Should the Fed tackle Income Inequality?

That is the question, the daily NYT trollfest, also known as Room for Debate, addressed yesterday. The Fed has two mandates, keeping the inflation in check and decreasing unemployment. Unfortunately for us, since the late 70s the Fed has taken its inflation mandate far more seriously than the unemployment one. Since inflation has not been a serious problem since the 70s, it is high time that the Fed addressed its neglected mandate. Doing so would go a long way in addressing the income inequality issue.

Our economy is consumer driven, so rising income equality shrinks the economy, because people have to  spend most of their income on necessities, leaving little for anything else.  Fed’s investor driven policies haven’t been particularly beneficial to the wellbeing  of the average consumer.  The rising tide hasn’t lifted all the boats, as promised.

Of all the respondents, I found Joseph Stiglitz’s answer most pertinent while Michael Strain,strained my credulity.  According to Strain, Fed should not address inequality because it is a partisan issue.  At least, he is honest, one party does not want to address issues that concern the 99%.

Well, who are you going to believe, a Nobel Laureate in economics or the resident scholar, at the American Enterprise Institute? One who David Brooks approvingly quotes and  has zero publications or citations in Google Scholar, that I could find.

Your thoughts?

You has questions; Econ Cat has answers

You has questions Econ Cat has answers

By two_kittehs

Pankaj Mishra has Lost the Plot

In addition to the regular side of bullshit that is a David Brooks column, there was a special dose of crazy in last Saturday’s  opinion section of the New York Times.  A highbrow word salad from none other than Pompous Pankaj Mishra. In case you didn’t read it, let me briefly paraphrase Mishra. Shorter Mishra, India is  worse than ISIS  and also Russia and Imperial Japan.  He did not say whether it is worse than the Ebola virus, perhaps that is the subject of the next essay.

He starts with a kernel of truth but  his conclusions, sound like projection.  Kernel of truth: Narendra Modi’s ascent to the most important political office in India is troubling especially in light of the riots that took place during his tenure as the chief minister of Gujarat. This to Mishra is proof enough of the malevolence of the Indian electorate in general and the Indian diaspora in particular.

Mishra begins by quoting the father of pompous intellectuals of Indian heritage,  V. S. Naipaul.  According to both Naipaul and Mishra, upper caste Indians are an intellectually insecure lot, not something I necessarily disagree with but I think the brush strokes of this painting are too broad for my liking.  After all,  this description could easily fit both Mishra and Naipaul, who are as upper caste as they come.

First he paraphrases Naipaul, then goes on to give us his own pearls of wisdom;

These well-born Indians betrayed a craze for “phoren” consumer goods and approval from the West, as well as a self-important paranoia about the “foreign hand.” “Without the foreign chit,” Mr. Naipaul concluded, “Indians can have no confirmation of their own reality.”

Today a new generation of Indian nationalists lurches between victimhood and chauvinism, and with ominous implications. As the country appears to rise (and simultaneously fall), many ambitious members of a greatly expanded and fully global Hindu middle class feel frustrated in their demand for higher status from white Westerners.

What does  fully global Hindu middle class, mean anyway? Has Mishra been hanging out with the same cab driver who ferries Tom Friedman? Mishra, then goes on to quote several Modi acolytes. He then asserts that their ridiculous theories of Hindu supremacy are representative of the Indian elite.  Who qualifies as elite in Mishra’s eyes, I wonder?  What about the person he sees in the mirror, everyday?

Mishra is assuming that Narendra Modi, despite all his talk of moderation,  is going to put the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)’s exclusionary ideology of India as a Hindu nation, in practice,  and that this is a popular sentiment in India. This  claim, is not borne out by India’s history both pre and post independence.  The Sangh and its ideology are nothing new.  Hindutva has been around for almost a hundred years. Plenty of time for this ideology to have become mainstream, won’t you say? Before Mr. Modi there has been only one time when a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician has headed the central government in Delhi, that was Mr. Atal Bihari Vajapayee, who led the coalition government in the late nineties.  While it is true that RSS is the dog that wags the BJP tail, both Modi and Vajpayee before him have sought to minimize their RSS connections.  Precisely, because RSS and their ideology is neither mainstream nor popular in India today or has been at any other time since the inception of RSS.

Mid column, Mishra’s goes off on a weird tangent, in what almost seems like a part of another essay where he compares India to Russia and Imperial Japan.  Evidence please, to support this pseudo intellectual word salad.

These wounds were caused, and are deepened, by failed attempts to match Western power through both mimicry and collaboration (though zealously anti-Western, Chinese nationalism has developed much more autonomously in comparison). Largely subterranean until it erupts, this ressentiment of the West among thwarted elites can assume a more treacherous form than the simple hatred and rejectionism of outfits such as Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Taliban. The intellectual history of right-wing Russian and Japanese nationalism reveals an ominously similar pattern as the vengeful nativism of Hindu nationalists: a recoil from craving Western approval into promoting religious-racial supremacy.

The Russian elite, created by the hectic Westernizing ventures of Peter the Great, was the first to articulate the widespread sense of inadequacy and failure created in societies trying to catch up with the modern West. In 1836, Pyotr Chaadaev argued in “First Philosophical Letter” that, “We belong neither to the West nor to the East, and we possess the traditions of neither.” His eloquent self-pity, which shook up Pushkin as well as Gogol and Tolstoy, inaugurated the semi-Westernized Russian elite’s tormented search for a native identity to uphold against the West.

Where Mishra completely lost me in this unedited rant about Indians and their nationalism was the fact that he wrote approvingly of China’s “non-western” nationalism.  After four paragraphs on this strange trajectory, Mishra suddenly remembers the essay he started writing and goes on to bash his favorite bugbear, the half-baked or semi westernized (his words) Indian;

The fantasies of racial-religious revenge and redemption that breed in Western suburbs as well as posh Indian enclaves today speak of a vast spiritual desolation as well as a deepening intellectual crisis. Even Mr. Naipaul briefly succumbed to the pathology of mimic machismo he had despised (and, later, also identified among chauvinists in Muslim countries). He hailed the vandalizing by a Hindu mob of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992, which triggered nationwide massacres of Muslims, as the sign of an overdue national “awakening.”

Naipaul who Mishra approvingly quotes in the beginning may be of Indian heritage, but he has never been an Indian citizen. To claim that his opinions are representative is ridiculous, as is the claim that the self selected group of people of Indian heritage who showed up last month to see Modi are representative of the Indian diaspora.

There are many more such nonresident Indians in the West today, vicariously living history’s violent drama in their restless exile: In Madison Square Garden, in New York, last month, more than 19,000 people cheered Mr. Modi’s speech about ending India’s millennium-long slavery. But hundreds of millions of uprooted Indians are also now fully exposed to demagoguery. In an unprecedented public intervention this month, the present chief of the R.S.S., who wants all Indian citizens to identify themselves as Hindus since India is a “Hindu nation,” appeared on state television to rant against Muslim infiltrators and appeal for a boycott of Chinese goods.

Such crude xenophobia, now officially sanctioned in Mr. Modi’s India, seems only slightly less menacing than the previous R.S.S. chief’s wishful thinking about one more Mahabharata against demonic anti-Hindus. Japan’s expansionist gambles in China and the Pacific in the last century and, more recently, Russia’s irredentism in Ukraine show that a mainstreamed rhetoric of national aggrandizement can quickly slide into reckless warmongering. Certainly, the ruling classes of wannabe superpowers have spawned a complex force: the ideology of anti-imperialist imperialism, which, forming an axis with the modern state and media and nuclear technology, can make Islamic fundamentalists seem toothless. One can only hope that India’s democratic institutions are strong enough to constrain yet another wounded elite from breaking out for geopolitical and military manhood.

Is Mishra  projecting when speaks about these so called semi-western Indians who supposedly worry about what white westerners say about them?

As for anti-western rhetoric, it has always been a part of Indian politics, both on the left and right, especially before independence and immediately afterwards. Given India’s experience with British rule, this is not surprising. In fact Swadeshi, or buying goods made in India was a major weapon in the struggle for independence both under Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mohandas Gandhi, both leaders of the Congress in British India and upper caste Indian elite to boot.

Indian leaders starting with Jawaharlal Nehru saw the post war American rise in global politics a continuation of British hegemony pre WWII.  It is precisely why India allied itself with the Soviets during the Cold War.  A decision made by center-left Congress Party not the BJP or its predecessor, the Jan Sangh.  So I don’t think that the anti-west rhetoric of some of Modi’s supporters means what Mishra thinks it means.

Even  if the Indian elite who Mishra despises is every bit as craven as his assertions, Indian democracy is not as fragile as he fears, it has survived and thrived for over sixty years, and has held free and fair elections to determine its leaders since its independence in 1947. Not something one can say either about Russia or Imperial Japan or Mishra’s favorite, China. Indian democracy has survived among other things, Prime minister Indira Gandhi’s attempt to usurp power in 1975 after a stinging electoral defeat and the assassinations of two of its Prime Ministers (Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi).  Yes the Indian democracy has its flaws, which democracy doesn’t? India’s elected leaders have been all too human with feet of clay, and let down the people who elected them. As for the diaspora, Indian Constitution does not allow for a dual citizenship and there are no absentee ballots, so most of those Modi followers in NYC either can’t or won’t be able to vote in the Indian elections.  So even if they are all, as rabid as Mishra claims, they have no franchise in  India’s electoral politics.

Indian voters showed the earlier government lead by BJP the door, when they realized that  BJP’s India shining campaign was all sizzle and no steak. If Modi starts unnecessary wars and does not deliver on his economic agenda, he won’t last beyond one term.   Yes, Narendra Modi’s Sangh antecedents and his performance during the Godhra riots, as well, are a cause for concern but there is no reason to believe that a majority of India’s citizenry, even among those who voted for the BJP has drunk the RSS Kool-aid.  I need more evidence than the ranting of a few reactionaries to hit the panic button.  I have more faith in the pragmatism of the Indian electorate than the blathering of either Mishra or the current RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.

Happy Diwali

Kandeel  (source: Wikipedia)

Diwali is a time for new beginnings, a reboot if you will, before winter finally arrives. It celebrated like most winter festivities, with lots of illumination for your home and lots of calorific  but tasty foods for your body.  Diwali is among the many festivals celebrated just around the time  when  we all need something bright and cheerful to take our attention off the onset of a long and dreary winter.

Diwali is also a time of new beginnings, time to start new ventures and wear new clothes.  To mark the occasion, I am wearing my new sweater.  I will also be making karanjis (turnovers with a coconut filling) and chivda (trail mix with nuts and other crunchy stuff), later this evening and putting up Christmas lights in my windows, and may be carving a Jack’ O Lantern or two, in place of a kandeel (paper lantern). 

Diwali is celebrated over several days and the festivities start on the fourteenth day of the month of Kartik, in the Hindu lunar calendar. Besides the new clothes,  another highlight entails  exchange of gifts  of  snacks especially made for Diwali. How will you be celebrating the  Festival of Lights?

Scary Movies For Halloween

THE  CATS: A SEQUEL TO HITCHCOCK'S BIRDS

By two_kittehs

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Caturday Cat is The Boss

BossCat

By two_kittehs

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

The current woes of the Secret Service may be related to the sequestration cuts that went into effect when austerity cat ruled Washington.  do budget cuts in the Secret Service when the current occupant has been getting at least three times more death threats makes sense? They do, if your goal is to drown the Federal Government in a bathtub and you don’t particularly like the current occupant of the White House. Of course,  there are those in Congress who are denying the obvious cause and effect relationship.

I wonder what other effects is the continuing sequestration having on other government agencies and the continuing effects of sequestration on science. Particularly, the harm done to the  National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, and other government funded research.  Scientific and technological edge is what made this country what it is, so killing  basic research for tax cuts, makes little sense.  It is akin to eating your seed corn.  There usually is no immediate economic payoff from basic research, so if government doesn’t do it, business is not going to step in and make up the difference.

How many scientific careers have been put on hold because of these cuts? If you have been directly affected by the budget cuts due to sequestration, please share them in the comments.  Thanks!

ETA: You can also e-mail me your stories at manyworldsonecat@gmail.com.

Is working without toona and nip because of budget cuts

Is working without toona and nip because of budget cuts

By two_kittehs

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, Review

The fourteen hour documentary about the three Roosevelt cousins, Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor, that aired the week before the last week on PBS stations across the country was one of  Ken Burns’ best.  A total of seven episodes, broadcast in installments of two hours each, chronicled the lives of the three members of the Roosevelt family. The documentary spanned more than a century,  from Theodore’s birth to Eleanor’s death.  Despite its length, it left me wanting more.

The first three episodes focused mainly on TR or Theodore Roosevelt, while the next three on Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, while the last one was about Eleanor’s life after White House.  Theodore and Franklin were fifth cousins, while Eleanor  was TR’s niece and FDR’s fifth cousin once removed.  Of all the episodes, only the sixth one on WWII felt repetitive.  Perhaps, because the history of WWII has been the subject of so many other TV documentaries on PBS and elsewhere.

Though all three cousins grew up in the lap luxury, I cannot imagine any of them jeering at those less fortunate than they were,  as moochers.  In the political arena, the Roosevelt, I was most inspired by, was FDR.  One can argue that he was one of the most consequential  Presidents of the United States.

The New Deal regulatory regime kept the financial genie that brought about the Great Depression caged, while the New Deal and the War Stimulus bought the greatest era of broad based prosperity to the United States.  One could argue that the ongoing dismantling of the New Deal regulatory regime since the Reagan administration has been directly responsible for many of the  financial crashes since then, including the latest one in 2008.  If a man is known by his enemies, FDR made the right ones.  He is hated even now by the intellectual and actual progeny of his erstwhile detractors. A cottage industry of  hacks discrediting or minimizing his achievements in tackling the Great Depression, exists even today, one recent example, here.

FDR’s other monumental achievement was his able leadership during the second world war. Mobilizing for WW II transformed the United States from a regional to a world power. In the light of FDR’s unparalleled legacy, the idea of term limits for a President does not make much sense, at least to me.

I knew the broad outlines of FDR’s story but this documentary filled in a lot of  details about Franklin D. Roosevelt as a person, including his often difficult marriage to his fifth cousin Eleanor and his struggles with polio.  Shy and reserved as a child, Eleanor, came into her own as time went by. Though she was unloved as a child or perhaps because of it she became a voice for those without a voice, whether they be miners in West Virginia or those who suffered under the Jim Crow regime years after the end of the Civil War.  On a personal level, Eleanor impressed me the most, her metamorphosis from a shy and unsure young woman to a stateswoman who shepherded the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the fledgling United Nations was truly inspirational.

Of the three,Theodore Roosevelt was the hardest for me to relate to, perhaps because his times have receded into a distant past and his world is a far cry from the world we live in today. His war lust seems out of place after the  two world wars and other conflicts.  There is no nobility in war now if there ever was in some distant past.  In the era of mechanized warfare and nuclear weapons, war means misery and death and not just for the soldiers . On the personal front,TR’s tenacity and courage in overcoming both asthma and depressive tendencies were nothing short of impressive. His colorful and brash personality must have guaranteed a good copy for the journalists of that era.  One thing struck me that TR would have been a misfit in today’s Republican party because of his progressive values and conservationist ideals.

The voice-overs for the Roosevelts were done by Paul Giamatti, Edward Hermann and Meryl Streep for TR, FDR and ER.   I found Streep distracting and a bit overdone.  All in all, an impressive documentary about three impressive people, flaws and all. At the end of part seven I was left wanting to know even more about them.

Credits :  Produced by Florentine Films and WETA, Washington. Directed by Ken Burns; written by Geoffrey C. Ward; Mr. Burns, Paul Barnes and Pam Tubridy-Baucom, producers; Mr. Barnes, Tricia Reidy and Erik Ewers, editors; Buddy Squires and Alan Moore, cinematographers. With: Meryl Streep (the voice of Eleanor Roosevelt), Paul Giamatti (Theodore Roosevelt) and Edward Hermann (Franklin Roosevelt). (source: NYT)

Grade: A

Frost and Winters North of Boston

 

Robert Frost is the quintessential New England poet, his poems evoke the landscape of northern New England with its farmland and its woods.  The ever changing seasons and especially the long harsh winters provide a rich tapestry to of many of his poems.  From The Birches,

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.

When icicles melt due to the sun’s direct heat they do indeed sound like breaking glass when they fall.

Dirty and grimy old snow, reminds Frost of a wet newspaper with its newsprint smudged due to rain. From a Patch of Old Snow,

There’s a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I’ve forgotten –
If I ever read it.

To me, the first stanza of My November Guest, evokes the dreaded SAD that many of us who live in the northern climes endure, when the days get shorter and the nights longer and all the leaves are gone but the snow is still not here.

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted grey
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise

Living in Northern New England definitely gives one a better appreciation of Frost’s poetry. Although I must say, that I was a Frost fan even when I lived nowhere near the North of Boston.

Caturday Cat is a Climber

Because K2 wuz too easy

Because K2 wuz too easy

By two_kittehs

Boss kitteh is a climber, he likes to climb on the top most shelf/book case in the room and survey his kingdom from above.

Arrested Development and Selective Amnesia

This week’s MSM outrage was about Obama’s comment regarding strategy or the lack thereof with respect to ISIS.  Echoing his catty colleague in making frivolous criticisms of the President, Frank Bruni of the New York Times wants the President to not be frank when it comes to foreign policy but mouth platitudes like the younger Bush did and may be start a war or two in the Middle East. 

There are things that you think and things that you say.

There’s what you reckon with privately and what you utter publicly.

There are discussions suitable for a lecture hall and those that befit the bully pulpit.

These sets overlap but aren’t the same. Has President Obama lost sight of that?

It’s a question fairly asked after his statement last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with Islamic extremists in Syria. Not having a strategy, at least a fixed, definitive one, is understandable. The options aren’t great, the answers aren’t easy and the stakes are enormous.

But announcing as much? It’s hard to see any percentage in that. It gives no comfort to Americans. It puts no fear in our enemies.

At this moment, Iraq is in much worse shape than it was when Saddam was alive and was holding  the lid shut to the Pandora’s box of strife that Bush’s Mesopotamian misadventure pried open. The rise of ISIS is the direct result of what has happened in Iraq since 2002-03. I am no middle-east expert but wouldn’t crippling ISIS in Syria strengthen Bashar Al-Assad? Not so long ago, didn’t Senator McWar and sidekick Lindsay Graham want to arm the Syrian rebels, which I guess would have been ISIS? Even someone with the most rudimentary knowledge of the events of the past decade can conclude that current crisis is complicated and neither Obama nor anyone else can wave a magic wand and make it all go away.  

One of the NYT readers commenting on Bruni’s opinion piece said it better than I can,

I find the President’s candor rather refreshing and astute. I don’t need to hear bluster. I ‘m tired of politicians pretending to have bumper-sticker answers for everything. Obama puts things in perspective. He’s very wise that way. Past Presidents have all too often become reactionary in their attempts to be decisive. I prefer the Obama way, thank you very much.

Is it too much to ask that someone who writes for the opinion pages of the New York Times have a better handle on current events than their average reader? Instead Bruni and most of the chattering class  are like toddlers who want the President to act tough and make all the monsters disappear, while he tucks them in and gives them a binky to suck on.  I on the other hand am glad to have a President who treats me like an adult and is deliberate and cautious before he commits troops  unlike the  cheerleaders in the media who have learnt nothing from the Iraq misadventure. The Bush administration could not have sold the war of choice  without their complicity.  Yet,  I haven’t seen a talking head or an opinion writer even acknowledge that the rise of ISIS is directly related to the war they so enthusiastically supported.

 Arrested  Development

By two_kittehs

Note: By the media I mean the Beltway opinion writers and analysts, not the reporters on the ground who risk their lives to bring us the story.

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