Yearly Archives: 2013

Cancer Research Before Activism, Billionaire Conservative Donor Says

Reader RichardH is bugging me about my stance on MIT and the Koch donation.  I decided to Google a little and found the March 2011 The New York Times article Cancer Research Before Activism, Billionaire Conservative Donor Says.

“I read stuff about me and I say, ‘God, I’m a terrible guy,’ ” he said. “And then I come here and everybody treats me like I’m a wonderful fellow, and I say, ‘Well, maybe I’m not so bad after all.’ ”

I wouldn’t be surprised if RichardH found the article to be nothing to get excited about.  The quote from David Koch above was enough to make me sick.

The thought that giving to MIT and being treated to a standing ovation there would be enough to wipe away any guilt that Koch might feel for his political activities is exactly what I feared that MIT might be doing for him.  The question of how much control he exercises over the hiring decisions and the curriculum at MIT ought to frighten everyone.  The fact that MIT thinks so highly of him that they do not feel the need to publicly clarify the amount of control he has, indicates to me just how little they care about his anti-social behavior as long as the money rolls in.

I can’t remember when I have been so ashamed of my connection to MIT.

At least the article Pulling together in cancer fight says the following:

The Koch program provides $250,000 in unfettered funding for six to eight researchers over a three- to five-year period to encourage novel thinking. Recipients are required to be doctors who continue seeing patients and promise to bring new technologies swiftly to the bedside.

Of course, we don’t know what other restrictions may exist on who gets funded. This does show that the donor gets to place restrictions on the university long after the money has been donated.

Perhaps when the disease affects David Koch directly he can leave it up to the science to try to find solutions.  In other spheres such as global warming and economic fairness, science doesn’t seem to hold any significance if it stands in the way of money.  Well, at least we know that he values something more than his own money.

Your can read more about MIT Professor Michael J. Cima.

Prof. Cima was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2011.  He now holds the David H. Koch Chair of Engineering at MIT.

Does this mean that the Koch influence extends to all of engineering at MIT?

Here is an excerpt from the July 2012 article from WBUR The United States Of Koch.

As our nation celebrates its independence, two men are bending our government to their will. I speak, of course, of the Koch brothers. Here are 12 things to know about them.

1. They are the fringe 1 percent
2. They own practically everything
3. They think they own their employees
4. They back Scott Brown
5. Right from the start
6. They are already attacking the Court’s health care ruling
7. They are major polluters
8. They are in the climate change denial business
9. David Koch believes global warming is good
10. They were a major force in the Wisconsin recall
11. They host the rich and powerful
12. They are changing our government

Do you think this is the kind of stuff written about David Koch that makes him think he is a terrible guy? You notice that in the excerpt at the beginning of this blog post, Koch does not deny being a terrible guy. He does talk about sometimes feeling like he is a terrible guy and at other times feeling like he is not such a terrible guy.

I wouldn’t want you to think that everything written about the Koch brothers is negative. Here is the December 2012 article from Forbes Inside The Koch Empire: How The Brothers Plan To Reshape America.

Charles’ many critics on the left–including the President of the United States–accuse him of accumulating too much power and using it to promote his own economic interests through a network of secretive organizations they call the “Kochtopus.” Ironically, the Koch brothers believe they’re fighting against power, at least in the political realm. For the Kochs the real power is central government, which can tax entire industries into oblivion, force a citizen to buy health insurance and bring mighty corporations like Koch Industries to heel.

“Most power is power to coerce somebody,” says Charles, in a voice that sounds like Jimmy Stewart with a Kansas twang. “We don’t have the power to coerce anybody.”

The November elections–which David, in a separate interview shortly after the results were finalized, termed “bitterly disappointing”–seem to confirm Charles’ last point. Not even the Koch brothers, who spent tens of millions of dollars during this election cycle (they won’t disclose the exact amount) funding direct political contributions and issue-driven “nonprofits,” could coerce voters to back their candidates. Mitt Romney’s loss was a huge blow to them, both in terms of likely policy outcomes and personal reputation.

But those who think the brothers, older and chastened, will now fade away don’t understand the Kochs. Not a bit. Obama’s victory was just a blip on a master plan measured in decades, not election cycles. “We raised a lot of money and mobilized an awful lot of people, and we lost, plain and simple,” says David. “We’re going to study what worked, what didn’t work, and improve our efforts in the future. We’re not going to roll over and play dead.”

Does this description sound like the Koch’s are the type of people you want controlling your government? It dosesn’t seem like the majority of the electorate in the last presidential election wanted this kind of leadership.

Having watched Steve Forbes run for US President himself, you certainly aren’t thinking that his magazine is some kind of mouthpiece for the left wing.

Extending jobless benefits is the right thing to do says Brookings analyst

The Daily Ticker has the story Extending jobless benefits is the right thing to do says Brookings analyst.

Melissa Kearney, who co-wrote a recent Brookings report “The Importance of Unemployment Insurance for American Families and the Economy: Take 2,” says extending emergency jobless benefits is the right thing to do in an economy where there are three unemployed workers for every job opening.

This is a case of using the right statistic in the right place. You can’t just go by the raw unemployment rate figure, which ought to be enough justification by itself. At the same rate of unemployment, if the number of job openings were significantly higher compared to the number of job seekers, then extending unemployment benefits might not be as wise.

Fiscal Fever Breaks

Paul Krugman’s latest column in The New York Times is Fiscal Fever Breaks.

… in fact, we’d probably be close to full employment now but for the unprecedented fiscal austerity of the past three years.
Still, does any of this matter? You could argue that it doesn’t — that fiscal scolds may have lost control of the conversation, but that we’re still doing terrible things like cutting off benefits to the long-term unemployed. But while policy remains terrible, we’re finally starting to talk about real issues like inequality, not a fake fiscal crisis. And that has to be a move in the right direction.

If we truly are shifting the terms of the debate, now is the time to keep up the pressure.  Let us not rest on our laurels.  We need to start implementing the next stage while we think several stages ahead.

If he hadn’t been so specific, I might have added the following to my list of favorite quotes:

As the old saying goes, they used Reinhart-Rogoff the way a drunk uses a lamppost — for support, not illumination.

According to my extensive research on Google, the “original quote” is:

Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.


He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts — for support rather than illumination.

The first version is attributed to Vin Scully by  The second version is connected to Andrew Lang (March 31 1844 – July 20 1912), but really claims the original author has not been identified

Elizabeth Warren: Why We Must Expand Social Security

Alternet is carrying the article Elizabeth Warren: It’s the Right of Every American to Retire with Dignity — Why We Must Expand Social Security.  The dateline is today and the words are from Elizabeth Warren, but there is nothing new.  It is still a good argument for why we need to expand Social Security benefits.

For a generation now, working families have been squeezed by stagnant wages and rising costs for housing, health care, and college. Even as families have cut back on expenses for things like food, clothing, furniture, and appliances, it hasn’t always been enough; many have been forced to take on more and more debt just to pay for necessities.

One major consequence of these increasing pressures on working people is that the dream of a secure retirement is slowly slipping away. Families haven’t been able to save as much as they used to, and only 18 percent of private-sector workers have defined benefit pensions today compared with 35 percent two decades ago. Forty-four million workers have no workplace retirement savings plan.

I do have a  bone to pick with an idea that Elizabeth Warren keeps repeating.

Social Security works; no one runs out of benefits and the guaranteed payments don’t rise and fall with the stock market.

The Social Security works part is correct.  The part after the semicolon has a grain of truth if you really understand investing, but its implications are totally misleading if you don’t. I left comments on the article.

If the system were run like a really well managed retirement system, the investments would be diversified beyond special Treasury bonds that pay 5% interest. I am definitely not proposing privatizing Social Security, where everyone has to invest in stocks at retail. The successful national, state, and private pension funds don’t have their members do their own investing. In the history of corporate pension funds that were successful over the long-haul, none of them had the members do their own investing.

The individuals who do know how to save and invest for retirement do use the stock market as one of their investment tools, and they also protect themselves from the ups and downs of the stock market. In retirement, you depend on regular dividends from reliable companies. The stock market as a whole and over time historically has returned 10% growth on average, only some of which comes from dividends. The rest comes from capital gains. So you aren’t going to take 10% of your investments out every year in retirement. Under most circumstances, history has shown that it is safe to take out 5% a year and your nest-egg will grow with inflation until you die. This way the 5% a year you take out will also grow with inflation.  You also need a lifestyle with enough flexibility in it so that you can adjust during really major financial disasters if things get so bad that you can’t even get your 5% out without reducing your capital.  I retired in 2006, and we had a severe market  crash only 3 years later.  That is one of the worst things that can happen to you in retirement. I recovered from that quite nicely, thank you very much.

So Elizabeth Warren is not telling the complete truth when she implies that investing in stocks is too risky, without clarifying the rightful place for stock investing in a total retirement strategy. She wrote a book with her financial adviser daughter on how to manage the family budget. Surely she learned enough from her daughter if she hadn’t already known it herself, that pretending that the stock market is too risky for a pension system is to oversell the dangers of an idea that can be used wisely, if you know how.

The P.U.-Litzers: Here Are the Stinkiest Media Moments of 2013

Alternet has the story The P.U.-Litzers: Here Are the Stinkiest Media Moments of 2013. I wonder if this prize will rise to the level of the Ig® Nobel Prize.

I’ll give you one sample of The P.U.-Litzers.

–The Sponsors Speak Award: PBS

The January 23 episode of PBS series Nova was a mostly upbeat report on drones and surveillance. What viewers may not have known about “Rise of the Drones” was that it was funded in part by Lockheed Martin–the giant aerospace corporation that just happens to be a major drone manufacturer.

As a recent purchaser of Lockheed Martin stock, I found this particularly interesting.  Also as a reformed watcher of NOVA, this selection is interesting.  And to think that NOVA’s funding by the Koch brothers could ever have any influence on their editorial content; how absurd.

The Wild and Cruel Gap Between Debtors and Creditors

Ralph Nader has the blog post The Wild and Cruel Gap Between Debtors and Creditors.

In his fine new book Debtors’ Prison, Robert Kuttner recounts the history of debt, including the centuries when under Anglo-American law debtors were imprisoned or executed. He also describes how large corporate debtors today get bailed out or go through bankruptcy proceedings that save the company under a sweetheart rebirth process, complete with allowing executive compensations past and present.

The individual debtors, however, are driven deeper into debt with fiendishly high interest rates (as high as 30% on unpaid credit card balances to over 400% on rolled over payday loans and rent-to-own rackets). Then there are the hundreds of different fees, penalties and costly fine-print impositions that ravage consumer borrowers.

I am surprised at how few people seem to understand all that is going on.  The people who don’t seem to understand include Joe Biden who pushed the draconian tightening of bankruptcy laws for individuals, but not corporations.

This just proves that the Supreme Court was wrong in proclaiming that corporations are people.  In fact, corporations are better than people according to our laws.  We need an addition to the Bill of Rights that would say that all people will be accorded all the same privileges that are accorded to corporations.  Or would it be better to say that no corporation can be given a privilege that individual people do not get?

Who remembers this from the 14th Amendment “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Does abridgment include giving someone a right not given to others?  What about immunity from punishment because of childhood affluenza?

Bill Mitchell: I fell off the left-right continuum today

Naked Capitalism highlighted the Bill Mitchell – billy blog article I fell off the left-right continuum today.

Second, Bill Keller says that in relation to “entitlement”:

The left-left seems to believe that government investments — roads and bridges, clean energy, education, etc. — and more-generous safety-net benefits can all be had by milking the rich and cutting military spending. Most centrists would raise taxes some and cut defense spending some, but they say that unless we also curb the growth of entitlements, the stampede of baby boomers into Social Security and Medicare will crowd out everything else.

The crowding out will only come if the US runs out of real resources that can be deployed to service the needs of the older citizens.

Increasing benefits to the poor might put a strain on real resources in the future (although I doubt it) which means that other cohorts will have to be deprived. But this has nothing to do with the capacity of the US government to purchase what real resources are available.
Most of this dispute in US democratic politics spreads more widely. It also is based on the fact that the “centre-left” is nothing like a reasonable depiction of centrist positions. They represent positions that the right-wing used to advance especially in economic matters.

They perpetuate the neo-liberal myths about government financial capacity and then demonise positions that used to be centrist. Further, the new left still refuse to embrace a truly progressive view of the monetary system.

They remain locked into believing that currency-issuing governments have financial constraints. Until they jettison that mythology they will remain populist but ineffective.

I am a firm believer that it is the “real resources” that matter as indicated in the first Mitchell paragraph above.  You can use debts and deficits as a convenient way to measure things, but if those measures contradict what looking at real resources tells you, then something is wrong with your interpretation of the meaning of the convenient measurement quantities.

I have used that concept throughout my career developing computer simulation programs.  If the simulation goes against your intuition of how the real system should behave, then you need to look at the discrepancy very carefully.  It could be that your intuition is wrong, or it could be that the simulation is wrong.  In either case, you need to pin down what is happening.  Either you find a bug in the software, or you find a new insight into how the real system works.

In economics, when the economic theory diverges from your intuition about how the real economy operates, then you shouldn’t just blindly pick the theory or your intuition as being correct.  You need to dig more deeply to see if you can find other ways to resolve the divergence until you know which one, theory or intuition, is closer to reality.

Two Challengers – Both One of a Kind

Well, I took Ralph Nader’s advice and went over to his website.  The first article that caught my attention was Two Challengers – Both One of a Kind.

Two distinctly different Americans with distinctly similar, independent thinking and progressive values passed away last week. The great accounting professor Abraham Briloff (age 96) who relentlessly and brilliantly took apart the failures of his profession to insist on honest and ethical corporate accounting, and Tom Laughlin (age 82), the jolting producer and star of the ‘Billy Jack’ films who broke the Hollywood industry’s rules with sagas of fighting for justice. Although they never knew each other, they both championed fair play and courage to face the grim realities of the day.

Of course, I had never heard of Briloff, but I do remember Tom Laughlin and his ‘Billy Jack’ films. Unfortunately, I never appreciated what ‘Billy Jack’ was all about.  Or maybe, I’d had enough of that genre in the Walking Tall movies with Joe Don Baker.

Based on the life of Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser whom (sic) almost single-handily cleaned up his small town of crime and corruption, but at a personal cost of his family life and nearly his own life.

There is only so much fighting a losing battle for truth and justice that one can take.  Your threshold may be much different from mine.

On Florida in 2000 and What to Do Next

The Real News Network has part 3 of the Nader series – On Florida in 2000 and What to Do Next – Ralph Nader on Reality Asserts Itself (3/3).

NADER: You see, here’s the point, Paul. We’ve got to get over this. We’ve got to basically say everyone’s got a right to run. Everybody’s going to try to get votes from one another. Therefore, everyone’s either a spoiler of one another or none of them are spoilers of one another. They called me a spoiler in 2000 after Bush stole the election all the way to the Supreme Court. I mean, I would think he’s a mega spoiler of the Democratic Party. But no, they basically have a political bigotry that don’t you dare challenge the Democratic Party, no matter how corporatized and indentured it is, from the left in the electoral arena. Well, you can write editorials for The Nation, you know, you can pick at the White House, but don’t get real serious.

In 2000, I was definitely one of those liberals who shunned Ralph Nader. You can see in this video interview how hard it is for Paul Jay to come to terms with what Nader is saying even now. So, lately since about 2004, I have come at least as far as what Ralph Nader said in part 2 of this series – At least we can go after the Democrats in the primaries.

I am experiencing my own min-Nader situation trying to convince fellow “progressives” that it is good policy to hold a Democratic politician’s feet to the fire in a primary. Don’t announce before they even run that despite all the bad things you know about their policies that you are going to support them no matter what. Didn’t your parents (or someone) ever teach you how to negotiate?

See the previous parts of this interview at my blog posts –

McCarthyism Made Us Veer Away From a Systemic Doctrine for Change – Ralph Nader on RAI (1/3)


Are Nader-Like Reforms Still Possible? – Ralph Nader on Reality Asserts Itself (2/3).

Are Nader-Like Reforms Still Possible?

The Real News Network has the second part of the series with Ralph Nader – Are Nader-Like Reforms Still Possible? – Ralph Nader on Reality Asserts Itself (2/3).

JAY: So one of the things that’s blocking that from happening is that, you know, every two years is an election, and every two years it is, if you don’t support Democratic Party candidates, you’re going to elect Republicans, and people get caught up and paralyzed by this.

NADER: Well, that’s where you go into–

JAY: And ’cause there is some truth to that.

NADER: –you go into the primaries.

JAY: There’s some truth to it.

NADER: Yeah, because you’ve got gerrymandered districts. So you’ve got most of the districts are dominated Republican/Democrat. Where they’re insecure is not in November; they’re insecure in their primary. So you attack them in their primary with progressive candidates. That’s–.

JAY: Within the Democratic Party.

NADER: Yeah, even the Republican Party. Listen, we had Republican senators and representatives–the auto safety bill, the first federal regulation of the powerful auto industry for pollution control and safety, passed unanimously in the House of Representatives.

When you hear Nader talk the way he does in this interview it is almost enough to get you to believe. I can hardly wait to listen to part 3 and blog about it hear.

A good question for my local readers – Do you think this would be enough to rejuvenate the Sturbridge Democratic Town Committee?

See the other parts of this interview at my blog posts –

McCarthyism Made Us Veer Away From a Systemic Doctrine for Change – Ralph Nader on RAI (1/3)


On Florida in 2000 and What to Do Next – Ralph Nader on Reality Asserts Itself (3/3)