Monday, November 29, 2010

29 November 2010

November 28, 2010 02:30 PM
from Crooks and liars: "Stockman: Bush Administration and Paulson Destroyed Last Vestige of Fiscal Responsibility We Had in the Republican Party"

Even allowing for the sunnier picture he paints of the GOP of bygone days, it's still nice to hear a republican advocating for (ahem) progressive taxation.

Economist's View: "Workers Must Work Longer for Less Because the Rich are Living Longer"

"New poll undercuts GOP claims of a midterm mandate"
via Maha

Alternet: "How Our Dependence on Cheap Meat Is Helping to Destroy the Fabric of the Country"
As family farms and ranches fail, consumers suffer, too.

Glenn Greenwald:"The FBI successfully thwarts its own Terrorist plot"

New Yorker: McAllen, Texas and the high cost of health care
about health-care costs. Writer contrasts the high-cost health-care system in McAllen, Texas, with the lower-cost systems at the Mayo Clinic and in Grand Junction, Colorado. McAllen, Texas is one of the most expensive health-care markets in the country.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Are you stupid? Why not?

TSA frisking nun

update below.

Friday evening I had just finished reading Kollapsnik's "America- the grim truth" as the CBS evening news came on. Ireland seems to be coming apart at the seams, there is a potential war brewing in Korea, but the headline story was about Obama busting his lip. The second story was about how the stores were doing with the so-called Black Friday shoppers. Over the years I've come to believe that news portals like the CBS, ABC, NBC, the cable news networks, and even to some extent the fancier print news portals like the New York Times and the Washington Post are engines of stupidification, designed to persuade you to either give up on your fellow man and woman as irredeemably stupid, or even join in the fun and be stupid yourself, heeding the sirens calling you, to buy stuff and quit moping.

Mind you, I don't automatically think we're all that stupid, but suggestibility, like practically everything else, must exist on a continuum. Some people just don't buy it, some buy it a little bit, some don't buy it but are resigned to 'the way things are' and are convinced everybody else buys it(so hey, quit complaining!). And some people rely on figuring out what others believe to be true before they decide which bandwagon to jump on, making their minds fertile ground for the media to plant seeds of consumerist blather. There are still other gradations, and I may have gotten the order wrong, but you get the idea. I also see the media as a kind of "forgetting machine" designed to make sure that every new event and every news cycle is unrelatable to the past, that historical context is for suckers.

Not too long ago Ian Welsh wrote that we did not face any problem we couldn't solve, but the problem was political will. I tend to believe this, but I know that deficit commissions and bailouts of crooked financial schemes aren't the answer. Is there hope for America, let alone the world? I wish I knew.

Tom Engelhardt: "The incredible shrinking withdrawal date"
The Barack Obama administration's drawdown date of 2011 from Afghanistan was slowly recalibrated to 2014, and now that goal has been dismissed as "aspirational", with "2015 and beyond" touted. With an unshakable belief in his counter-insurgency program, Afghan war commander General David Petraeus is only offering Obama and world leaders two strategic options: more or a lot more.

Reuters: "Generation Y: the new depression generation?"

China Daily:"China, Russia quit dollar"(via CFO)

BDR:"Ruth Marcus tells you to sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up."

Huffington Post:
Warren Buffett rebutted claims that the Obama administration is unjustly hurting business orders with high taxes by saying that in fact, the wealthy have never had it so good."I think that people at the high end, people like myself, should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we've ever had it," he told ABC's Christiane Amanpour in a clip played on "This Week" on Sunday.

When Amanpour pointed to critics' claims that the very wealthy need tax cuts to spur business and capitalism, Buffett replied, "The rich are always going to say that, you know, 'Just give us more money, and we'll go out and spend more, and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you.' But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on."

update: As I wrote in the comments, I'm convinced there's plenty of outrage out there, but one of the primary functions of the media is to convince you that it's just you, that you're unreasonable to be upset. Look around you: don't you see how not-upset everybody else is? There! Now don't you feel like an idiot being so fussy?

It's. Just. You.

So shut up and buy stuff.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

A Friendly Discussion

My friend, Jim Wetzel, commented on his own blog, The Chestnut Tree Café , about my November 22 post. With his permission, I’ve copied it here, and followed with my response.
From Jim:
I've been thinking about a post that the proprietress of Mimi's Musing wrote over at Dead Horse. An excerpt:
--The New York Times is running one of their wonderfully patriotic and fat-headed series, this one on our military heroes who are such brave youth and who just incidentally, you understand, have signed up to slaughter other human beings. I commented:
What is it, in particular, these hired killers are fighting for? Not to protect our country; Afghanistan has never been a threat to this country. Not "our freedoms"; our freedoms have been eroding for years. Not "our way of life," whatever in the world that could possibly mean.--
I certainly agree with the substance of Mimi's post. But there's something I get to thinking about, now and then: for instance, every Armistice Day Veterans' Day, when we're supposed to get all misty-eyed about how everything worthwhile about America only exists because somebody spent 1977 to 1983 as an avionics tech in the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. It's the "hired killers" thing I want to get to here. It's certainly descriptive of what they do, but I don't think -- in most cases -- that it's what they are. That's not a distinction that's worth much of anything to the killers' victims, but it's worth something, I think, in terms of our efforts to understand our countrymen.
The average age of first enlistment in the Army hovers right around 21 in recent years. That's certainly old enough for legal responsibility ... but I wonder how many of us were really doing a lot of serious thinking at that age? At the very least, I think we'd have to say that 21-year-olds tend to be pretty easily swayed by advertising, and by other forms of social pressure. And between one thing and another, it seems to me that we as a society are very insistent in telling the youngsters that signing up to kill is both a noble exercise, and a smart career move. (In today's hollowed-out US economy, it's about the only career move available to a whole lot of kids.) I'm sure that some of the recruits do have an insane urge to kill other people and destroy their homes. I'm inclined to doubt that the majority join up to become killers, though; I'm thinking that for most, the motivation is a good bit more mundane, and a good bit closer to innocent. America sells them on the idea; and America is well equipped with astute salesmen.
As I say, a 21-year-old is responsible for what he or she agrees to do, and does. And the distinctions I'm referring to aren't very important to the people who are unlucky enough to live in places that our masters have decided to destroy, and unlucky enough to be the ones our masters have decided to murder. But the responsibility goes far beyond the torpedoes in uniform. It extends to everyone who pays taxes to the crime lords. When it comes right down to it, there's plenty of guilt to go around. I believe I'm wearing my share, too.
From Mimi:
Valid points throughout, Jim, and well said. As I think you’ll agree, you and I are comrades in ideas (not arms!), along with the others who contribute to this blog. I guess the dilemma is how to deplore the killing of other human beings, yet retain some sympathy, or at least sympathetic understanding, for those who kill them. It’s true that young and impressionable recruits are skillfully manipulated into signing up. But do they ever think over exactly what it means? If not, why not? If so, how can they steel themselves to accept it?
Because I’m of a certain generation, virtually all of the mature—very mature--men I know or knew have been in the military, including my late husband. Some made a career of it. Many of them were drafted, but my husband wasn’t; he joined of his own free will. If he had been in combat and had been ordered to shoot to kill, would this gentle, soft-spoken man have obeyed? I have to believe he would have.
In his long and densely annotated book (I haven’t been able to get through all of it), On Killing, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman emphasizes “…a powerful, innate human resistance toward killing one’s own species…” which is overcome by “techniques that have been developed and applied with tremendous success in modern combat training in order to condition soldiers..." to overcome this resistence. And before these "techniques," there are others, probably fabricated by teams of psychiatrists. Young recruits are seduced by the blandishments of the recruiters (and there must be a special place in Hell reserved for them!) that enlisting is a viable career choice and a “heroic” move.
I wouldn’t use the term “hired killers” in certain company for fear of being tarred and feathered, but I can’t relinquish it, either. I can understand that the volunteer army consists largely of young people who pitiable pawns in a game of the rich and powerful. And yet…
They are paid. And they kill.


Monday, November 22, 2010

The NYT And Me

The New York Times is running one of their wonderfully patriotic and fat-headed series, this one on our military heroes who are such brave youth and who just incidentally, you understand, have signed up to slaughter other human beings. I commented:

What is it, in particular, these hired killers are fighting for? Not to protect our country; Afghanistan has never been a threat to this country. Not "our freedoms"; our freedoms have been eroding for years. Not "our way of life," whatever in the world that could possibly mean.
Hey, I've got it: They're fighting to ensure that the politicians and generals who start the wars can continue to advance their careers. They're fighting so the weapons manufacturers can keep amassing their fortunes. The men, women, and children they're slaughtering? The comrades who come home in body bags? The gutted wrecks of the countries they invaded? The collapse of the American economy as more and more resources are diverted to war? Just too insignificant to mention.
Mark these words: There will be a reckoning. And it won't be pretty.

I haven't read the rest of the comments yet, but was gratified to see that 30 people recommended my comment. Hope that means there are at least thirty people in this benighted country who don't care for the blood bath. Would there were 30 million.


Friday, November 19, 2010

19 November 2010

"Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength"

Rob Payne,"Viktor Bout, Barack Obama"

Helena Cobban, "Robinson and Brahimi: Wrong on Hamas and women"

Justin Raimondo, "Why the TSA Gets to Grope Us"

Caruso discusses Michael Moore.

Paul Gottfried, "Glenn Beck’s Myths: How the Fox News pundit distorts the Progressive legacy"

one interesting bit:

Pro-war Progressives came to be known as liberal internationalists and are the ancestors of today’s neoconservatives, not a few of whom have taken to calling themsleves “Hard Wilsonians.” Some of the original internationalists broke ranks, however. Though a pro-war Progressive in 1917 and lifelong admirer of President Wilson, Herbert Hoover changed his foreign policy stance in the 1930s and became a critic of American military involvement in Europe.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chomsky re the midterms, etc

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Slate vs. the Welfare State

The video is from September but it relates to Anne Applebaum's recent article:

"Europeans Are Finally Slashing Their Cushy Government Programs. Will Americans Do the Same?"

As is often the case with Slate, the article has 2 titles. It's also called:

"Continental Divide: Europeans are starting to realize that their governments are too big. Will Americans catch on next?"

Anne Applebaum discusses various austerity and privatization efforts afoot in some European countries.
It's saying too much to call it a pattern, and it may well not be a permanent change: I'm sure there are plenty of European politicians who won't survive their next encounter with the voters. But there is something in the air. It almost seems as if at least a few Europeans have actually drawn some lessons from the recent recession and accompanying turbulence in the bond markets. They have realized, or are about to realize, that their state sectors are too big. They are about to discover that their public spending, which seemed justified in good economic times, has to be cut. The middle class knows in its heart of hearts that its subsidies, whether for mortgages, university tuition, or even health care, can't last. Some voters even know that their pay-as-you go pension systems aren't sustainable in the long term, either.

I've described this mood swing before, but two American economists, Douglas Besharov and Douglas Call, recently substantiated it in the Wilson Quarterly. They write that most developed countries in Europe and Asia—not some, most—are moving, "however hesitantly," toward market-based government pension and health care systems, at least for the middle class. Most now fund future pensions with investment funds and stock holdings, either instead of or in addition to pay-as-you-go plans. Even countries historically suspicious of the free market—such as Italy, Sweden, and Poland—now use such schemes.

At one point she mentions last week's riots in London, but dismisses them as insignificant and suggests the current UK government is popular at home, and suggests by extension, so are the austerity measures. I don't know how to evaluate this. [Applebaum provides this link]

But I'm suspicious, partly because I remember the last time I discussed Applebaum,in 2009, per a condescending article she wrote that summer, practically channeling Kipling regarding the Afghan election. At any rate, the current item is heavy on insinuation and it's not really clear that the austerity measures are in fact popular with the European public, although she suggests this. (I somehow doubt it. It sounds like the IMF/Global banking thugs who pushed the US bailout program through in 2008 is working their voodoo in the EU.)

The austerity programs are definitely favored by Applebaum, who also throws in a dig at the US Post office and Obamacare. Actually it doesn't sound like she understands the healthcare reform law, unless that is by design. Likewise she doesn't understand why US healthcare costs are so much higher than in other Western countries. She does admit they're higher, but suggests it's because US spending on healthcare is somehow shielded from market forces(!?) because most Americans don't pay for their healthcare directly-- as opposed to, say, because of the added costs incurred by insurance companies' overhead and profit margins, or the lack of cost controls on drugs compared to the more restrictive laws in other industrialized countries.

I think it is particularly ironic that currently Slate is also running a piece entitled "How to sell horrible counterintuitive column ideas and look smart doing it". Maybe I should used that title, leaving out the word "column".

Anyway, here are two items from the comments regarding Applebaum's current article:

Joe Miller: Deeply misleading on health care costs. While Americans pay only 13% DIRECTLY, they pay through the nose INDIRECTLY. The per capita cost of health care in the U.S. is about $7000, as compared to an average of around $3500 in the rest of the OECD. That means about $1,000,000,000,000 a year is wasted/stolen/skimmed off the top by the appallingly bad U.S. system, which does NOT provide universal coverage. It isn't brutally expensive because of "lack of market mechanisms". It's brutally expensive because certain players in the health care "game", such as Florida's newly elected criminal governor, Rick Scott, have rigged it to be.

The Post Office, BTW, is a govt.-supervised but not wholly owned corporation. Part of the reason it runs a deficit is that it has to put up billions every year in advance for future pension payments. Privatize it, and watch what happens to postal service to rural and generally less-populated areas.

Michael Streiffert:
Employer provided health insurance is part of the overall compensation package workers receive for their labor. Will the author next argue that I don't pay my rent because I use my employer provided wages to do so? I earn my health insurance just like I earn my wages and my retirement. I don't pay only 13 percent of my health insurance coverage, I pay 100 percent. Just as the money I use to buy my car insurance ultimately comes from my employer through wages, the money that pays for my health insurance is the same thing.

Other than that, this is a silly article. "Europeans are starting to realize that their governments are too big." is followed by "It's saying too much to call it a pattern..." It's saying too much to call it a pattern and that's why the title of the article calls is a pattern. Okay. Sure.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

CNN video: the 'rocket docket'

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

14 November 2010

from The Real News, "Austerity: Road to 19th Century"
James Crotty: Right-wing billionaires use crisis to weaken social safety net

Matt Taibbi and the 'Rocket docket': Courts Helping Banks Screw Over Homeowners

Robert Gardner, National Post (via Diane.):
While the rate at which incumbents were re-elected was relatively low, it was still, in absolute terms, astonishingly high: 85.6%. And it was only a little lower than the mid-terms of 1994 and 1982: in both those years, the rate of re-election was 90%. And notice what hasn’t been mentioned so far: the Senate. Incumbents were re-elected in 84.4% of Senate races, which is actually a little higher than the rate of return for incumbents in the last midterm in 2006. What’s remarkable about these results, and the results of every congressional election in modern American history, isn’t how much changes. It’s how much doesn’t.

Gates: US open to request from Iraq to stay
U.S. doctors still too cozy with drug industry: survey
Bush on post-presidency: 'I miss being pampered'(also here)

And, for when you are feeling counterpunchy:

Slavoj Žižek, What is the Left to Do?

Paul Craig Roberts, Phantom Jobs

Uri Avnery, Obama's Defeat

Ralph Nader, When Betrayed Voters Go to the Polls

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

F**k fees

from Russia Today:

"Tens of thousands of students marched through London on Wednesday against plans to triple university tuition fees, and violence erupted as a minority battled police and trashed a building containing the headquarters of the governing Conservative Party. Organisers said 50-thousand students, lecturers and supporters demonstrated against plans to raise the cost of studying at a university to 9-thousand pounds a year - three times the current rate - in the largest street protest yet against the government's sweeping austerity measures."

from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer/AP:[also here]

...the bipartisan leaders of President Barack Obama's deficit commission proposed curbs in Social Security benefits, deep reductions in federal spending and higher taxes for millions of Americans Wednesday to stem a flood of red ink that they said threatens the nation's very future.

Oh, curbs, not cuts. Well, that's different!

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Monday, November 08, 2010

Olbermann, etcetera

The fuss over Keith Olbermann "donating without approval" seems to be over, now that MSNBC has announced that he'll be back on the air(well, cable) on Tuesday. I generally don't pay much attention to these things, but I was interested in following it because I suspect that lots of "on air talent" fly under the radar in terms of disclosing their political contributions. (Alex Pareene discussed this recently in Salon.) I imagine MSNBC just wanted to make an example of Olbermann because it would help them burnish their conservo cred.

However I was struck by the irony that, writ large, the question of to whom million dollar talking heads might make political contributions is a much more serious question than whether or not NPR was just in firing Juan Williams recently, or whether or not they "handled it correctly." And yet the Williams firing, ostensibly cutting the other way politically, seemed to receive a lot more attention. (I say ostensibly because ultimately they both belong to the same corporatist political class, although that was probably why it generated more attention.)

One thing I didn't see discussed with respect to Juan Williams is the likelihood that, if you monetized the value that his association with NPR amounted to, in terms of conferring the imprimatur of seriousness and legitimacy that his presence on Fox News had, then arguably

a. Williams owed his ability to score a hefty Fox Corp paycheck to NPR, and
b. Fox News, especially in their early days, also benefited from the conferral of legitimacy on their "fair and balanced" shtick that their indirect association with NPR represented.

Just sayin'. (As they say.)

From the annals of loathesomeness: David Broder's op-ed from yesterday, calling for "seeming" to call for another needless war.

And, from polling report's twitter feed(groan if you must):

Democratic Party should: Renominate Obama 73% / Nominate a different candidate 22% (CNN/ORC Poll -- asked of Democrats)

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

6 November 2010

Alternate Focus:"How Israel Influences the United States"

Retired CIA analysts Bill and Kathleen Christison talk about Israel's influence on the United States.This conversation was filmed at St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle, Washington, during a February 2010 conference. (I believe he's referring to the Citizens United decision at around 25:00 minutes in.)

James K. Galbraith, "Obama’s Problem Simply Defined: It Was the Banks"

Two from that Rob Payne feller:

"Raining in Iraq" and

"If only Al Gore"

BBC: "China, Germany attack US stimulus"

Germany's finance minister calls the US stimulus programme "clueless", while China warns of its "negative impact".

And, from Phronesisaical: "Does. Not. Compute." (I'm not clear on Cheryl Rofer's view of the alleged bomb plot, although you don't have to definitively believe or disbelieve the government's version to have questions regarding the details.)

Johann Hari: Not his finest hour: The dark side of Winston Churchill

from "Does the USA Really Have Public Broadcasting?"

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Beware the coconuts

The link on Yahoo's homepage reads "Republicans decry cost of Obama's trip, but there's a problem."

You have to actually click through to find out that the assertion that Obama's Asian trip will cost 200 million dollars a day is a lie, although Yahoo just says it's not correct.

But this is my favorite part of the article:

The nonpartisan took up the issue, too, saying that even though the administration won't release a price tag, there is "simply no evidence to support" a claim of $200 million a day. One reason to doubt the report, according to the group: The entire war in Afghanistan costs $190 million a day.

That is not to say that some of the precautions for Obama's first presidential visit to India aren't possibly a tad over the top. As the BBC reports, Indian officials have been removing coconuts from any trees that Obama might walk under, to prevent anything from falling on the presidential head. And as London's Daily Telegraph notes, the country has deployed trained monkey catchers to prevent any "simian invasion" (a measure that Indian officials also took when President Bush visited in 2006).

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

2 November 2010

Hey, where are all the links?

Oh, you're no fun. OK, here's one:

Dog bites man; chickenshit voters afraid of 'wasting' their vote

My point is election or no election, in the larger sense this was just another day. If you look at Obama's faux liberalism of 2009-2010, with healthy majorities in both houses, there's every reason to believe that losing one house will only result in giving him more substantial cover for doing what he really means to do, or conversely to avoid doing what he really means to avoid doing. I imagine that Obama will publicly praise Reagan so repeatedly in the coming week that it'll make any self-respecting democrat want to puke. (Any self-respecting democrats left?)

Do you wonder if election results are crafted ahead of time by the people who own the democracy? It's an interesting question. One imagines recovering Wiccan Christine O'Donnell will be blamed for losing the GOP the Senate, and op-ed types will talk about how "lucky" the democrats were. Think about it: O'Donnell had a total of some thirty thousand votes in Delaware's GOP primary. Thirty thousand hits on a new video wouldn't even get you a contract to advertise candy bars on your Youtube channel. But thirty thousand votes, and that was all it took to give O'Donnell the celebrity status she presumably always wanted.

And all the establishment GOP had to do was sit on their hands in the smallest state that's near enough to Washington for the people who matter to pay attention.

For some time now our betters on the teevee have been predicting that the midterms would demonstrate a repudiation of Obama and Obama-ism, whatever that means. OK, there is no such term as Obama-ism, it's my word. But what would Obama-ism be, if there was such a thing? For one thing it means a smallish stimulus larded with tax cuts, which of course went to people who actually have jobs, unless they were employed full time in 2008 or 2009 and lucky enough, as it were, to subsequently lose their jobs. And there was a minimum income you had to make to get a tax cut, such that you probably also got unemployment insurance, further decreasing the likelihood that recepients of BHO's tax cut(widely called a tax rebate) were tent city denizens.

I'm not saying that Obama's tax rebates were undeservingly disregarded as having little effect, and in fact he deserved far more credit. Tax cuts are usually stupid, especially in a low tax environment. Tax cuts in a recession, by their definition, are funds for people who are probably still employed. Yeah, I know, they're supposed to "trickle down" (or out) to the economy as a whole thereby stimulating spending, but if businesses are avoiding hiring because they don't see a meaningful recovery in sight, this suspect trickle is pretty meaningless as a stimulus. So one of the results is that BHO and the democratic congress get blamed for wasting money. More to the point, deliberately bungling the stimulus(as well as deliberately bungling healthcare reform) results in an object lesson for voters in why Keynesianism doesn't work. It does, or at least it can, but millions of Americans who should know better, not just the tea-partiers, now see it as a discredited and obsolete economic philosophy, even though many don't even know its name.

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