How to lose money and freedom in the same grab

Internet neutrality is the biggest crisis with the smallest headlines of the decade. The physical internet has been a common carrier since its inception, until the FCC threw it to phone and cable companies as a gift. It needs to be taken back, and Lawrence Lessig and Robert McChesney explain why. If you don’t want to think this stuff through for yourself, there is no better guide than Lessig.

Anyone who uses the internet, and that obviously means you, needs to get involved in this. Not only are we at risk of having our pockets picked, we are liable to be blindfolded and deafened. Go here, send letters and emails as recommended, and get out your credit card: good practice for the non-deductible contributions you’ll be making for the fall elections.

The lone neuron state

Steve Benen reports on critical security updates to the platform of the ineffable Texas Republican Party. “They now want to build “a physical barrier” along the entire Mexican border.” The old, 2004, platform already included modest plans to abolish the Federal income tax, the IRS, and Social Security, with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms thrown in, and affirmed “that the United States of America is a Christian nation”.

What caught my British eye was the support for “the immediate adoption of American English [this? or this?] as the official language of Texas and of the United States of America.” (My emphasis.)

So will it become unlawful to call them wankers?

The rich man in his castle

New research shows that inequaliy is inherited more, not less, in the USA than in Europe.

— The poor man at his gate

God made them high and lowly

And ordered their estate.

Welcome to America at the end of the twentieth century. The Economist does what it used to see as a central task and reports on a striking new piece of comparative economic research. The May 27 Charlemagne column “Snakes and Ladders” describes work by a Nordic team (Bernt Bratsberg, Markus Jäntti et al.) on the transmission of income inequality between generations. The paper is here and an earlier version here.

Money quote:

Mobility [in intergenerational income] among men is lower in the U.S. than in the U.K., where it is lower again compared

to the Nordic countries. ….

The main driver of the difference in the pattern of male intergenerational mobility in the

U.S. from that of each of the other countries in our study is the low mobility out of the lowest

quintile group in the United States.

Continue reading “The rich man in his castle”

Missing the point about atrocities

The president is “troubled” about the Haditha story, and reassures us, lapsing into his usual passive-voice departure from scenes he doesn’t enjoy, that “if laws were broken, there will be punishment.” This is a certainty, maybe even up to the E-8 level this time.

But that’s not what this story is about, or it shouldn’t be. The three elephants in this room are (i) none of this was on the scope at the White House until at least two months after the event, (ii) when it was, none of it was shared with the public until a couple of weeks ago, and by John Murtha, (iii) a whole chain of command up to the president obviously believed that the person above him did not want stuff like this passed along. (For example, how many people knew that $38,000 in compensation had been paid to victims officially reported killed by insurgents; even in Iraq, money like that changing hands generates all sorts of paper and forms. )

The last item is the devastating indictment of the commander-in-chief. After five years running a company, the corporate culture is your responsibility. It’s bad that a few desperate Marines lost it in the hot, scary, illegible, and hostile environment of Iraq. You and I would crack a lot sooner, but there’s no excuse for this and “not lose it” is exactly what the Marines are, and have to be, really good at, so these guys have to be punished. The big issue is not these wretched leathernecks but that Bush and Rumsfeld, by all their responses to bad news and the people who have tried to tell it to them, have created a culture of lying, coverup, and hoping stuff will go away that has obviously corrupted the culture of a proud service. I say obviously before all the evidence is in because it doesn’t matter if the Haditha case somehow comes up with everyone innocent after full investigation. It was a prima facie issue from the getgo, down in the high E and low O levels in November and needed to be managed as a crisis no matter what the investigation turned up.

This corruption will not be corrected by hanging enlisted Marines, nor by cashiering the odd lieutenant or even colonel where the story was found to have stopped. It will be corrected by asking everyone from there up, “how could your people possibly not have known that we expect stuff like this to be reported up and handled?” There’s no defense to this charge, of course, because “everyone knowing” stuff like that is the affirmative duty of management, using whatever it takes. Heads need to be introduced to civilian haberdashery if not rolled, way up the line, not for being in charge when a few troops went nuts, but for being in charge of an organization whose course-correction machinery was broken and left unrepaired.

Daniel Henninger in the WSJ today has a long rambling whine (behind the paywall) about Haditha that winds up at the wrong rotten apple theory (the one that excuses anything by saying “it’s only a few”…). Nope. Even if that model had any legitimacy, it’s not about the tiny percentage of troops who do bad when all the others are doing good; it’s about the high percentage of the management structure that’s learned to hide, lie, and cover up the work that needs doing, and the repeatedly, doggedly, incompetent leadership that made it that way.

The wealth of networks

Comment on Crooked Timber’s seminar on “The Wealth of Networks”. Amateur, cooperative culture is the long-run norm.

Crooked Timber have just held an online seminar around a new book by Yochai Benkler on “The Wealth of Networks”. The theme is that new information technologies are reshaping opportunities for cooperation in cultural production and other forms of social action, but face obstacles in achieving them.

It’s good stuff, but I miss the grand historical perspective. So let’s have a go, in the new spirit of wiki amateurism. Are we seeing a cultural revolution? No, reversion to the mean.

Continue reading “The wealth of networks”

Sick America

Middle-aged Americans are sicker than English ones

A heavyweight study published in JAMA (“Disease and Disadvantage in the United States and in England”, Michael Marmot et al.) has found that

“Americans are much sicker than the English.”

It covered large samples of white middle-aged people enrolled in longitudinal studies in both countries. For once, England is the exact term; unhealthy Scotland and healthy Wales now run their own parts of the NHS. The design makes the USA look better than it is; the omission of the Scots is outweighed by that of African-Americans.

I’ve turned the key findings into charts.

Continue reading “Sick America”

Pink triangles won’t be worn

The Pope makes his pilgrimage to Auschwitz today, at the end of his visit to Poland. Benedict and his predecessor have done the right thing by Poles; the right thing by Jews – perhaps not far enough, but still a lot; the right thing by gypsies, so far as I know; the right thing by the mentally handicapped – the Vatican position on euthanasia may go too far, but it certainly respects this group of victims of Nazism.

But when will the Catholic Church stop giving Hitler a posthumous victory over homosexuals?

The Andalusian nation

Never heard of it? Me neither. Only 4% of Andalusian Spaniards think of themselves as a “nation”, and another seven as a “historic nationality”, the quite inaccurate term used in the current regional statute. (Al-Andalús was simply the name of Moslem Spain, whatever its area; as it shrank during the Reconquest, it corresponded roughly to present-day Andalusia only for a few decades around 1220 CE.) The overwhelming majority of Andalusians (63%) are content with the name and status of “autonomous region”. (Data from an editorial in the May 25 English-language edition of “El Pais”, no link I can find.). But the proposal on the table for the regional statute is to upgrade from “historic nationality” to “national reality”, only a semantic whisker away from “nation”.

The depressing competition to give the Andalusians something they don’t want or need results from two things. One is an accident of regional coalition politics. The Socialists (with 61 seats) are bidding for the support of two splinter parties, the far left (7 seats) and regional nationalists (6 seats); it’s unclear why, since they have a working majority over the PP (37 seats) anyway. The other, and more significant, factor is jealousy of the ever greater privileges won by the Catalans and Basques, many of whom really do aim at ultimate independence. It could only ever be a Disneyland independence. The assumption of the regionalists, who have succeeded in breaking up Belgium, is that real policy – on defence, envrironment, immigration, the economy – will be made in Brussels.

Immigration Crisis Solved!

It’s pretty simple, actually: those opposed to making citizens out of illegal immigrants say that it is wrong to be rewarded for violating the law. That’s true, as a general matter. (In my view, it is vastly overstated: we don’t take away someone’s license for a parking ticket.) But in any event, why not say that those illegal immigrants who want to become citizens have to pay a particular penalty?

Now McCain-Kennedy already does that, of course. But I’m thinking of something far more specific: why don’t illegal immigrants have to do precisely what Rush Limbaugh must do under his plea agreement?

I’d love to see the right wing, which has condemned Limbaugh’s probation/plea agreement as unduly harsh, answer this: why suddenly is it a free ride for an illegal immigrant to do precisely what Limbaugh must do, even though the immigrant (unlike LImbaugh) has not actually committed a crime?