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      by Tony Wikrent North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus Strategic Political Economy Economist Mariana Mazzucato has demonstrated that the real driver of innovation isn’t lone geniuses but state investment. [Wired, via The Big Picture 10-19-19] ….Mazzucato, an Italian-American economist who had spent decades researching the economics of innovation […]
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Forty Years Ago Today: May 4, 1970

Today is the 40th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State University in Ohio. On April 30, 1970, President Nixon had ordered the bombing of Cambodia. Across the country people were fed up. Nixon had promised to end the bloody war in Vietnam, and instead he was escalating it.

At Kent State, a small demonstration was held on May 1, and plans were made for a larger on on May 4. The night of May 1,

Trouble exploded in town around midnight when people left a bar and began throwing beer bottles at cars and breaking downtown store fronts. In the process they broke a bank window, setting off an alarm. The news spread quickly and it resulted in several bars closing early to avoid trouble. Before long, more people had joined the vandalism and looting.

The next day the Mayor of Kent asked the Governor to send in the National Guard to control the situation.

During a press conference, Governor Rhodes called the protesters un-American and referred to the protesters as revolutionaries set on destroying higher education in Ohio. “They’re worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes,” Rhodes said. “They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. I think that we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.” Rhodes can be heard in the recording of his speech yelling and pounding his fists on the desk.

On the night of May 2, a group of about 2,000 marchers surrounded the old ROTC building on campus, which was scheduled to be demolished. At some point someone set the building on fire. The fire was put out, and then someone started another one.

Police surrounded the building and dispersed the students with tear gas. The firemen again got the fire under control.

The crowd then moved to the front of the campus. The students retreated to the Commons to find the ROTC building smoldering at both ends. Within minutes, the building was fully ablaze.

The crowd then assembled on the wooded hillside beside the commons and watched as the building burned. Many shouted anti- war slogans. In the first two weeks of May, thirty ROTC buildings would be burned nationwide.

Armed with tear gas and drawn bayonets, the guard pursued students, protesters and bystanders alike, into dormitories and other campus buildings. Some stones were thrown and at least one student was bayoneted. The question of who set the fire that destroyed ROTC building has never been satisfactorily answered by any investigative body.

The demonstration on May 4th was scheduled for noon. The University banned the protest, but people started showing up anyway. About 2,000 people eventually gathered on the university Commons. The National Guard troops tried twice to break up the protest, and then fired tear gas and moved toward the crowd of students. The students retreated and the guardsmen followed. Some students were throwing rocks at the troops and making obscene gestures.

At some point one guardsman, Sgt Taylor began firing at the students with a pistol, and 29 other guardsman fired into the crowd with their M1 rifles (with bayonets attached). More than 60 shots were fired in 13 seconds. Four students were killed; one, Dean Kahler, was paralyzed for life; and eight others were wounded. Killed were:

Allison Krause, a 19-year-old freshman honors student who took part in the demonstration

Jeffrey Miller, 19, who had recently transferred from the University of Michigan who was a friend of Allison Krause and also participated in the demonstration. He was 265 feet from the shooters.

Sandra Scheuer, 20, who was on her way to class and not involved in the demonstration. She was 400 feet away from the shooters.

William Schroeder, 19, an ROTC member, was also on his way to class and not a participant in the demonstration.

Back in 1970, the notion that National Guard troops would fire into a crowd of unarmed students was incredibly shocking. The nation was stunned. Today, I suppose these students would be called terrorists. So much has changed.

Today right wingers are arguing that the National Guard troops were justified in shooting at these college kids. James Rosen, a Fox News Washington correspondent wrote a piece that was published in the Washington Times this morning: New light shed on Kent State killings He reports on newly declassified information from FBI files, and claims there is evidence that someone shot at the troops and they returned fire in response.

The newly released information reveals a conversation that was reported by a young woman who claimed to have overheard it:

“We did it,” one man exulted, according to the inquiry. “We got the riot started.”

The second man expressed disappointment at being excluded from the riot’s planning. “Wait until tomorrow night,” the leader replied excitedly. “We just got the word. We’re going to burn the ROTC building.”

This was 20 hours before the ROTC headquarters on the Kent State campus, an old wooden frame building, was, in fact, burned to the ground.

“What about the flare?” the second man asked before the leader spotted the coed listening to them and abruptly ended the conversation. Dozens of witnesses later told the FBI they saw a flare used to ignite the blaze.

So who were these people? And how does this justify the shootings of unarmed students, some of whom weren’t even participants in any demonstrations?

Later in the article Rosen writes that there had been “rumors of snipers,” and that one witness claimed to have overheard a guardsman talk of “a confirmed report of a sniper.” And there’s this:

It also turned out that the FBI had its own informant and agent-provocateur roaming the crowd, a part-time Kent State student named Terry Norman, who had a camera. Mr. Norman also was armed with a snub-nosed revolver that FBI ballistics tests, first declassified in 1977, concluded had indeed been discharged on that day.

OK, this isn’t new information.

Terry Norman, the youth with the gun, was a 22-year-old occasional student at Kent State and a free-lance photographer whose primary interest seemed to be taking photos of campus demonstrations. Apparently, at various times, he worked for the campus police, the FBI, or both. Before the May 4 demonstration, Sergeant Mike Delaney, press liaison for the Guard, had initially refused to issue Norman a press pass because Norman lacked the proper credentials. A campus liaison offered to vouch for Norman but that didn’t sway Delaney. He finally relented only after the campus police intervened, saying that Norman was “under contract to the FBI to take pictures.”

Apparently James Rosen has never heard of COINTELPRO, J. Edgar Hoover’s counterintelligence program that spied on “political dissidents” in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Basically, they infiltrated leftist and peace organizations and tried to incite young people to violence in order to neutralize the anti-war movement.

According to FBI records, 85% of COINTELPRO resources were expended on infiltrating, disrupting, marginalizing, and/or subverting groups suspected of being subversive,[4] such as communist and socialist organizations; the women’s rights movement; militant black nationalist groups, and the non-violent civil rights movement, including individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others associated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality, the American Indian Movement, and other civil rights groups; a broad range of organizations labeled “New Left”, including Students for a Democratic Society, the National Lawyers Guild, the Weathermen, almost all groups protesting the Vietnam War, and even individual student demonstrators with no group affiliation; and nationalist groups such as those “seeking independence for Puerto Rico.”

James Rosen and the Washington Times have no better idea of what happened on the Kent State Campus on May 4, 1970 than I do. I wasn’t there and neither were they. Even the people who were there that day don’t know what caused the guardsmen to fire and kill unarmed students. The fact is what happened was wrong, and there can be no justification for it. Those young guardsmen should not even have been ordered to carry loaded weapons on a college campus.

Allison Krause’s sister Laurel has organized The Kent State Truth Tribunal where witnesses can testify in search of what really happened. For more information, watch this Democracy Now report with an interview of Laurel by Amy Goodman. There are also scenes from a documentary with interviews of witnesses, including guardsmen who fired on students that day.

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Memo to David Brooks: Correlation Does NOT Equal Causation

David Brooks has a hilariously incoherent column in today’s Knee Jerk Times New York Times called The Limits of Policy, in which he comes very close to suggesting that ethnicity is destiny.

First Brooks presents unsourced data about a comparison between Swedes living in Sweden and and Americans of Swedish ancestry that supposedly demonstrates that people of Swedish extraction have similar life expectancies and poverty rates, despite the differences in public policies in Sweden and the U.S. Therefore, Brooks implies, government health and welfare policies makes no contribution to how well families and individuals do in a particular environment. According to Brooks, it’s really all about ethnicity and to some extent about where you choose to live within the U.S.

Of course Brooks claims he isn’t implying what we think he’s implying:

This is not to say that policy choices are meaningless. But we should be realistic about them. The influence of politics and policy is usually swamped by the influence of culture, ethnicity, psychology and a dozen other factors.

Sure, David, “we should be realistic” when the Obama administration tries to force Social Security and Medicare cuts down our throats so that snooty top one-percenters like you don’t have to contribute any of your vast inherited wealth to the common good. And we should accept that if we happen to be in one of the high poverty ethnic groups, we need to realize that no matter what the government does, we’d have no hope of being middle-class anyway, right David?

Next Brooks offers some data from a new report from The American Human Development Project, A Century Apart: New Measures of Well-Being for U.S. Racial and Ethnic Groups. (PDF).

As you’d expect, ethnicity correlates to huge differences in how people live. Nationally, 50 percent of Asian-American adults have a college degree, compared with 31 percent of whites, 17 percent of African-Americans and 13 percent of Hispanics.

Asian-Americans have a life expectancy of 87 years compared with 79 years for whites and 73 years for African-Americans.

[….]

The region you live in also makes a gigantic difference in how you will live. There are certain high-trust regions where highly educated people congregate, producing positive feedback loops of good culture and good human capital programs. This mostly happens in the northeastern states like New Jersey and Connecticut. There are other regions with low social trust, low education levels and negative feedback loops. This mostly happens in southern states like Arkansas and West Virginia.

If you combine the influence of ethnicity and region, you get astounding lifestyle gaps. The average Asian-American in New Jersey lives an amazing 26 years longer and is 11 times more likely to have a graduate degree than the average American Indian in South Dakota.

Is that so? And what does all this have to do with Sweden and Swedish-American immigrants, pray tell?

Next, Brooks cites a book by University of Chicago sociologist Susan E. Mayer, What Money Can’t Buy. The book was published in 1997, so the research may be just a little out of date, but Brooks doesn’t mention that. Apparently Mayer used some kind of statistical method to figure out what would happen if you doubled the income of poor American families–increasing their household income from $15,000 to $30,000. She supposedly found that this increase in income would have almost no effect on factors that might contribute to a better life, such as reducing teen pregnancy and getting more kids to stay in school.

Brooks acknowledges that public policies can severely damage the prospects of a people. For example, if you murder, rape, and pillage indigenous peoples, like, say….the Native Americans, and then you take away their land and exile them to “reservations,” those people are going to have “bad outcomes for generations.”

And that’s really a shame, but based on Mayer’s “research,” there’s nothing government policy can do about it once those people are living in squalor. They just are, and we have to accept it.

The takeaway message from this mishmash of partially reported and poorly sourced academic research is that we are stuck wherever we find ourselves right now, and we should forget about trying to improve our quality of life through political activism. Finally, Brooks says “we should all probably calm down about politics” because we now know that public policy has little effect compared to “ethnic, regional and social differences.”

Alrighty then. But despite Brooks’ recommendation to “calm down,” I decide to investigate his sources.

I think I located Brooks’ source of the information on Swedes and Swedish Americans. It’s an article at “New Geography,” which offers “economic, demographic, and political commentary.” The article, written by Nima Sanandaji, who, like Brooks, is a fan of the late University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, is called Is Sweden a False Utopia? Here’s an excerpt:

A Scandinavian economist once stated to Milton Friedman: “In Scandinavia we have no poverty.” Milton Friedman replied, “That’s interesting, because in America among Scandinavians, we have no poverty either.” Indeed, the poverty rate for Americans with Swedish ancestry is only 6.7%, half the U.S average. Economists Geranda Notten and Chris de Neubourg have calculated the poverty rate in Sweden using the American poverty threshold, finding it to be an identical 6.7%.

Ironically, this points us towards the conclusion that what makes Sweden uniquely successful is not the welfare state, as is commonly assumed. Rather than being the cause of Sweden’s social strengths, the high-tax welfare state might have been enabled by the hard-won Swedish stock of social capital. It was well before the welfare state, when hard work paid off, that a culture with strong protestant working ethics developed.

Gotta love that old Protestant work ethic! Aren’t you nostalgic for the good old days when “hard work paid off?” As opposed to the last thirty years in the U.S. when wages have been pretty much stagnant while productivity has increased. Yep, hard work doesn’t pay off so well these days….

As I noted above, Susan Mayor, the sociologist who showed that giving poor families twice as much money wouldn’t change anything is also a denizen of the University of Chicago.

Finally, Brooks’ third source for his ethnicity-as-destiny thesis is the report from the Human Development Institute, linked above. This study used three measures of well being–health, education, and income–to calculate a “human development index,” a single number that represents quality of life.

The three components of the Human Development Index—longevity, knowledge, and income—are valued by people the world over as building blocks of a good life, and good proxy indicators are available for each. In the American Human Development Index, these components are weighted equally and are measured using the following
data:

A Long and Healthy Life is measured using life expectancy at birth, calculated
from 2006 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
and CDC WONDER Database.

Access to Knowledge is measured using two indicators: educational
degree attainment for the adult population age 25 and older; and school
enrollment for the population age three and older. The data come from the
American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 one-year
and three-year estimates.

A Decent Standard of Living is measured using median annual gross personal earnings, also from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 one-year and three-year estimates. These earnings figures are presented in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars.

These three sets of indicators are then combined into a single number that falls on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest.

The results of the study showed that, to no one’s surprise, quality of life or “well-being” differs greatly across racial and ethnic groups. Yes, there are lots of significant correlations between where you fall on “human development index” and race and ethnicity. But David forgot to tell us that there are also correlations between certain public policies and quality of life for the people who live under them. For example:

Policy and investment at the state level related to key human development areas, such as public education, the public health infrastructure, health insurance coverage, social services, income supports like state earned
income tax credits, and housing. There is a strong correlation, for example,
between state expenditure per pupil on public education and that state’s
score on the educational index.

Other important factors are jobs, industry, and “rates of unionization.” And within racial and ethnic categories, newer immigrants tend not to do as well as well established members of the same ethnic group. In addition, the authors point out that when people are in an ethnic group that has access to the power structure of a state, then tend to achieve higher levels of well-being. And finally racial segregation is correlated with lower levels of well being in specific ethnic groups, such as African Americans. From the report:

Washington, D.C., geographically a single city, contains within it two
completely separate, yet side-by-side, worlds, one home to whites experiencing
some of the highest well-being levels in the nation, the other home
to African Americans living, on average, drastically shorter lives, with less
access to educational and income-generating opportunities.

No kidding. But the authors don’t claim these differences have nothing to do with public policy, as David Brooks implied in his column.

What is Brooks really trying to say anyway? It seems to me that, in his snooty, above-it-all way, he is saying the same thing that those Arizona voters are saying, and what was accepted wisdom in the segregationist days–that if you belong to a particular ethnic group, there’s pretty much no hope for you. And you probably brought it on yourself through laziness or bad child-rearing practices or something.

In any case, you shouldn’t come crying to the government or wealthy elites like David Brooks. They have nothing to offer you, and even if they did try to help you out, it wouldn’t do you any good.

At the very least, someone needs to explain to David that just because two things are correlated–that there is some kind of association between them–doesn’t mean that one of those things caused the other thing. Even my Psych 101 students know that. So unless Brooks can show me an experiment where someone took hundreds of individuals from all the different ethnic groups and had them live out their lives in carefully controlled laboratory conditions, I’m not buying his dopey conclusions. And The New York Times should be ashamed to publish this drivel.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong mocks Brooks and the NYT. Matt Yglesias trips all over himself whiletrying to defend Brooks from DeLong.