Author Archives: R.D. Walker

Iraq is OPEC’s biggest cheater

Iraq is also a real part of why gasoline is cheap as hell.

OPEC’s second biggest producer is also its biggest cheater.

And if past is prologue, that lengthens the odds the group will be able to squeeze too many more price gains out of its output cuts.

Iraq pumped about 80,000 more barrels of oil a day than permitted by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries curbs during the first quarter. If that deal gets extended to 2018, the nation will have even less incentive to comply because capacity at key southern fields is expanding and three years of fighting Islamic state has left it drowning in debt.

Cartels are hard to maintain and cheating leads to more cheating. What we are dealing with here is a classic case of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Learn it. Know it. You are already living it.

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“The conceptual penis as a social construct”

“The conceptual penis as a social construct”: That is the title of an academic paper. You can read it here in PDF form. You can read it but I wouldn’t bother. It is all 100 percent bullshit. No, really. It is peer reviewed and published but it is bullshit. It is nonsense. It is a hoax. The authors acknowledge that they just pulled it out of their asses. It is random, meaningless crap. Even the authors don’t understand it because there is nothing to understand.

The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.

That’s how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a “paper” consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.

This paper should never have been published. Titled, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” our paper “argues” that “The penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct.” As if to prove philosopher David Hume’s claim that there is a deep gap between what is and what ought to be, our should-never-have-been-published paper was published in the open-access (meaning that articles are freely accessible and not behind a paywall), peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences.

It is more than a joke, however. It is proof that abject bullshit can make it through the peer review process and be published in respected journals. It means that experts are just pencil whipping it. It means we don’t know what we don’t know.

More at Skeptic Magazine.

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On Flattering the Saudis

Is kowtowing to the Saudis the right thing for a US President to do or not? Help me out here. I have lost the plot.

A lot of words will be typed in the coming days explaining why what Trump did is different from the actions of previous presidents but, the reality is, that all three presidents were doing the same thing: They were flattering Saudi royalty for diplomatic purposes. If it is wrong, it is wrong. If it is justified, it is justified.

The reality is Saudi Arabia is one of the most oppressive dictatorships on earth. It’s human rights abuses make those of Russia and China look trivial. Holding hands with, bowing to or receiving awards from them are acts I believe may be necessary but are still distasteful.

Still, yesterday Trump praised Saudi Arabia as a “magnificent” and “sacred land.” He sat in garish furnishings and among gaudy decor and sipped coffee with King Salman seeming to enjoy himself. He offered up $110 billion in weaponry to the nation from which the majority of the 9/11 terrorists originated. This is a long way from the anti-Islam positioning of his campaign.

Are we fine with this? After all, realpolitik means that the Saudis, as a force of stability in the region and the world, must be dealt with realistically.

So, what say you? Is it appropriate for the POTUS to kowtow to Saudi monarchs?

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Never turn your back on a sea lion…

This was at Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf, Richmond B.C. Canada. No one was hurt.

That’s why they call them sea “lions” and not sea “teddy bears”. In any case, they are wild animals. People would do well to remember that.

More here.

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Humanity creates full earth protective force field

It was an accident but it is very real.

NASA space probes have discovered an artificial barrier around Earth created through human activity—showing we are not only responsible for shaping the environment on land, but that we are now having an impact on space too.

The barrier, which comes and goes, is the result of very low frequency radio communications interacting with particles in space, which results in a sort of shield protecting Earth from high energy radiation in space.

This, scientists say, is potentially very good news, as we could use the barrier to protect Earth from extreme space weather resulting from events like coronal mass ejections—huge explosions on the sun, where plasmas and magnetic field are ejected from its corona, the outermost part of its atmosphere. These ejections can result in geomagnetic storms, which have the potential to knock out communication satellites and power grids.

Talk about your non rivalrous / non excludable goods!

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“A significant person of interest…”

Six PM on Friday, that’s when the bombshells happen. I am guessing Jared Kushner.

Even as members of Congress were mulling over the expansion of the case into possible cover-up, and its reclassification from counterintelligence to criminal, the scandal appeared to grow. The Washington Post reported Friday afternoon that federal investigators were looking at a senior White House official as a “significant person of interest.” The article did not identify the official, though it noted that the person was “someone close to the president.”

A person of interest is someone law enforcement identifies as relevant to an investigation but who has not been charged or arrested.

Cover-ups have traditionally been a major part of investigations that have threatened previous administrations. Articles of impeachment levied against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton included allegations of obstruction of justice, as they were suspected of trying to hide other wrongdoing.

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Erdogan’s bodyguards beat protestors in US

Turkish police beat protesters on American soil.

Nine people were hurt and two arrests were made during an altercation at the Turkish ambassador’s residence in the US capital during a visit by president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, police have said.

Doug Buchanan, a DC Fire and EMS spokesman, said two of those hurt were seriously injured and were taken to hospitals by ambulance. He said by phone that emergency personnel were called to the residence about 4:30pm Tuesday.

According to witnesses, the brawl erupted when the Turkish president’s security detail attacked protesters carrying the flag of the Kurdish PYD party outside the residence.

A local NBC television affiliate reported Erdoğan was inside the building at the time.

More here.

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Convicted Leaker Walks Free

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NYT: Trump asked Comey to end Flynn investigation

If this is true – and that is a big “if” – it is certainly an impeachable offense. Frankly, if Trump did make the request, Comey should have reported it to Congress or resigned. He did neither.

President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The documentation of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. Late Tuesday, Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded that the F.B.I. turn over all “memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings” of discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey. Such documents, Mr. Chaffetz wrote, would “raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede” the F.B.I.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. It was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation.

We are going to need to see that memo.

More here.

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Fat Kim hacks the whole world?

Yeah, maybe.

Intelligence officials and private security experts say that new digital clues point to North Korean-linked hackers as likely suspects in the sweeping ransomware attacks that have crippled computer systems around the world.

The indicators are far from conclusive, the researchers warned, and it could be weeks, if not months, before investigators are confident enough in their findings to officially point the finger at Pyongyang’s increasingly bold corps of digital hackers. The attackers based their weapon on vulnerabilities that were stolen from the National Security Agency and published last month.

Security experts at Symantec, which in the past has accurately identified attacks mounted by the United States, Israel and North Korea, found early versions of the ransomware, called WannaCry, that used tools that were also deployed against Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Bangladesh central bank last year and Polish banks in February. American officials said Monday that they had seen the same similarities.

All of those attacks were ultimately linked to North Korea; President Barack Obama formally charged the North in late 2014 with destroying computers at Sony in retaliation for a comedy, “The Interview,” that envisioned a C.I.A. plot to kill Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader.

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The President Weighs In

He has “the absolute right”.

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If true, this can’t be good…

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POTUS for paid leave, expanded women’s healthcare

The ladies got to get paid!

President Donald Trump called on Congress to ensure affordable healthcare for women and access to paid family leave in observance of Women’s Health Week.

In a statement issued Sunday — Mother’s Day — Trump said he recognizes the importance of healthcare for women. He pointed to the top two killers of women in the United States: cancer and heart disease.

“Thanks to new breast cancer treatments, our health care professionals have saved lives and improved the quality of life for millions of women,” he said. “We must continue to foster an environment that rewards these needed advances in research.”

Trump said it’s important for Congress to ensure quality, affordable healthcare to reduce the number of women dying from these diseases.

What do Trump supporters in the comments say? Why, this is brilliant social engineering in which the government induces women of childbearing age to engage in patriotic lebensborn! Here is a sampling…

There’s a deep and consistent logic here. Most western countries have birth-rates below replacement. Sometimes far below. The US is borderline, and if we are indeed to stanch the flow of illegal immigrants the stability and modest growth of our population depends upon more babies. Family leave, etc. make having an extra baby — or even *a* baby at all — marginally easier. This is the other side of the immigration coin, and entirely congruent with Trump’s rather centrist beliefs. He’s playing a long game here at a time when the population of Russia is crashing so fast that it will be about the same as Japan in 20 or 25 years.

Fine with me. We need more kids to have a country with a future, and we need women’s votes to retain power so we can make progress on fixing the country. Expanded women’s healthcare also offers conservatives (if they show up) an opportunity to seize the initiative from the left and demonstrate how to do medicine better.

…and of course…

In relativistic 4D chess, it’s prudent to let the game play out before casting Newtonian odds.

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RIP Powers Boothe

Powers Boothe: Dead at 68. I enjoyed his acting in every role he played.

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Miss USA calls health care a privilege…

Outrage ensues.

The reality, of course, is that health care is neither a right nor a privilege. It is a service based commodity. You have the right to purchase it just like you have the right to purchase a gun.

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The problem with tapes…

…is that they become part of the public record and are discoverable.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he will “absolutely” subpoena recordings of conversations between President Trump and former FBI Director James Comey if they exist.

“Listen, I don’t have the foggiest whether there are tapes are not, but the fact that the president made allusions to that and then the White House would not confirm or deny, it is not anything we have seen in recent days,” Warner told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

Warner, who is leading the Senate’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere in the United States presidential election along with Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), said that while another committee may need to subpoena the tapes, it is essential to make sure they don’t “mysteriously disappear.”

More here.

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Trump preparing to clean house?

Some are saying the frustrated president is about to reboot his administration.

At the urging of longtime friends and outside advisers, most of whom he consults after dark, President Trump is considering a “huge reboot” that could take out everyone from Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon, to counsel Don McGahn and press secretary Sean Spicer, White House sources tell me.

Trump is also irritated with several Cabinet members, the sources said.

“He’s frustrated, and angry at everyone,” said one of the confidants.

The conversations intensified this week as the aftermath of the Comey firing pushed the White House from chaos into crisis. Trump’s friends are telling him that many of his top aides don’t know how to work with him, and point out that his approval ratings aren’t rising, but the leaks are.

Dumping Bannon and Navarro would be a good start.

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T-shirt shop can’t be forced to make gay pride shirts

A Kentucky appellate court says the Christian owner of a printing shop in Lexington had the right to refuse to make T-shirts promoting a local gay pride festival.

The dispute started in 2012 when Gay and Lesbian Services Organization in Kentucky asked Hands on Originals to make T-shirts with the name and logo of a pride festival.

Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands on Originals, said he refused to print the shirts because it violated his business’s policy of not printing messages that endorse positions in conflict with his convictions.

Mr. Adamson offered examples of other orders he refused, such as shirts featuring the word “bitches” or a depiction of Jesus dressed as a pirate.

The gay-rights group filed a complaint with the Lexington Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, which in 2014 ordered Mr. Adamson to make the shirts.

Friday’s decision affirmed an earlier ruling from a lower court. The commission, which brought the appeal, said the store was in violation of a local “fairness” ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals, one level below the state’s Supreme Court, disagreed, ruling that the conduct by the business wasn’t discrimination, rather a decision not to promote certain speech.

This makes sense. Surely the court would have ruled differently if the shop owner had refused to sell gays generic t-shirts or those with messages they have printed for others. It is, however, entirely different to require someone to make and, therefore, implicitly endorse a position to which they object.

I would place the odds at north of 99 percent, by the way, that this particular t-shirt shop was targeted for lawfare by the group that sued.

More at the Wall Street Journal.

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OPEC asks US for help…

“Please stop producing so much and help us drive up the cost of oil.”

OPEC has asked a favor of other major producers: Please stop pumping so much and help us balance the market.

The unusual plea was issued Thursday in the cartel’s closely-watched monthly report, which found that global markets are still suffering from too much supply.

The report said that balancing the market would “require the collective efforts of all oil producers” and should be done “not only for the benefit of the individual countries, but also for the general prosperity of the world economy.”

OPEC said that one producer in particular is to blame: The U.S., where shale producers have continued to ramp up their drilling despite lower crude prices.

I am old enough to remember the 1973-74 OPEC Oil Embargo. I know what my impolite response would be.

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China agrees to buy more American beef

That’s great news if you are a cattle rancher. Is it great news if you are a consumer? Let’s have a look.

In the top diagram you see the supply and demand of beef in the current situation. In the bottom diagram you see the result of increased Chinese demand for US beef.

The increase in demand is shown by the shifting up and to the right of the demand line. That shift results in an increase in quantity demanded from Q1 to Q2 on the X axis and increase in price from P1 to P2 on the Y axis. In other words, the increase in demand for US beef will cause an increase in the price of beef for US consumers.

In the long run, there is a high probability that supply of beef will also increase in response to the demand. This will move the supply line to the right bringing prices back to P1. Increasing supply, however, takes much longer than increasing demand. Consumers, therefore, should expect to pay more for beef – at least in the near term – due to the increase in demand associated with opening the market in China.

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The Commander in Chief provides guidance

“You going to goddamned steam.”

President Trump said he has told the Navy to return to decades-old steam-powered catapult technology to launch aircraft from the new Gerald Ford-class aircraft carriers, rather than use a new digital launch system.

Trump’s comments came during an interview with Time magazine, released in excerpts Thursday, where he bashed the new Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and said the Navy would instead be “going to goddamned steam.”

“I said, ‘You don’t use steam anymore for catapult?’ ‘No sir.’ I said, ‘Ah, how is it working?’ ‘Sir, not good. Not good. Doesn’t have the power. You know the steam is just brutal. You see that sucker going and steam’s going all over the place, there’s planes thrown in the air,’” Trump said in the interview.

“It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out. And I said—and now they want to buy more aircraft carriers. I said, ‘What system are you going to be—‘ ‘Sir, we’re staying with digital.’ I said, ‘No you’re not. You going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it’s no good.’

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Fear the Bubble and Bust

I wrote the two quoted paragraphs below on July 28, 2010.

John Maynard Keynes advocated using tax code to control the “animal spirits” of the market. He advocated increasing taxes during economic booms to keep the economy from inflating bubbles. For example, Keynes would have supported tax increases during the dot-com bubble in the 1990s and the housing bubble since then. Frankly, high taxes on stupid investment isn’t a bad idea. It was malinvestment in ill advised technology plays and inflated housing that caused the bubbles to grow and then burst driving the boom and bust cycle.

Of course the inverse is that Keynes supported lowering tax rates during recessions in order to free up money, increase its velocity and diminish what he called a “liquidity trap.” Raising taxes during recessionary periods, Keynes would argue, would just exacerbate the recession lengthening it and making it worse. Keynes would strongly argue that increasing taxes during a downturn in the business cycle when unemployment is high would be a disastrous policy.

Keynes argued that, during recessionary periods government needs to “prime the pump” by spending stimulus money and lowering taxes. During boom times, the government should scale back spending and raise taxes to keep the economy from overheating and asset bubbles from forming. There is a logic to this.

So, right now the stock market is at an all time high and Trump is bragging about high levels of economic growth. Bearing that in mind, what is the Keynesian prescription? It is, of course, to decrease government spending and, perhaps, edge up taxes.

Now, let’s take a look at that Economist interview with the president.

But beyond that it’s OK if the tax plan increases the deficit?
It is OK, because it won’t increase it for long. You may have two years where you’ll…you understand the expression “prime the pump”?

Yes.
We have to prime the pump.

It’s very Keynesian.
We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Have you heard that expression before, for this particular type of an event?

Priming the pump?
Yeah, have you heard it?

Yes.
Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just…I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.

It’s…
Yeah, what you have to do is you have to put something in before you can get something out.

So, which is it? Is the economy screaming along with new jobs, a sky-high stock market and impressive growth or is a moribund recessionary economy that requires pump priming and decreased taxes?

This is important to know because increased government spending, lower taxes and artificially low interest rates during boom times lead to the inflation of asset bubbles as occurred during the dot-com 1990s and the Housing Boom 2000s and that leads to…. POP! This is exactly what Trump is promoting.

As for Trump inventing the term “priming the pump” to describe economic stimulus: Um, not so much. It’s been used for about a hundred years in that context.

The reality is that the Keynesian theory of how to manage the economy is flawed and “pump priming” whether it is done by Barack Obama or Donald Trump is bound to be failed policy. Obama, at least, wanted to prime the pump when it wasn’t flowing well. Trump wants to prime a pump that is already pumping like crazy.

Government stimulus, low interest rates and easy credit are mistaken for real investable funds and this, always and everywhere, results in wasteful malinvestment. Actual savings require higher interest rates to encourage depositors to save. The artificial stimulus during boom times causes a generalized speculative investment bubble that grows until it bursts and all hell breaks loose.

This then, is the boom and bust cycle to which, like Sisyphus, we are bound to relive over and over and over. Stupid politicians take us on drunken periods of bubble inflation, busts and hung over periods requiring hair-of-the- dog curatives. It never ends and we are always surprised at our “bad luck”.

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The president talks NAFTA with the Economist

The Economist interviews President Trump…

It sounds like you’re imagining a pretty big renegotiation of NAFTA. What would a fair NAFTA look like?
Big isn’t a good enough word. Massive.

Huge?
It’s got to be. It’s got to be.

What would it look like? What would a fair NAFTA look like?
No, it’s gotta be. Otherwise we’re terminating NAFTA.

What would a fair NAFTA look like?
I was all set to terminate, you know? And this wasn’t like…this wasn’t a game I was playing. I’m not playing…you know, I wasn’t playing chess or poker or anything else. This was, I was, I’d never even thought about…it’s always the best when you really feel this way. But I was…I had no thought of anything else, and these two guys will tell you, I had no thought of anything else but termination. But because of my relationship with both of them, I said, I would like to give that a try too, that’s fine. I mean, out of respect for them. It would’ve been very disrespectful to Mexico and Canada had I said, “I will not.”

But Mr President, what has to change for you not to withdraw?
We have to be able to make fair deals. Right now the United States has a 70—almost a $70bn trade deficit with Mexico. And it has about a $15bn dollar trade deficit with Canada. The timber coming in from Canada, they’ve been negotiating for 35 years. And it’s been…it’s been terrible for the United States. You know, it’s just, it’s just been terrible. They’ve never been able to make it.

A few random thoughts….

Trade balance figures with individual countries in a multi-country world are absolutely meaningless. A nation can carry a trade imbalance with one country but still have a balance of trade with the world as a whole.

For example, imagine three countries: Country A, Country B and Country C. If A sells only to B, B sells only to C and C sells only to A, every country has a 100 percent trade imbalance with every other country yet each country has an aggregate balance of trade. Balances with individual countries in a multi country world, therefore, are absolutely meaningless.

Trade balance figures on individual commodities like lumber are even more meaningless. Should the US export as many bananas to Costa Rica as it imports from Costa Rica? Come on. Duh.

The US experiences a balance of all accounts. Even when the US has more money going out in trade, it has a huge surplus in foreign investment balancing it. In fact, without that foreign investment, the government would shut down and interest rates would skyrocket. A balance of trade would extinguish that needed foreign investment. Just a reminder of what that balance of payments looks like.

You cannot have a capital account surplus without a trade deficit and the United States absolutely, positively must have a capital account surplus.

In fact, as the holder of the world’s reserve currency, the dollar, there will always be a net inflow of investment which will always result in a trade deficit. The last time the US ‘enjoyed’ a huge trade surplus was in the deepest throes of the Great Depression.

Contrary to the content of the president’s fevered imagination, Americans having access to low cost lumber has not been ‘terrible’ for the United States. That is absurd on its face. If it is bad for Canada to sell the US low cost timber it would be much worse if they just gave it to us for free, huh? What a nightmare free lumber would cause. Sheesh, how embarrassing.

It deeply troubles me that the POTUS’ understanding of international trade isn’t nearly as clear as that of a below average college freshman during his first week of Introduction to Macroeconomics.

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What happened to the poor?

Here is some good news: Extreme poverty is plummeting around the globe. Credit global trade and commerce. There is no other explanation.

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Your Death Spiral Update

Obamacare continues is slow motion, deteriorating orbit of the drain.

Aetna will complete its withdrawal from Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges for 2018, announcing on Wednesday that lingering financial losses and uncertainty about the marketplaces’ future was prompting it to exit two final states.

According to an Aetna spokesman, the insurer will not sell individual health plans next year in Delaware or Nebraska. Its announcement came a week after the company said it would stop offering ACA health plans in Virginia in 2018 and a month after it said it would leave Iowa.

The cascade of state-by-state decisions represents a stark turnabout for the nation’s third-largest insurer, which initially entered 15 states’ marketplaces but last summer decided to slash its 2017 participation to just four. That retreat was the largest by any health insurer from the health-care law’s marketplaces, which started in 2014 to provide coverage for people who cannot get affordable health benefits through their employers.

But insurers have discovered that their ACA health plans tend to attract too few of the young and healthy customers needed to offset the expense of covering older people with medical problems. Aetna and other insurers have repeatedly reported financial losses on that part of their business.

So quiz me this, quizmasters… How will a GOP plan that still assumes that everyone can be insured, still covers pre-existing conditions, still subsidizes the sick with the premiums of the healthy (but without a mandate to for the healthy to buy) and still includes government oversight fix what ails Obamacare? I sincerely don’t get it. Not a clue….

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