Friday, September 25, 2009

The Profit Mandate: a Futuristic View of the Health Care Debacle

With everyone running around, either screaming in the town hall meetings or about them, displaying either what looked an awful lot like racism or an outrage against it and leveling the cry of "socialism" or trying to refute it, the duopoly labored tirelessly out of public view and under the watchful eye of special interests.  Having won an astonishing majority in the House and Senate, the Democrats then inexplicably reached across the aisle to include Republicans in a spirit of bipartisanship.  It seemed obvious from the outset that the Republicans were not interested in cooperating, yet the Democrats continued to be their proverbial lapdog.  Concession after concession yielded one Republican "maybe" (Olympia Snow) and a rising cadre of "Nay" threats from within the Democratic Party itself.  Though the word "socialism" had widely been circulated by opponents of health care reform, the resulting "Baucus Bill" made the scourge of socialized medicine look tame: mandatory insurance, complete with penalties against those who couldn't afford coverage.  At last, the way was cleared to raise insurance profits from bloated to corpulent.

If only Barack Obama was a secret muslim; if only he had been born on foreign soil; if only the death panels were real and the Democrats really intended to force poor, white, Christian mothers to have abortions and take away insurance coverage from Republicans to give it to illegal aliens.  Of course, none of it was true.  It was so preposterous that we were left scraping our jaws up off the floor.  When polls showed that there were people who actually believed such nonsense, a lot of us (myself included) looked away from Washington at the spectacle on television, radio and Internet.  We castigated the ignorant as well as the purveyors of this bilge and while we were distracted, the duopoly wrapped up their gift to insurance companies, pharmaceutical corporations and medical groups, decorating it with a glistening bow.

Discussion?  There would be no further discussion.  The Democrats could point back to the disorderly town hall meetings--Code Pink and the Tea Baggers had performed brilliantly--and remind us that no one seemed willing to debate when they had the chance, they just wanted to disrupt the process.  Meanwhile, Fox News and MSNBC would continue as they had before, Fox News inciting the right whenever necessary and MSNBC inciting the left, as circumstances required subterfuge for legislation that would make every man, woman and child a slave to the Medical Triad.  Even liberal Hollywood played along.  Of course, the Republicans would condemn it at every step; not that they had a problem with mandated profits: they, like the Democrats, were always for sale.  Looking back, the political theater leading up to the passage of the Baucus Law, given the overwhelming Democratic majority, was as poorly choreographed as a fight scene from Walker, Texas Ranger.

Since Ross Perot's campaign in 1992, there had been a rising independent and third-party movement afoot that might threaten business as usual in Washington.  The outside parties tended to limit their focus on specific issues, whereas the duopoly factions had long held a two-sizes-fit-all approach to the American public: pro-business, anti-abortion and pro-death penalty, among other issues, defined Republicans, who claimed to be to the right on the political spectrum; pro-labor, pro-abortion and welfare, to name only a few, defined the Democrats, who were assigned the left pole.  Not surprisingly, due to the broadness of the issues that defined each of the factions, few people were full adherants to either one: pro-choice fiscal conservatives abounded in the Republican Party, as did gun-toting, anti-abortion labor advocates among the Democrats.  Two sizes, did not in fact, fit all, one size did, and that size took on one of two names every few years.  Still, it was impossible to ignore that the duopoly factions had more in common with one another than at odds.  Both factions were seduced by the military and prison-industrial complexes, both received large campaign contributions from monied interests and both supported a corporate welfare system that essentially rendered the tax debate moot.

The purpose for a display of contrast between the duopoly factions became clear after the election of 2000.  The election, determined not by voters but by the Supreme Court of the United States, had left Americans all too aware that the distinctions between the two candidates were virutally nill.  In 2004, John Kerry (D-MA) literally appeared to throw the presidential race as George W. Bush (R-TX) managed to hold on for another term.  Conveniently, details that seemed obvious to the public following 9/11 began trickling out in the press during Bush's final term: disproven claims of WMD in Iraq, Powell's misleading presentation of anthrax at the UN, unwarranted wiretaps against the citizenry and torture of Guantanimo detainees.  Given that Nixon was forced to resign over a cover-up of political cheating and Clinton was impeached for lying about sex, one might expect such charges to result in, at the very least an investigation, if not a debate in the House Judiciary Committee over impeachment.  Oddly, even in 2007, the then House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), went so far as to publicly oppose impeachment.  It did, however, provide the needed contrast between the duopoly factions.  It was hardly necessary for John McCain (R-AZ) to "go after the base" by picking Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) as his running mate, but it nonetheless, gave the swing vote an ultimatum: vote duopoly (again) or risk having your worst fears realized.  For progressives and the educated, this was the superstitious, gay-bashing and intellectually undisciplined Sarah Palin, who would push the button just to make sure Armageddon happened; for Christians and conservatives, the pro-abortion, commy-nazi, Barack Obama, was going to turn us all into socialists and he was probably the Antichrist: he was awfully good at speaking, after all.  Whether it was the boorishness of Palin (McCain's graciousness, notwithstanding) or the cool, articulate excitement invoked by Obama, the duopoly got its way.

Barack Obama was indeed  looking ahead when he let Bush and Cheney off the hook for violations to the UN Civil Rights Charter, not to mention violations of U.S. Law: two national elections lie ahead--one of them presidential--and his completion of the transfer of public wealth into private coffers begun under Bush, had left progressives and conservatives alike scratching their heads.  As an immensely talented jurist, Mr. Obama was, no doubt, aware of Principles III and IV of the Nuremberg Principles, adopted by the UN in 1950, and hence, knew that the Bush administration and the CIA operatives who tortured the detainees, had all violated international law.  Their economic ideology an abyssmal failure, the moral bankruptcy of its imperialist philosophy laid bare before the world, reason and conscience dictated that the Republican Party would go the way of the Whigs and the Federalists.

Within the first year of his term, President Obama had an unparalleled fall in his approval rating, signed the Baucus Bill into law with no bipartisan support and ensured the survival of the Republican Party, and with it, the duopoly.  The Afghan War continues.  The Taliban forces, so easily defeated in the months following 9/11, continue to mount astonishingly successful attacks against our troops, as disaffected tribesmen, avenging their families and villages destroyed in the drone attacks, pour in to counter the growing number of NATO and U.S. forces.  With morale sagging from multiple tours of duty and stop-loss, the military has been unable to keep pace with the need for more soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen through recruitment alone. Selective Services has begun the process of conscription, even as the caskets of our men and women are offloaded from cargo planes like cord wood.  Widows and widowers of the fallen struggle to pay their insurance premiums to keep from being fined or having their children taken from them by the state.

With the elevation of insurance corporations to the level of "health landlords"--still unregulated--we dare not complain about the quality of coverage we do have.  The class consciousness that arose following the market collapse in 2008 is forgotten by all but a few.  Financial corporations once again display their largess conspicously.  Their hubris is hardly unwarranted: a bill, expected to pass in both the House and the Senate later in the year, will place 1% of the earnings from every working resident of the United States into a mandatory 401K . . .

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Letter to David Brooks, NYT

Mr. Brooks,

I read your column regularly and enjoy it. I am writing because I wish to express disagreement with you about your article, "No, it's Not About Race." We most certainly should be reluctant to invoke the specter of racism, which is why Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck throwing the word around frivolously and irresponsibly has required a response from knowledgeable people like Jimmy Carter. You may dismiss him as a bad President, but given his unique perspective, having watched the American South grow from unashamedly segregationist to the point where the Ku Klux Klan had been relegated to isolated pockets in the deep south, his authority on the subject is without peer. You tie Jackson to Jefferson in your article, without also conceding that both men unapologetically held slaves. Finally, you make a salient point at the end of your article:

"One could argue that this country is on the verge of a crisis of legitimacy," the economic blogger Arnold Kling writes. "The progressive elite is starting to dismiss rural WHITE America as illegitimate, and vice versa."

You can't have it both ways, Mr. Brooks. Whether rural or urban, the qualifier, "white" makes this unequivocally about race.

Perhaps what you saw during your run was evidence that we hadn't quite jumped over the precipice, but we are most assuredly standing on it--surely you can see this. You are a man of integrity: why would you prostrate yourself before the alter of demagogues, the likes of Limbaugh and Beck? You are one of the last rational voices on the right. Use it to pull us back into the bosom of reason.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

The "Martyrdom" of Van Jones

The left has been all a twitter about the tragically fallen Van Jones.  Not knowing much about the man, I have only this to say:  He's a quitter, just like Sarah Palin.  No, there's not a difference.  The right was no worse to him than the left was to her, and even if they had been, only wimps let themselves get punked out.  No amount of whitewashing or finger pointing or historical revision can turn the vacancy left by coward into the mutilated body of a martyr to symbolize the opposition's savagery.

Save your tears for the fallen in Iraq, in Afghanistan and soon, the streets of America; for the brothers, Bill and John, will shed each other's blood again over a false dichotomy, too long in the politically fossilized vendetta of binary and too brief in the dawning light of possibility and cohesion.  And after Kansas bleeds and Mississippi burns, will they have the wisdom to see the liars who divided this American House through the veil of distraction and sensationalism?  Will these grapes of wrath at last be vinted out to those, who, drunk on disharmony and agitation, destroyed the sacred bond of brotherhood?

The veil is rising and providence awaits the guilty


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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Silver Lining: John McCain is a Real Maverick

Following Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-SC) outburst at President Obama's address--the one where he shouted "YOU LIE!" in response to the President's contention that illegal aliens would not be covered under the pending health care bill--John McCain did what we've always been able to count on him to do: be himself. Referring to Wilson's outburst, McCain said it was, "totally disrespectful," and urged the Congressman to apologize. It is worth mentioning that a quick reference into the text of HR 3200 revealed that the liar wasn't Obama:


Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.

Senator McCain can't help himself: graceful in defeat, honorable in battle, his breeding is a welcome relief in an age when even a Southern man like Wilson has none. How strange to live in a time when a person of honor and decency is a Maverick for (if nothing else) merely having these traits.

(Hint for the GOP: independents are impressed by one of two types, and it's NOT Joe Wilson; manners matter)

Update: I decided that since 'ol "Tell 'em like it ain't" Joe likes calling people liars, even when they're not, he deserves a taste of his own medicine. I tried to write his Dishonor an email, but in true pussy fashion, he ran and hid:

For all his bad-ass bluster, he's not only a liar, but a coward.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Glenn Beck and the Alleged Rape that Went Viral

The parody on everyone's keyboard today is, did Glenn Beck rape and murder a girl in 1990?

Relax, Glenn Beck's hypnotized army: I'm not here to accuse your messiah, but the fact that there are so many blogs out there running this parody is, in itself a freaking huge story. So far, none of the sites that I have read have actually claimed that the Fox News talking head was guilty of rape or even murder. The general wording seemed to be along the lines of, "This site exists to investigate rumors," etc.

The story has been widely published on Internet Weblogs, with one site acting as a central linking station to all of the others. The site's host, nom de plume Name Withheld, points to the origin of this story: a question on FARK that apparently sent bloggers sniffing for evidence. A scanned image of a document purported to be a Tampa, FL police report has emerged, with Glenn Beck listed as the suspect. The alleged report, however, lists two offenses: rape (listed as both rape and forcible rape) and larceny. I can find no entry on the alleged report for murder, nor any indication that the victim was killed during commission of the alleged crime. The alleged report would appear to be counterfeit, merely an extension of the satire being run at Beck's expense

In general, respondents as well as hosts on the sites have (sarcastically) called for Beck and Fox News to respond the the charges:

Why haven’t we had an official response to the rumor that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a girl in 1990? (According to Hoss)

I just want Glenn Beck to come clean about what he was up to in 1990? Why has he remained silent in the face of these serious accusations. (How Good is That: Free Thinking--Secular Humanism).

In short, they're giving Beck a taste of his own medicine, and all that I have read so far, have stated clearly that this was a satire or a parody. Beck, who's kept the birther controversy alive (even when provided with Barack Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate) by saying much the same thing, has done so hiding behind the first Amendment. Armed with attorneys, Beck and Fox are threatening suit to force the shutdown of the official website of the controversy. We should be surprised? This is the same guy who has said that anyone who says there was a 9-11 conspiracy belongs in jail.

While I think that anyone who believes in a 9-11 conspiracy is stupid, I support their right to ask questions about it. Some people will never be satisfied, of course (e.g., the birthers), but once reasonable evidence is put forth, the media, as a responsible body, should let it drop.

I will be surprised if anyone--even Keith Olbermann--risks their credibility by running with this story, which is frankly a shame. Glenn Beck deserves this. Not because I hate him (full disclosure: I hate Glenn Beck), but because I can't stand anyone who dishes it out with impunity and then whines when it's time for a dose of their own medicine.

Glenn Beck probably isn't a rapist and even the alleged--likely fake--police report doesn't say he's a murderer. He probably didn't have gay sex on a boat--though this is purported to give him an alibi at the time of the alleged rape. But I am concerned that Glenn Beck might be a pussy, first because he hid behind the first amendment to spread lies he knew weren't true, and now, hiding behind Fox News and their lawyers because he's afraid to speak for himself.

I think Mr. Beck should prove that he's not a pussy and agree to address this on his show.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

To Clear the Air

Let me get this straight: the Christian right claims to believe in God--the same God, who let Cain, the first murderer, off with a good, stern talking-to; they also claim to follow Jesus, the same Jesus who defended the adulteress against the self-righteous, said the rich had virtually no chance of getting into heaven, healed the sick, etc. was tortured and finally executed after receiving a mock trial, at best.  This is the same "Christian" right who vehemently defends capital punishment and torture, who thinks the wealthy too noble to be burdened with taxation and the poor undeserving of an affordable public health care option.  Does that about sum it up?

How could anyone ever doubt the moral consistency of the Christian right?

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Letter to Glenn Beck at Fox News

Herr Beck,

I heard that your show lost a lot of sponsors. It's too bad that this was merely a PR stunt for advertisers to distance themselves from you, rather than an actual attempt at stopping the kinds of dangerous and irresponsible media that Fox News has become famous for. Since you lack any level of responsibility for yourself, a number of your fellow Americans--many of us white, conservative and gun owners, have attempted to punish you for shouting fire in a crowded theater.

Herr Beck, you are attempting to manipulate forces that you clearly have no understanding of, nor respect for. You are responsible, in part, for the citizens who come armed to events where the President appears. Your name is echoed by those who invoke the words "secession," "revolt" and "I'm a terrorist," not to boos and hisses from their fellow conservatives, but to cheers and applause. Were you a reasonable man, I would ask you to stop this nonsense before it's too late.

Alas, you are not a reasonable man. You fuel the fires of racial mistrust, white entitlement, mass delusion and self-pity for a group that is, as the election results show, decisively in the minority. Indeed, sir, you are a weak man, like so many of the Republican legislators who are goaded by the mobs which make up their constituencies, either too stupid to know or too cynical to care (or both) that all frightened, angry mobs do what all have done before them: destroy people and property and lives to assuage the fears played upon by unscrupulous and immoral demagogues, like yourself.

This mob isn't frightened or angry because of real fears, but because, as would be expected in a nation that touts "all men are created equal," the Presidency is now held by someone who is not white. In case you missed it the first time through, allow me to be crystal clear: your audience, like yourself are white supremacists, cloaking their fear and hatred under ridiculous talk of Nazis in the vain hope that by comparing Barack Obama (AKA "that Arab", or as some of your people have more deliberately called him, "the nigger") to Adolf Hitler, it will prevent the left from calling you and your mob what you are: RACISTS. That you are a German is a fact entirely ignored by the mainstream media, much to their credit. It's a fact not lost on the rest of us, nor on your mob, I assure you.

To be sure, it was the mobs, driven by fear and racial hatred, who perpetrated the "Night of Broken Glass" against the Jews in the German pogrom of 1938. Fear is the tool of tyrants, not of free men. In 1945, the Minister of Propaganda murdered his children and commited suicide. I don't think it was because he was afraid of the Americans or the Russians; like Goering, he would have expected to be treated with respect if he surrendered. But Goebells, like Hitler, had heard about the fate of il Duce; I think they were more afraid of the mob they had created than their American or Russian enemies. Having seen what this mob did, I think they had a good reason to be afraid of them, don't you?


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Seriously: Enough with the Self-Pity, Already

I remember the good old days when conservatives were caustic, arrogant and narrow-minded. It wasn't that long ago that you could have an argument with a conservative and he'd drive you nuts--not because he was being deliberately obtuse, but because he had a firm grasp of the facts and wasn't driven by emotion.

How the high and mighty have fallen.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Onward, Christian Sulkers: Astroturf Radicalism Run Amok

"Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a
monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."

--Friederich Nietzche

There's a frightened, angry mob that seems to be dominating the political discourse with threats of violence, childish outbursts, laughable allegations that our current President is Kenyan by birth or Indonesian (and, "even if he was born in Hawaii, it's not like it's really a state anyway"), as well as propagating irrational fear among the elderly that they will face "death panels" when their health care becomes to expensive.

This frightened, angry mob that I speak of is the Republican base. These were the people that John McCain tried to win over by picking Sarah Palin as his running mate--the ones who could deliver loyalty just short of insurrection, but couldn't persuade swing voters (like me) to put someone as pathetically stupid as Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the nuclear football.

Independents who did vote for Barack Obama didn't do it because he was black, because this was an historic moment in our nation's history or even because we were swayed by his inspiring life story or exciting rhetoric. We remembered the Clinton years with far too much clarity to let the Lincoln bedroom be turned into a hotel suite-cum-fundraiser for the next Clinton re-election campaign. We trusted the Democrats just about as far as we could fling them. But we'd had eight unapologetic years of conservative rule, which, for all of their talk of liberty and justice, led us into a quagmire of torture, unabashed corporate welfare and blood for oil, not to mention the greatest constitutional crisis in our nation's history. John McCain had the better health care plan. He had proven himself to be a bi-partisan leader in the Senate. He was, it appeared, a moderate. And he would be the President at this very moment, had he not abandoned his real base (i.e. independents) for the frightened, angry mob.  The Republicans earned our wrath fair and square--no small thanks to their base--and no amount of Orwellian changes to history or name calling from the right (e.g. "libby") when we didn't get down and kiss their sorry asses was going to win us over.

The Christian right for too long has viewed political power as something that belongs to them, not something they must win or earn.  Such an overwhelming sense of entitlement became a powder keg when a white-dominated patriarchal culture awoke to find a black family moving into the White House.  Glenn Beck Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News in general have lit the fuse, but they didn't pack the charge. Several witless Republican leaders have fanned the flames, illiciting cheers from the mob, but they haven't controlled or even directed its fury.  The result has been this frightened, angry mob.  I disagree with those on the left who pity the mob as "victims of right-wing propaganda"; no one put a gun to their head and forced them to surrender reason and accept madness.  Moreover, there enough self-pity in this mob to more than make up for what they neither want nor need from the bleeding hearts.  You don't pity a spoiled child.  You just keep your cool long enough to watch them explode all over the people who unleashed them on the world.

In the final analysis, Barack Obama is not blameless. As menacing as they are, the mob is the minority and needs to be told so. We gave our consent for Obama and the Democratically-controlled Congress to pass whatever legislation they chose when we elected them. What we're seeing isn't buyer's remorse, but a bunch of sore losers who needed to be ignored and left to cry themselves hoarse until they accepted that there wouldn't be anymore lollypops, not coddled and told that their opinion still matters. The press that by and large ignored the usurpations of Bush until it was too late, has paid far too much attention to the electronic media-stoked astroturf radicalism, and in so doing, has welcomed the frightened, angry mob to take center stage.

This is not Brooks and Sumner. This is not Burr and Hamilton. Our problems are solved through reason, not violence or threats of violence. I have expressed my disagreement with health care reform, but I have done so in a civil manner, writing my Senators and Congressman to tell them that I didn't want it and why. The failure of the public option is bittersweet; sweet because it never addressed the real culprit, the exponential rise of health care costs, but bitter because the frightened, angry mob has now been emboldened to brandish their firearms and disrupt town hall meetings.  They held their breath and the President and the Congress let them eat dessert without first finishing their brussel sprouts.

This has all happened before and it will happen again. The events leading up to Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing were tame by comparison to the kind of political agitation of late. The militias McVeigh and Nichols cut their teeth on existed under a white President, one that was not (to my knowledge) being called the a socialist, a commy, a Nazi, and certainly not the Antichrist.

The assassinations have already begun.  The wheels are in motion and will turn until insurrection and/or domestic terror sobers the mob from its fear and anger and self-pity to realize that it has become what it hates most: the Western, Christian equivalent to Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda. Regardless, I take no pleasure in making the following prediction: the mob will grow angrier and less rational and will start killing those of us who have dared to speak out against them.  That is academic. The question is when, who, how many and what sorry excuse the murderous and morally bankrupt right will use afterward.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Nazis, Socialists and other Propaganda

After all these long months of never having a single follower to my blog, I finally have one. It was fun while it lasted, but I'm a muckraker, not a brand name.

I'm not in favor of the current health care bill because I have doubts that forcing everyone with children to buy insurance amounts to anything that could even remotely be called a solution. I'm what you'd call a skeptic. Having been a poor schmoe most of my natural life, I've seen a side of US medicine that more fortunate people might have missed: Doctors, hospitals and nurses screw up. A lot. I wouldn't say they're any worse than Canada or Britain, but having never been treated in either place, I couldn't say they're better, either.

I have a co-worker named Edgar, who has been listening to Rush Limbaugh a lot lately. I would find this less disturbing if Edgar were some bible-thumping white guy, but he's Hispanic. The news was a little disorienting--like the Pope declaring he's pro-choice. He says to me, "Hey Jack, you know, Rush is making a lot of sense about this health care thing." My response? Even Rush Limbaugh can't be wrong about everything. What's funny is if the fat ass Limbaugh weren't so freaking rich just for being a windbag, he'd be on welfare, having been fired for sexual harassment from every job the sorry bastard ever got. And his health would suck from all of the drugs and overeating and, well, he wouldn't think US medicine was all that hot, either.

No, I like my insurance just fine, thank you, but don't confuse me with Limbaugh and Beck. Standing back and watching what's been going on at these town-hall-meetings-cum-shoutfests, I've noticed that most of the people who I agree with are acting like children. Really children. The kind that scream that ungodly shriek that gives you a migraine when all you want to do is enjoy your dinner, but you can't because someone brought their spoiled brat with them. Beat him you attempt to communicate telepathically to his parents. Just take that little brat to the crapper and give him something to cry for. And finally when the kid is dragged from the table kicking and screaming, you have to suppress the urge to follow them in the hope you can watch this kid who ruined your dinner get what's coming to him.

That's how I feel about the town hallers (birthers, deathers, etc.). I thought the whole point of this country we live in was that, at the end of the day, we could still talk to each other. I swear, if I hear the word "Nazi" used in an historically incorrect way one more time, I'm going to beat whoever it is over the head with William L. Shirer's book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, until they know just what a Nazi really is.

Which brings me to my final point. Where is the media? Not the pundits; this situation SCREAMS (like a bratty kid) for some clarity, for some actual facts: the kind of thing that real journalists are supposed to provide us with, but don't. Here's how this might work (with a little less irony):
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Sadly, this isn't anywhere in the mainstream media. Obviously, it 's not on Fox. CNN? Maybe they didn't want to throw a former colleague under the bus. MSNBC? SERIOUSLY? Not even "liberally biased" MSNBC?

Google it, folks. You won't find it anywhere but Comedy Central and the Guardian.UK blog.

Gee. If only the free market could do for medicine what it's done for journalism.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Letter to Congressman Baca: Vote No on HR 3200

Congressman Baca,

I think that the current healthcare bill (HR 3200) attempts to solve the problems of uninsured and under-insured by forcing people who can't afford insurance to buy it. Certainly, insurance companies are in favor of it, since the forced patronage that will result from its passage will raise their revenues.

Imagine, Congressman Baca, families having to choose between feeding their children and paying for healthcare, which they might not need. The choice for those of us who have been faced with it, is academic: we take care of our kids, not the lavish bank accounts of hospitals, doctors and insurance companies. Now, imagine if the police came to the home of a struggling family to shake them down for insurance money. It sounds like quite a racket. And it doesn't solve the problem. If anything, it creates new ones. Do parents who can't afford insurance go to jail? Debtor's prison? What happens to their kids? Who insures them (since inmates tend not to have incomes). That would be the state. Do any of the 1000 pages of this bill address any of these issues?

It's terrible that so many people are without health coverage, but HR 3200 would be a cure worse than the disease. Barring a solution that will improve things (other than profit projections for the medical-industrial complex), it's better to leave things as they are.

I find it disturbing that the proposed HR 676 has been summarily dismissed by the bulk of the legislature. I don't know if it would be an improvement over what we currently have, but without a public debate bringing the pros and cons to the fore, how can your constituents decide?

What's the rush? Why is congress trying to push this bill through so fast? After 9-11 I would think that lawmakers would be wary of pushing new legislation through without vigorous debate.

While I think that affordable health coverage would be helpful to most people, I also think that any proposed bill should have one--and ONLY one--agenda: giving people a choice they can afford, not imposing on them and their children a burdensome expense.

Vote no on HR 3200. Facilitate debate on HR 676.



Friday, June 12, 2009

Notes on Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival

We connect with words so rarely that when it happens, it sends our perceptions careening out of control. Such was my experience today while reading, during a wait for a doctor's appointment.

What remains of democracy is largely the right to choose among commodities. Business leaders have long explained the need to impose on the population a "philosophy of futility" and "lack of purpose in life," to "concentrate human attention on the more superficial things that comprise much of fashionable consumption." Deluged by such propaganda from infancy, people may then accept their meaningless and subordinate lives and forget ridiculous ideas about managing their own affairs. They may abandon their fate to corporate managers and the PR industry and, in the political realm, to the self-described "intelligent minorities" who serve and administer power (Chomsky, 2003, p. 139).

The preceeding paragraph describes the pervasive sense, in which the agency that so many of us hold as sacrosanct only exists in the commercial realm; beyond that, we exist as automata. It is the nightmare realized to awaken in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, wherein the most sober among us are relegated to the role of the savage. Pop culture is relentless in its banal march, through which social illusionists redirect our attention away from the men behind the curtain. Through attrition, our surrender is a given; it doesn't matter how hard we try to filter out the distractions: sooner or later we will succumb, until the wildness has been wrung from our minds. As automata, we awaken drugged and conditioned, quelling the savage again and again, until we indifferently brush past our own dangling corpse of agency.

Rock and Roll is replete with legends of rockers who "sold their souls" to the devil for success. Indeed, struggling musicians often refer to established acts that become wealthy and famous after years of struggle as having "sold out." And so they have; for even as their struggle brought them face to face with a reality that connected deeply with their fans, the success they worked so hard to achieve took them out of the smoke-filled dives and run-down, cockroach-infested flophouses--which inspired the words and music that their audience related to in the first place. How can the millionaire who jet-sets around the world and employs trendy clothing designers relate to their fans--who knew them as poor people, like themselves--through the tinted, bulletproof windows of limousines and the army of security that "protects" them from "the crazies"?

And yet, this very kind of isolation from everyday people, whether they patronize a merchant's store or buy a musician's records, is the very measure of success in a capitalist society. For the rest of us (the patrons), there is a sense of both failure and futility. We drag ourselves to work, make posts related to generally unimportant news and events on Facebook or MySpace, and sound off in the comments segment of online "news" stories.

I am troubled by the notion that dissent for many is a limited resource. At what point does the savage surrender for good to the flickering images, awarding his body and what is left of his mind to the corporate managers, business leaders, propagandists and administrators?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Be Careful what you Ask for

Below is an AP video of a 72 year-old woman being tasered. As a dissident, I expected to see another out-of-control cop brutalizing an elderly woman. That's sort of what happened:

(Click here for video if you're reading this on Facebook)

The video also shows the woman being abusive, daring the officer to "go ahead and tase me. I'm a seventy two year-old woman." Referencing her age multiple times during the encounter, it seems as though she expects the officer to defer to her age, in spite of the fact that some of her remarks are so explicit that they need to be edited. At the same time, the officer clearly has issues related to his temper. The obvious question here is, why didn't he just let her sign the ticket, once she agreed to do so?

My analysis is this: the taser gun is a wonderful law enforcement device--for sadists. The primary argument for its use is its capacity to non-lethally subdue those who violently resist arrest. That arguement loses ground amid news reports that a 32 year-old Utah man, Brian Cardall was killed by tasering in Hurricane, Utah on Tuesday. According to an article in New Scientist, one study by the University of California, San Francisco, indicated that taser guns were associated with a sixfold increase of sudden deaths of persons being held in police custody during their first year of use.

Perhaps those critical of the liberal nature of University life in general and of San Francisco specifically are unconvinced. The study has been accused of a sampling bias. However, this notion isn't exclusive to the home of hippydom. William Elliot, the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has expressed to ministers in Parliament that the taser is a potentially lethal device and has stated that its use can only "be justified where there is a threat, either to our officers or members of the public." Even in cases of active resisance--as was the case with the cranky 72 year-old in Texas--Mounties are no longer allowed to tase you, bro.

Civilized, free societies should recognize law enforcement as a necessary evil, one that we should only grudgingly endow with just enough power to preserve the rule of law. The propaganda of film and television glamorizes violence in police work, such that there is a perception, among police and the public alike, that it is the duty of cops to punish offenders. This was clearly the case in Texas, since an unarmed, elderly woman, is no match for a brawny, corn-fed bubba with a badge and a gun.

72 year-old Kathryn Winkfein has since hired an attorney and is threatening suit. Given how this thing has gone viral, I'm laying odds on her receiving generous settlement from Travis County, Texas. Whether or not she deserves it is another matter. Obviously, if this were my mother or grandmother, I would take a more absolutist position. But she's not my mother or grandmother. The fact that she dared the cop to shock her should count against her, and I think that the judge, in the event that this suit actually does make it into civil court, should make a point of telling Winkfein to act her age. Regardless of level of dimorphism between Winkfein and the officer (Chris Bieze), her continued challenge for him to "go on and tase" her, places part of the responsibility on her.

In the end, I think that Americans have to change how we think about law enforcement. Dirty Harry and John McLane are great movie characters, but if they tried to pull me over, I'd make them follow me all the way to the ACLU.

Bad cop. No donut.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Wasteland

T.S. Eliot, a mild-mannered bank employee and American expatriate in England, wrote some of the 20th century's greatest epic poetry. He was a conservative, a royalist, and had a better public school accent than Winston Churchill. He was also a pessimist. Anyone who's taken an English lit class or two has probably read Eliot's magnum opus, The Wasteland. In navigating the flourishes in German, Latin, French and even Cockney, one quickly gains the sense that Eliot is talking down to us.

That's because he is.

Scholars have argued that the point being made in The Wasteland was that so many people are talking, but no one understands language anymore. Whether this is what Eliot intended or not, the premise is a correct one. Even as English has come to be the dominant language spoken throughout the world, our ability to understand one another has diminished. Educated people once were fluent in multiple languages and almost always were fluent in Greek and Latin. This was because understanding doesn't come from reading a translation. To explain this another way, if you want to understand trigonometry, you'll first have to have a firm grasp of the concepts, methods and mechanisms of algebra. Likewise, if you want to understand class nuances in Lyermontov's Caucasus stories, the English translations will miss the point entirely; you simply can't capture the deference and condescension inherent in the Cossack/Russian dialectic in the same way that ты and вы express so elegantly.

I've thought a lot about The Wasteland of late. It seemed that after the election we were no longer working toward a dialogue. But it's more than that. We no longer understand each other and no longer care to. And it's not just everyone's favorite dichotomy--Democrats and Republicans--the "right" and "left" if you will. The Republican party is besieged from within as the radio entertainers, the religious right, business conservatives and civil libertarians battle among each other and the moderate forces of the party--including those in the press--for the soul of the GOP. The Republican party going the way of the Whigs, perhaps?

Not likely.

Talk on the left is equally tone deaf. Democrats no longer speak to labor or progressives--if they ever did; they certainly don't speak for them. The "liberal" media" (i.e. MSNBC) has a script they're following, not unlike the one followed by the rightist media (i.e. Fox News). Both are looking for knee-jerk reactionists. Both follow the talking points remarkably well.

Will Obama's health care plan make us healthier? Will Republican promises to cut government spending make us more prosperous? In other words,
what's the observable difference from up here in the cheap seats?

Abortion? Republican majorities in both houses never tried to pass legislation outlawing it during the 12 years they were in power. Assessment: no one in the GOP cares about abortion. It's simply a wedge issue to help them get elected by people with a genuine ambivalence to the practice. It's worked brilliantly ever since Reagan. Why would they kill their golden goose?

Health care? It's become to liberal rhetoric what 9-11 was for Guiliani's: a verb, a noun and National Health Care. Like most social programs, it has one of two means to be accomplished: levy higher taxes on the middle class or place criminal consequences upon those who can't afford it. Again, it's a Holy Graille; deliberately vague and unachievable, countervailing the Republican promise (with crossed fingers) to outlaw abortion.

The assassination of Dr. Tiller in a Wichita church has been a watershed moment in American politics. Roe v. Wade, though it remains firmly the law of the land, has been virtually nullified through a violent war of attrition that has included the assassination of abortion providers, the bombing of clinics, and any number of other acts that should at once draw howls of laughter at the mere mention of the euphemistically named "pro-life" movement. Those who quickly spoke out to justify his murder as, the victim simply "reap[ing] what he sowed," can no more be labeled as supporting the human right to life than an Antebellum planter could have called himself "anti-slavery."

At the same time, the need for some on the left to have this murder defined as an act of terrorism is disturbing. While it can be argued that demagogues have shown a depraved indifference to human life by lighting the fuses of people that they know to be emotionally unbalanced, this is not the same thing as shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. For my part, O'Reilly's constant repetition of "Tiller the baby killer," in concert with his characterization of him as an unprincipled capitalist (see video below; click the link if you're reading this on facebook) elicited eye rolls the few times I happened to catch it out of the corner of my eye at the gym. There can be no question that O'Reilly and others, who played on the visceral reaction that people naturally have when someone tells them that some maniac is out there slaughtering infants, are responsible for Tiller's murder. Whether or not these reckless demagogues will be held financially responsible is for the civil courts to decide. But as much as I loathe them, I find the idea that they could be legally defined as terrorists horrifying.

At issue isn't what's being said in the media, but why. Why does Bill O'Reilly repeat over and over "Tiller the Baby Killer" like a broken record? Why does Rachel Maddow want the leftist pundits on her show to back up her assertion that the assassination of Dr. Tiller amounts to terrorism (which none of them would)?

Allow me to return to our original discussion about T.S. Eliot's Wasteland. We've lost the ability to communicate. Not just in the languages of the educated; we've lost the ability to accept dissenting opinion from our own. Television and internet has built up an industry that talks at us. And we talk back, even if we know no one is listening. Who reads the comments at the bottom of op-ed pieces on the web, besides the armies of the duopoly, fresh from their latest pep talk by Keith Olbermann or Bill O'Reilly or Rachel Maddow or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh?

I am convinced that the blogosphere is that Wasteland where there are too many voices and no one can understand one another. Don't like the liberal bent someone is taking? Call him a socialist baby killer. Is she criticizing Obama? The racist bitch!

Our fifteen minutes of fame is coming to an end. The current economy doesn't give a rat's ass which side you're on or what you have to say about it. It might care who's listening.

That is, if everyone else weren't so busy trying to get you to listen to them.

Friday, May 29, 2009

9-11 Wasn't Funny

Los Angeles has some amazing graffiti.  Some of it's really beautiful and some of it not so great.  My significant other and I found this outside of a television studio on Vine in Hollywood.  Suggestion to TV folks: hire a street writer to paint over this piece of crap.  No one, aside from terrorists and the sick asshole who wrote this, thinks 9-11 was funny. 

Some of us still want bin Laden to stretch for it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Poking the (Poppa) Bear: Taking on O'Reilly AND his Detractors

O'Reilly says everything that the leftists hate.  Well, DUH!  He works for Fox News--that's his job.  He also exercises his first amendment rights, guaranteed under the Constitution, a pursuit I wholeheartedly support.  That isn't something we grant only to people who agree with us, it's something that needs to be in place for everyone.

There's a lot good to say about O'Reilly.  When the generationally self-aggrandizing media refused to criticize the many sins of President Clinton, O'Reilly became the lone voice in the wilderness, crusading against Slick Willie's excesses.  I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes as the media seemed to be working overtime to untangle their man from the web of his own libidinous deceit.  I don't care that Monica Lewinsky performed sexual favors for him;  I don't care about the cigar or the stained blue dress; I don't even care that his wife had to be humiliated in front of the nation because the President wouldn't come clean (insert joke here).  It came down to one simple word: perjury.  And the President's army of apologists in the punditry could claim that it didn't matter, that no one had ever gone to jail for lying about sex, that he'd done nothing wrong.  But they couldn't say he didn't do it, and O'Reilly was among that small cadre of individuals that refused to let him off the hook, just because all the other kids were doing it.

Messengers have a time and a place.  Sometimes, after delivering the all-important, earth-shattering message, the messenger comes to be thought of as a prophet--even a messiah.  He was right about x; he must be right about a lot of things.  Audiences adopt his philosphy as their own and before long, they stop questioning anything he says, even when it stops making sense.  He becomes entrenched, not for his insights that won him audiences, but for his dogma that reassures, even as it incites them. 

Becoming the embattled establishment he once fought against doesn't remove his right to speak opine or convey information as he sees it.  But O'Reilly, the consumate critic of anything and everything, seems to have forgotten that the same rules that protect his verbal attacks on others also protect his detractors when they choose to level attacks against him.

The Fox News Boycott reports that O'Reilly has taken exception to being called a race-baiter by Syracuse professor, Boyce Watkins.  Having failed to compel the University Chancellor, Nancy Cantor, to issue an apology for Watkins, O'Reilly claimed tha Syacuse University didn't have any academic standards.  This apparently resulted in Professor Watkins being denied tenure.

Perhaps you noticed the same thing I did: The Fox News Boycott--in name, if nothing else--seeks to silence those (namely, Fox News) who have the temerity to disagree with them.  Might it not just as well say, "Silence the dissidents?"  I don't understand why it is that audiences obediently tune in to watch and/or listen, hanging on every word of someone that has ceased to be relevant many years ago.  I don't have to understand it: caveat emptor--let the buyer beware--says it all.  His rightness or wrongness isn't a matter of moral or legal debate.  His right to speak is sacrosanct, and rather than O'Reilly trying to silence his critics or other movements trying to return the favor, perhaps the debate needs to end with, "Oh, I hate that guy."

I am not one of O'Reilly's "folks."  He does not speak for me.  But electronic messengers are a lot like vampires: if you don't want to be at their mercy, don't invite them into your home.

Or at least show them the door, once their message has been delivered.

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Left Wing, Right Wing--what's the Difference when they're all Chicken?

With the intent of ruffling some feathers, Congress can suck it.

Thanks for posting this one, Rude.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Response to Washington Post Op Ed: 'Stop Scapegoating'

To David S. Broder, Washington Post Columnist

Mr. Broder,

You needn't worry about President Obama giving in to public pressure.  He will very likely, as Peggy Noonan has suggested, "just keep walking."

But many of us who put him into that office would rather he do his job.  I find it convenient that when the mechanisms of checks and balances were employed to impeach Bill Clinton for perjuring himself in a civil case, unrelated to the execution of his duties as President, no one wanted to keep walking.  I don't disagree with that decision; he did, after all, perjure himself, a fact not in dispute.  The damage from this action was limited to the humiliation of his wife and daughter, his loss of credibility with the public, and of course, the tragic events that befell his victim, Paula Jones in her personal life following settlement of her case.  All of which was bad enough: he broke the law and deserved to be impeached.

The Democrats won't pursue charges against the Bush Administration.  Not because the "enhanced interrogation" techniques that were permitted fall short of the legal definition of torture: drag any police officer that perpetrated the same acts against a suspect in this country into a court of law and see if any judge buys the weak arguments outlined in now famous "torture memos."  The Democrats won't press this issue because they don't want their own guilt exposed.  And yes-men in the press, like yourself, have no desire to hold them to account for it either.  I'm not singling you out, sir: even Sam Donaldson doesn't want the torturers prosecuted.  The only real disagreement among your colleages on this issue seems to be if the public had a right to see the memos or not.

That's some "free" press, Mr. Broder.  You and your colleagues couldn't be more in step with our government if they were paying your salaries.  Whether the pundits are on the left or the right, there isn't much difference from cheap seats.  Simply limit the debate to something that the press should never be in favor of: does the public have the right to know if our officials gave an order that places us in violation of international treaties?

Does the public have the right to know?  Are they serious?  Isn't that their job?

You have correctly removed this notion from the debate by stating that the memos should have been released.  But you are quite wrong wrong with your "criminal vendetta" slippery-slope analogy.  I suspect that in addition to fearing their own exposure, the Democrats simply don't want to be accused of using the DOJ to the ends of political warfare, as you have suggested.  And they are also wrong.  Laws and international treaties were broken, sir.  Our entire case against the Nazi war criminals, given that Hitler, Goebells and Himmler took the cowards' way out, rested on the idea that following orders would not stand as a defense for war crimes.

The legal rationale followed an order from the President to find a loophole, not unlike the kind of legal wrangling the Clinton used to claim he had not had sex with Monica Lewinsky.  It happened, sir.  Men were shackled in stress positions, slammed into walls, deprived of sleep, and waterboarded.  I haven't heard anyone come forward to say, "I was fired for refusing to follow that order"--because no one did.  These were CIA operatives, educated enough to know about the legal rationale for the prosecutions at Nuremberg, and knowing that mandate, they had a way out and refused to take it anyway.  In short, sir, the President is wrong, and so are you.  Attorney General Eric Holder has an obligation to pursue indictments against each and every operative who took part in torturing prisoners, to make examples of the Bushist lawyers who provided the legal excuses for such savagery and if it is possible, to hold former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Cheney and anyone else involved, responsible for what they've done.

No one "just keeps walking" when some punks invade a home and terrorize a family, regardless of whether or not deadly force is used.  No one worries about accusations of "political warfare" when politicians are indicted for corruption (or impeached for lying).  Identifying and punishing the perpetrators isn't simply about deterrence and accountability, it's about keeping a promise we made to the world at a time when the world was fresh out of promise: no one gets a pass on war crimes.  One would hope we hold ourselves to that same standard the first time it's put to the test.

But as it appears we're about to go back on that pledge, I'm sure the Goering and Hess families would like to know so they can posthumously appeal Hermann and Rudoph's convictions.

Give them my best.


"In our time political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible."

--George Orwell

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dissidents in Action: UC Santa Barbara Professor Challenges Students' Thinking on Gaza

Duke Helfand of The Los Angeles Times reported today that University of California Santa Barbara sociology professor, William I Robinson sent an email to his students containing "more than two dozen photographs of Jewish victims of the Nazis, including those of dead children, juxtaposed with nearly identical images from the Gaza Strip."

"Gaza is Israel's Warsaw--a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians," wrote Robinson in the email. "We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide."

Two Jewish students dropped the class and filed a complaint with the UC Santa Barbara, on advice from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Both the center and the Anti-Defamation League have characterized Robinson as an anti-Semite. Big surprise: that's how they characterize anyone that expresses disapproval over Israeli policy. The first problem with such an accusation is that it's no more anti-Semitic to critique Israeli treatment of Palestinians in Gaza than it is anti-American to criticize the torture of detainees in Guantanimo. The second problem the accusation is that Robinson is a Jew. A self-loathing Jew, perhaps? Hardly. I don't consider myself to be a self-loathing American, and I speak out on Gitmo constantly. Germans are, of course, expected to speak out against the Holocaust; is that anti-German? Are white South Africans who speak out against Apartheid anti-white?

The charge of anti-semitism is damned silly and those who make it against Robinson would do well to remember the words of Hermann Goering, who used the same tool on an unsuspecting Germany:

"[T]he people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Although I am not a Jew, I reject the notion that my criticisms of the Israeli policy on the Palestinians is in any way anti-Semitic. It's not even anti-Israel. Like Robinson, I have compared the ethnic cleansing taking place in Gaza right now with the Nazis marginalizing and terrorizing the Jewish people, first in Germany, and then later througout Europe. And while the truth is that the current Israeli Gaza policy is nearer to South African Apartheid than the Holocaust, it seems to be escalating rapidly. Having corralled 1.5 million people in an area that's about 139 square miles (less than 15% the size of California's bustling Orange County, home to just over 3 million people), the Israel has gone beyond its historic treatment of the Palestinians, which more closely paralleled South African Apartheid (Olmert referred to treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank as a "pogrom"), thus justifying Robinson's characterization of Gaza as "Israel's Warsaw." And while Israel has yet to begin a program of rapid extermination, its slow, relentless ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the population of Israel has been going on for far too long to be dismissed as unintentional or accidental.

This post is written in defense of a Jew; a man of conscience who has the courage to ask his students, Jew and non-Jew alike, to distinguish between what governments claim they do in the name of their people and what a free people must do when polities lead an otherwise well-intentioned people astray. There is a reason Professor Robinson mentions Nazis in the context of the Gaza offensive, written in the blood of his own people: NEVER AGAIN. Not just for Jews. Not just for Russians or Poles or Gypsies or homosexuals who were imprisoned and enslaved and even exterminated by the same hate-fueled Nazi war machine that killed Jews, but for any ethnic group whose culture, religion or very existence presents a challenge to those who hold power.

Professor Robinson is in no wise anti-Semitic, and is, in fact completely innocent of such a baseless and foolish charge. On the contrary, William I. Robinson represents what is best and most admirable about Jewish people: he is a critical thinker and a conscientious individual, one that clearly thinks highly of Israel, else why would he expect better of it? Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, wasn't a bully, but he hunted them, caught them and brought them back to Israel for something they'd never given their victims: a trial. It is, therefore, a sad accident of history that his name is used to bully a man whose criticisms seek to pull a nation back from the precipice, poised on the edge of the abyss1.

1. "Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you" (Friedrich Nietzche).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

When you Find yourself in a Hole, Keep Digging until you Pop your Head through the Floor of the People's Bank of Beijing

Full disclosure: Dwight, this was too good to leave on your comments page.

In discussing the Iraq war with Dwight from Logic and Politics, I agreed with his assertion that if we're not wanted in Iraq, we should leave them to their mess. Frankly, I said, it never made any sense, other than the cronyistic nature of the no-bid contracts that were going to Blackwater, Halliburton and the like; it was Bush and Cheney's own little Keynesian economics project, which kept the economy from collapsing until . . . well, until it collapsed in spite all the government investment in the private sector.

I don't suppose it had anything to do with the fact that many of the corporations that have profited from the war in Iraq have been outsourcing a sizable portion of their production overseas--a strategy which takes government dollars from our economy and filters it through corporate coffers into reduced payrolls in developing nations, so payroll turnover is spent there, instead of here. Frankly, the the only way they could keep it going here was to convince the Wal-Mart employee that s/he could afford (and deserved) a split-level, five bedroom/three bath house with a Hummer, an Escalade and a pair of snowmobiles/motorcycles in their three car garage.

This is a market correction: in what universe is a cramped, two bedroom, one bath in East LA worth $600,000? A simple rule of macroeconomics is that where supply curves meet demand curves is called "equilibrium." When a market is out of eqilibrium, as it was during every boom we've experienced from George Washington forward, an "invisible hand" (AKA "market forces") has a way of pushing things back into equilibrium. It's not magic, it's just common sense: who's going to spend $600,000, plus interest, for the privelege of fixing their own pipes and paying dues to a home owner's organization, when it costs less to rent, with none of the headaches? So yes, those who appear to be downplaying the economic crises, are correct, this is unequivocally a market correction. The problem with the kind of market correction that we're going through is, how do you stimulate lending when the prime rate is already hovering around zero and most of the potential borrowers are leveraged to the point that they couldn't borrow their best friend's lawnmower? The Keynesian solution, employed during the Great Depression, if used to escape the current economic crisis, will require a level of spending that will make budget deficits under Presidents Reagan, Bush and Bush look like what they never even tried to deliver on: fiscal conservatism.

And capital? What capital? It's all borrowed money--every dime. Remember the good old days when savings accounts would yield 4.1% per annum? It was 3-7 per cent less than inflation, but at least capital was something other than a promissory note. People had savings accounts because they could earn money on them and banks had capital because they didn't expect savings account holders to give their money away.

The solution isn't hard to grasp, but it'll be painful for years to come, because inflation--as bad as it's been--will skyrocket. In order to attract savers, the fed will have to raise the prime rate so that interest rates will pay a reasonable return on savings. All of this will take time and it will cost more just to live than ever before. But when you're in a hole, you have to, at some point, stop digging, even when you're halfway to China and you forgot to bring your trusty ladder. The one thing we have going for us is how many of us wound up in the hole together. It is that "hole unity" shared by all Chrysler employees that made it possible for the company to survive: according to the Los Angles Times, the Union is buying controlling interest of the automaker--not something GM employees could ever dream of doing, even if 21,000 of them weren't losing their jobs.

There appear to be some advantages in being small enough to fail, after all.

Update: so much for an employee-owned Chrysler. According to the Guardian (UK), some hedge fund speculators, such as Oppenheimer Funds, Perella Weinberger Partners and Stairway Capital, whose greed helped to sink the global economy, were holding out for a taxpayer bailout, claiming that taxpayers and unions "were getting preferential treatment." Among banks willing to write off up to 2/3 of the automaker's debts were JP Morgan, Citigroup and, my favorite punching bag of the financial bailout, Goldman Sachs. While Chrysler may survive bankruptcy, their can be no doubt that the hold-outs once again gambled with other people's money and lost--again: by forcing Chrysler into bankruptcy, the holdouts may well be forced to take a smaller settlement than the one they turned down.

Monday, April 27, 2009

WHO is in Denial?

Below is today's World Health Organization (WHO) update on the Mexican Swine Flu outbreak:

The current situation regarding the outbreak of swine influenza A(H1N1) is evolving rapidly. As of 27 April 2009, the United States Government has reported 40 laboratory confirmed human cases of swine influenza A(H1N1), with no deaths. Mexico has reported 26 confirmed human cases of infection with the same virus, including seven deaths. Canada has reported six cases, with no deaths, while Spain has reported one case, with no deaths.
Further information on the situation will be available on the WHO website on a regular basis.
WHO advises no restriction of regular travel or closure of borders. It is considered prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention, in line with guidance from national authorities.
There is also no risk of infection from this virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products. Individuals are advised to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water on a regular basis and should seek medical attention if they develop any symptoms of influenza-like illness (emphasis added, WHO, April 27, 2009).

WHO's report of seven confirmed deaths due to H1N1 in Mexico belies the total of 103 suspected deaths, reported today by the Associated Press, most of which were apparently not laboratory confirmed. It is understandable that WHO might wish to avoid the kind of international panic that might come as a result of reporting the 1,600 suspected cases of Mexican swine flu, but as can be seen from the above update, WHO has failed to report that a greater danger may exist at all. Suspending travel, while economically devastating during the current downturn, would at least prevent the potential for the disease to spread further than it already has.
Rumors exist that the Mexican Government knew of the swine flu, and didn't report on it because of the threat to tourist revenues from spring break. Whether true or not, the hard line taken by WHO, insisting on only reporting confirmed cases and confirmed deaths is one thing; it is quite another to advise "no restriction of regular travel," and it smacks of putting business interests ahead of general health. With the global economy reeling, it is, perhaps, a drastic step to urge people to stay put as the tourist season begins. But if we're caught between a potentially lethal global pandemic and a temporary worsening of the economy, isn't the choice academic?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

RE: Supreme Court puts brakes on car searches

Hell has frozen over, pigs can now fly and the laws of political gravity no longer apply: liberal SCOTUS Justices Stevens, Ginsberg and Souter were joined by (wait for it) conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Regardless of political affiliation, Arizona v. Gant was a great decision by SCOTUS and a huge victory for the embattled Fourth Amendment.

With all other immutable laws now in question, does this mean that the Geithner bailout plan will actually work?

More on this after I've had a chance to read the opinion of the court (see Los Angeles Times for the editorial). I admit I'm a little curious as to why Justice Kennedy dissented.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Handshake the Shook Fox News

It was an E.D. Hill moment ("A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab? The gesture everyone seems to interpret differently. We'll show you some interesting body communication and find out what it really says."): yet another knee-jerk reaction by conservative media.

On the cover of Sunday's Los Angeles Times, President Obama was photographed shaking the hand of (gulp) Hugo CHAVEZ!! While this didn't exactly give me the warm and fuzzies for the embattled Democratic President, I didn't see the harm in it either. Yes, there's been a lot of criticism of the United States from Chavez in recent years, much of which I dismissed, considering the source. Of course, Fox News weighed in, making sure to tell their loyal followers what to think:

When President Obama met Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Trinidad on Friday, he shook hands with a man who only four years ago called the United States the most "murderous empire that has existed in the history of the world." . . . "What he's going to say is that what he has been doing in Venezuela now has the seal of approval of the United States," said Otto Reich, who was ambassador to Venezuela under President Reagan. "He sees it as a green light to continue dismantling democracy in Venezuela."

Those few readers following this blog will note that I have written a piece or two myself that weren't exactly singing the praises of Obama. In fact, I believe I have implied that he (like all Democrats and Republicans) was a bought-off-sonofabitch. Not a socialist or a commy, but a pro-business President, willing to socialize the costs of propping up large American corporations (too big to fail) while privatizing the gains. It's just as wrong now that Barack Obama is doing it as it was when Ronald Reagan did it during his first term. No, dittoheads, I didn't stutter: your bloated, drug-addled leader's fantasy lover, whom he verbally felates daily with such abandon, raised ZERO eyebrows throughout the eighties when subsidized multinational corporations, enabling the corporate raids that would dismantle the industries that had been key to decades of American prosperity. The kleptocracy has been continued through Bush, Clinton and Bush, on up to the present day, in which Timmy Geithner continues funneling Goldman Sachs' now much anticipated profit margin through AIG, as well as direct bailout subsidies to Goldman Sachs itself.

In other words, President Obama is no worse--even from a tax and spend perspective--than any other President we've had since 1981. But the conservative media, needing to prove its omnipotence, having failed to turn out the vast numbers of protesters on tax day, seized on the President's handshake with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. As hastily planned as the teabagging venture was, I saw it as a brilliant move by Fox News and other conservative media. While I wouldn't have personally had anything to do with it, being as the "astroturf" (fake grass-roots) movement was sponsored and driven by the media, I thought that the mockery from leftists like Paul Krugman and Rachel Maddow failed to recognize the value of such protests, in terms, not only of galvanizing Americans who see themselves as conservatives, but that it might be attractive to independents, like myself, looking for a place to channel their rage over the bailouts.

But Fox News, having seized on a great opportunity to exploit populist rage, once again showed its tone-deafness. This was apparent when Fox & Friends brought Newt Gingrich on for a little of his sophistry:

"Frankly, this does look a lot like Jimmy Carter. Carter tried weakness, and the world got tougher and tougher, because the predators, the aggressors, the anti-Americans, the dictators – when they sense weakness, they all start pushing ahead. . . . I think it sends a terrible signal to all of Latin America, and a terrible signal about how the new administration regards dictators."

Ah, the favorite Republican straw man, Jimmy Carter. I credit the former Speaker of the House with a good deal more intelligence than he exhibits on behalf of the Fox News viewer. To put it another way, Gingrich's analysis is deliberately obtuse and he knows it. Perhaps historians have different standards for showing cause and effect than other social scientists, particularly when your version of history relies so heavily on the stereotype of Democrats being "weak." To claim the Iran hostage crisis was the result of a weak Presidency, fails every litmus test of cause and effect. It ignores the fact, for example, that the Iranian Revolution was the result of many usurpations by the Shaw against his people, on behalf of the United States; the Iranian Revolution can no more be blamed on Carter than the Chinese Revolution can be blamed on Truman, or the Cuban Revolution can be blamed on Eisenhower, or that the Hatian ousting of the Duvalierists was Reagan's fault. Furthermore, while it scores some KISS (keep it simple, stupid) points, it opens the GOP up to the question of why George W. Bush made such a point of going to war to catch Osama bin Laden, who remains at large to this day. And as for our relationship with dictators: does the former Speaker of the House mean military dictators, like Augusto Pinochet and Pervez Musharraf, or just dictators who act in only our interests, while lining their pockets at the same time, like Ferdinand Marcos1, the Shaw of Iran, "Poppa Doc" Duvalier & Son and Fulgencio Batista (don't even get me started on Nicaragua)?

They freaked out over a First Lady with biceps, for crying out loud. The problem with Fox's histrionics is relevance: they're so busy nit-picking about the little things and parroting the echoes of the late Ronald Reagan as per Rush Limbaugh, that they miss the bigger picture. Fox News became relevant by riding a wave of popular dissent, not for dissent's sake, but because the people watching already knew it was necessary. It's hard to imagine how a handshake between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev could have "legitimized" communism, or shown weakness in a time when many of us went to bed each night wondering if we might awaken to a nuclear winter--or worse, not awaken at all.

I won't bother defending President Obama, as he seems quite capable of doing it for himself:

"It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States. . . . Even within this imaginative crowd, I think you would be hard-pressed to paint a scenario in which U.S. interests would be damaged as a consequence of us having a more constructive relationship with Venezuela. . . .We had this debate throughout the campaign, and the whole notion was, is that somehow if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with governments that had previously been hostile to us, that that somehow would be a sign of weakness – the American People didn't buy it. And there's a good reason the American People didn't buy it — because it doesn't make sense."

So it boils down to this: as long as Barack Obama can so plainly state his point, the conservative media will need a lot more than Newt Gingrich and Jimmy Carter to justify their latest temper tantrum.

1. Having elections only make you a democracy if the ballot boxes aren't stuffed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Meet the New Boss (Same as the Old Boss): Part II of Ongoing Series

A comic is worth a thousand rants. Suggestion to cartoonist: an ad with Timothy Geithner's picture on the side of the mailbox might have lacked the subtlety that cartoonists aspire to, but it would have also illuminated the continuity inherent in the transition from the corporatist policies from the Bush regime to the same policies, brought to you by the marketing firm of Obama, Goldman and Sachs, makers of Change you Can't Believe in (Since the Democrats are Bought-off Sonsabitches, Just Like Republicans).

We have only four years, independents, to pull someone from our own ranks, promote them and make them competetive against the Two-Parties that have sold us out, time and again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

We've Been Had

When Keith Olbermann breaks ranks with the left to take aim at the same guy Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Beck are taking pot shots at, something has gone terribly wrong. As the Department of Justice moves to quash a suit that would repeal the Bushist policy of unwarranted wiretapping (Jewell v. NSA)the Obama Administration opens itself up to attacks, not only from the right, but from every political axis.

With the GOP virtually leaderless and clinging to a failed ideology and a Democratic Party promising only more of the same, it is time for Americans to abandon the false dichotomy of the Two-Party System. While the President hasn't failed on all of his promises, he's shown where his allegiances lie, and it's not with the American People. But amid all of the flowery rhetoric, Obama touched on something we have badly needed as Americans: that we are not a Nation where identity politics can trump our national and cultural identity. We are all Americans.

I don't care if you're a card-carrying member of the Sierra Club or a dyed-in-the-wool member of the NRA: when our sharpshooters took out the Somali pirates and rescued our American sea captain of Maersk Alabama, it made you proud of what we are. The olive branch having failed (the ship was carrying aid to Kenya) the arrows were swift and retribution was fierce.

I close with a literary reference. An adolescent boy I know just finished reading Orwell's Animal Farm. He told me he was quite disturbed by the ending (SPOILER ALERT:IF YOU HAVEN'T READ ANIMAL FARM, EITHER READ IT NOW, OR STOP READING THIS POST). As the older animals who remembered the revolution peered through the windows and saw the pigs and the humans quarreling over a card game, they realized they couldn't tell the difference between them. While Orwell was referring to oppression under communism being virtually indistinguishable to what many believed they had suffered under capitalism, I refer to this Orwellian twist for another reason. Having decided the Elephants had violated the Constitution, we placed our faith in the Donkeys. For all of the demagoguery regarding "Socialism," there is no difference between the two: Goldman Sachs has bought and paid for both of them.

How can they look any different in the end?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Meet the New Boss (Same as the Old Boss)

Yes, the title of this thread is aimed at President Obama.

Everyone believed he could do it. Even Pete Townshend, after performing "Won't Get Fooled Again" (Who's Next)said that, given Obama's victory over the conservative political machine, he needed to rethink the meaning of the song. One of the most dynamic and revolutionary songs (literally) in all of rock music, "Won't Get Fooled Again" is the quintessential anthem of the skeptic, pointing out that once the revolution ends and the oppressors are overthrown, the new regime changes little or nothing for the better. I agree with Townshend to some degree: Obama has brought about some much needed changes.

The boos from our troops in Iraq as they were told they will be ceding control of Iraq back to the Iraqis isn't something that would have happened under a McCain Administration (I can understand why they booed him: from a soldier's perspective the place is a mess, and none of the machinery is currently in place to keep Iraq from tearing itself to pieces with civil war; but, I digress). It was a good and necessary step, at least for ability of the United States to move forward. Contrary to what the anti-war "progressives" claim, I agree with the President's decision to stay in Afghanistan--not to take it over or to "stabilize" the region--but to finish what Bush II started in 2001: GET BIN LADEN. Just him, and anyone who protects him. It isn't rocket science: if Bush I can bitch slap Manuel Noriega in his own house and drag him back to the States to try him as a drug runner, I think that these high-tech morons in the CIA ought to be able to sort through the latest stack of Quickbird images from the Af-Pak border and find bin Laden. How will they know it's him? Here's a hint: HE'S THE GUY STANDING OUTSIDE A CAVE TALKING TO A VIDEO CAMERA!

There is, of course that patient side to Obama: the one that doesn't bother swatting at Dick Cheney when he flies by on the news. By all signs, the President wants to move forward. And this is where I have to start calling bullshit. Cheney admitted on television that he knew about and approved the use of torture, defined as a war crime under Geneva. I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that a spontaneous admission of guilt--one that was in nowise coaxed (say, by waterboarding, for example)--is generally accepted as being admissable in court. And given that President Obama once held the prestigious position of president of the Harvard Law Review, it would seem a no brainer that this is a fact not lost on him.

It's been clear for some time that Washington, while willing to pay lip service to the general outrage with the auld populist sound bite, has had Wall Street's back from the beginning, and has no intention of throwing them under the bus. When the sheriff robs you, it’s bad enough: you have to convince a judge and a prosecutor to get off their lazy asses and do their jobs; then you have to find someone willing to take on a paramilitary force, known as "The Sheriff's Department," to have him arrested. That normally requires a larger paramilitary force, such as the State Police or the FBI. But at least they exist.

So this time, our cattle are being rustled by Wall Street bankers. You know, those "genteel" folk that everyone used to be so deferential to? And now, from all appearances, the gate is being held open by one of the Commander-in-Chief’s top deputies, Tim Geithner. It’s hard to imagine that someone sharp as President Obama is blind to how Geithner appears to be operating as primary gate-holder for that infamous gang of financial rustlers, chasing borrowed revenues through AIG’s hidden range of complicated credit-default swaps, out to the financial pastures where the dandies and the gamblers (still disguised as bankers) cash out the missing pot of a poker game, which from all accounts, they lost.

As much as I want the efforts by the Obama Administration to work, I can’t see how paying an insurance company to pay off the architects of this recession will lead to improving our economy. Perhaps I can’t see the forest for the trees. But perhaps I was right to begin with, when I suggested, some time ago, that right and left, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, were a false dichotomy with a purpose. I know a lot of “blue dog” Democrats; most of the self-proclaimed “leftists” that I know don’t favor any kind of gun control. A surprising number of the women I know that identify themselves as “feminists” are ambivalent toward Roe v. Wade and wouldn’t consider abortion for themselves or for their daughters; on the other side of the abortion issue, there seems no shortage of self-proclaimed conservatives that wish everyone would just shut up about it. These are but a few minor examples pointing to the paradox in American political identity: how we align ourselves politically doesn’t so much reflect beliefs, but how appealing we tend to find someone else’s. Hence, left/right and liberal/conservative, but most importantly, Democrat/Republican, are not so much dichotomies as two sides of the same coin. And they have us well trained: when one side can’t fix the problem, we flip the coin over and hope that the other side can. But no matter how many times we turn over that nickel, it’s still just a nickel. Don’t get me wrong: a nickel still has its uses, but you only get so much mileage out of it—particularly when it’s minted the same on either side.

And so we come to it: the two-party system is out of gas. Both sides have given the bankers a free hand to shape financial and economic policy. I’ve given my support, not only in money but in hope to the idea that this time, it could be different. But it can’t, because this time, like last time and the time before that, the moneyed and the well-connected did what they do best: they used our hopes and desperation to steal what little we had left.I didn’t come to this conclusion via the endless right-wing or left-wing demagoguery that fouls the airwaves. I just looked outside after hearing there was a new sheriff in town, and saw for myself that America was still a kleptocracy. It was founded by rich men who couldn’t stomach the thought of paying taxes to cover the cost of a war that their greed and speculation started, and the same people who have sunk us, time and again, remain firmly entrenched.

So Townshend got it right the first time: revolution, election, regime change. The same banners flew in the last war and the new boss is the same as the old.

I love my country, but our so-called leaders all suck. And until we get another Jefferson in the office, who's willing to stand up for the rights of the common man, we're still flipping that two-headed coin from right-to-left and back again.