Those retrenchment (layoff) notices are off the table for now,” Kalikow said Friday afternoon at the USM Faculty Senate meeting. She said she made up her mind at 2 p.m., just as the meeting began, and didn’t even have time to tell the affected faculty.
The surprise announcement came as the Faculty Senate unveiled a draft 27-point proposal for alternative cuts and about two dozen students traveled to Augusta to lobby state lawmakers. The students met with members of the Portland delegation and the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.
Also, the faculty union sent a grievance letter to the administration Thursday challenging the layoffs.
But Kalikow said none of those things played a role in her decision [never let 'em see you sweat], saying she had been out of state [apparently without phone or Internet] and didn’t know about the union letter and had not read the Faculty Senate proposal [diplomacy!]. And while she praised the students for their activism, she said that did not play a role in the reversal, either.
Kalikow said she didn’t see herself as “caving” in to pressure, but didn’t say exactly what changed her mind [ha ha].
Some mysterious force, a deus ex machina, I suppose. Although who knows? Perhaps the faculty proposal, union grievance and the student protests changed the mind of a “hidden hand” that’s manipulating Kalikow? Heck, maybe it was Krugman!
Here are the alternative cuts proposed by the Faculty Senate:
[They] include ending the use of outside consultants, eliminating middle-management administrators and consolidating the three campuses of the University of Southern Maine. There is no dollar figure associated with the list of 27 proposals, but Faculty Senate Chairman Jerry LaSala said he believes they can find the same cost savings that were in Kalikow’s proposal.
Here’s the full list of recommendations; this one is especially fun:
8. Require the President, Provost, and Deans each to teach one class per year to offset their salaries via tuition revenue
Ha. Worthy goals all. However, institutionally, the most important trend to combat is what I called “mall-ificaiton” (hyphen added for clarity) the last time we looked at USM:
Our university is to become a big mall with lovely facilities, a few very well-paid investors, executives, and administrators, and a retail experience for consumers. And retail wages and working conditions for the workers.
At USM, mall-ification is to be achieved through something called “The President’s Leadership Council” (and whenever you hear the word “leadership,” put your hand on your wallet or clutch your purse).
Theo Kalikow’s appointment began with the creation of a “Leadership Institute” into which hand-picked members of the staff, faculty, and administration were inducted.
Their first assignment was to read a book called Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions. Written by John Kotter, formerly of the Harvard Business School, and advertised as a “low-threat tool” for changing organizations bound by tradition, the little book features members of the Penguin Leadership Council compelled to adjust to changing circumstances or die.
Translated to academic culture, this means that tenure-track positions will be replaced by lectureships and online classes; nationwide standards for tenure and promotion will give way to demonstrations of having promoted the new branding; and raises will be used to reward those who show willingness to forget academic values and to promote a “new normal.”
Does the Senate Faculty proposal have an answer for this? Why, yes. Abolish the institution that’s doing it, which is excellent academic politics:
15. Abolish the President’s Leadership Institute, which does not serve students.
Quite right, too. Meanwhile, the students lobbied the state legislature:
A group known as Students for #USMfuture [flyer] has been protesting and recruiting more students to their cause since university administrators earlier this month announced program cuts and faculty layoffs.
The group was dealt a setback Thursday, when legislative leaders rejected a student-drafted bill, sponsored by independent [formerly Green] state Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland, which would have placed a one-year moratorium on the proposed cuts to allow a stakeholders group to review the university system’s finances and suggest alternatives to the cuts.
Impressive, and even if the legislation failed, you can be sure an effort like that opened some eyes.
* * *
I’m thinking back to the the Printemps érable in Montreal, that NC covered back in 2012, where hundreds of thousands of students marched against a neo-liberal assault on public education in Quebec, that sought to raise tuition. However, #USMfuture is very different. First, Maine is not Montreal; if 250,000 were to march in Maine, as they did in Montreal, that would be about 20% of the population of the entire state, and four times the population of the city of Portland. Nevertheless, USM managed to reverse its cuts (so far), run a very successful national public relations campaign (Krugman; Chomsky; the Nation; Chronicle of Higher Education), and co-ordinate student protests, the Faculty Senate, the faculty union, and supporters statewide; getting legislation introduced is especially remarkable. Although much smaller, #USMfuture seems to reach deeper into all the institutions it encounters. So this is great stuff, and hopefully universities across the country, which all face similar assaults, can learn from them. Dirigo!
Oh, about the guns. Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies Lucinda Cole, Chronicle of Higher Education:
At the last three faculty meetings I attended at the University of Southern Maine, armed guards hovered outside the door or circulated through the rooms, hands moving to their hip holsters whenever faculty members raised their voices. Never before in my 25 years at USM had I witnessed such shows of state force against the faculty.
Guns, at a faculty meeting? Amazing. Readers, is such a thing happening in your state? I have to say that such nonsense is not unique to the university setting; an open meeting on the East-West Corridor featuring Cianbro chair Peter Vigue last year also had State police present, and people were checked at the door and forbidden to bring signs into the hall. This is how decaying regimes act as they spiral downwards toward a legitimacy crisis.
* * *
Organized opposition can work. I find this very hopeful. A Maine Spring? ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished!
NOTE USM is still proposing to reduce 30 staff positions; I’m not sure how many of those positions are useful, like maintenance or food prep, and how many are not, like administrators, political appointees, etc. It does seem that cutting administrative positions is becoming a mainstream idea except, perhaps, among the administrators. Bangor Daily News:
[Cuts] are necessary and have the potential to be a good thing for USM, Portland and Maine.
As USM economics professor Susan Feiner wrote last month in the Portland Press Herald, the university system’s central office in Bangor spends the equivalent of about 10 percent of the universities’ total state appropriation. This doesn’t even include the administrative components at each of the seven university campuses.
Moreover, as Feiner writes, the share going to administration has increased every year for the past five years, while the share going to teaching has not. Even if we give the administration the benefit of the doubt and allow that, perhaps, some part of this increase reflects a system more complicated to manage, especially as it undergoes reorganization, redundancies and excess need to be cut from administration, too.
Yep. Give all these “leadership” types the old heave-ho and return the universities to their central mission of teaching and research; it would be a shame to see an institutional form that’s a thousand years old die because markets.