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Sunday, 29 January 2012

You can talk all day, you can ask all night

We usually drink at the Rugby Tavern these days (Larger image).

Tonight's panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays will be Digby and Stuart Zechman.
Thursday on Virtually Speaking A-Z, Stuart Zechman and Jay Ackroyd discussed a fascinating new emission from the Disney Studios, a song by Joy Division, and the horrors of SOPA and our entire disgusting, authoritarian, tyrannical "intellectual property protection" regime - well worth a listen. They were joined in the second hour by Olivier Knox of Agence France Press.

Another linky post at Pruning Shears, which also has some good stuff on SOPA and our existing draconian "intellectual property" laws, along with the traditional quoting from Econned, alerts us to these stories:
Oakland: "This is an attempt to keep people from participating non-violently. It's instilling fear." Unsurprisingly, MSNBC gets the story wrong.
David Dayen sees hopeful signs from Schneiderman's appearance on the Maddow show, including the possibility that the IRS will be involved in helping to go after the banks for tax fraud. Even Matt Taibbi is sounding hopeful after Schneiderman discussed his focus on origination/securitization: "The securitization offenses were massive criminal conspiracies, identically undertaken by all of the big banks, to defraud investors in mortgage-backed securities. If you're looking for an appropriate target for a massive federal investigation, one that would get right to the heart of the corruption of the crisis era... well, they picked the right target here." But: "The question is, how real of an investigation will we get? The fact that Schneiderman's co-chairs are Lanny Breuer and Robert Khuzami make me extremely skeptical. I'm actually not sure that both men, in an ideal world, wouldn't be targets of their own committee's investigation." (And based on Yves Smith's assessment, I'm sticking with my initial judgement: This is just more typical Obama campaign kabuki. It's probably working - there was a lot of bad PR when Schneiderman was suddenly removed from the settlement committee with what I imagine was more public notice than was expected, and this has the smell of damage control, giving a high public profile to the appearance of the administration giving Schneiderman a better position to work from, but leaving him hamstrung by having to depend on two criminals to do the right thing, which they won't.)

Dean Baker wrote an interesting piece on "Loser Liberalism" and why the whole argument about "redistribution of wealth" is BS: "Anyone trying to understand the role of the government in the economy should know that whatever it does or does not do by way of redistribution is trivial compared with the actions it takes to determine the initial distribution. Rich people don't get rich exclusively by virtue of their talents and hard work; they get rich because the government made rules to allow them to get rich. To take an obvious example, according to the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services, we spend close to $300bn a year on prescription drugs. If drugs were sold in a free market, without government granted patent monopolies, we would spend around $30bn a year. The difference of $270bn a year is more than five times as much money as is at stake with extending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy." And then there are the laws that create a huge imbalance in the power of corporations over unions. And then there are things like valuation of the dollar... Baker points out that as matters of pure policy, these are huge compared to tax policy. But, it has to be said, tax policy is still important, because the very fact that the rich can now keep all their money and pass it on to the next generation of their dynasties, and corporations don't have to invest back into their companies because there is no strong tax incentive to do it, is why they have the power to buy our government and make sure that all of the other laws and policies unfairly weight the game in their favor. Sam Seder talked about all this last week on The Majority Report.

Darcy Burner points out that we could make a lot of useful changes by just getting rid of the new rules Gingrich imposed when he took control of the House in 1995.

Really? None of these Smart, Successful Business Leaders and Politicians were bright enough to see this coming? They made a huge deal to trade American jobs for cheap Chinese goods and didn't know what the price tag would be? Or did they know all along what would happen?

Oh, this is good. I was working in the swaps department of an international bank in the late '80s, it was all the rage - but Larry Summers apparently didn't hear about all those swaps going on until after Clinton left office. How mysterious that he did not notice all this serious money being burned.

@downwithtyranny says, "We've been looking for a progressive to run vs Blue Dog Jim Cooper. What about his neighbor Nanci Griffith? And she's got a new song to add to my extremely restricted list in the countrified section: "Hell No, I'm Not Alright."

More ways to get gouged - get recording contract with a major company.

Trailer for Ethos: A Time for Change - or, you know, go to the source.

Google celebrated the anniversary of the big snowflake. But only in the US and UK.

16:15 GMT

Friday, 27 January 2012

Could it be that you're joking with me?

Yeah, the "Affordable Care Act" isn't really all that affordable. When it turned out Susie was eligible for the program, she was really relieved, but it still put her into debt, and then she still has that premium to keep on paying. So, yeah, give if you can. (And check out that video included in the latter post, which is really what liberalism is supposed to be about, not just taking care of "the truly needy" or whatever it is Obama seems to think makes him more virtuous than the Republican delegation. It's not virtuous to make people poor and then pat yourself on the back because you threw them a few crumbs. You keep them from becoming poor so they can take care of themselves.) Also from or via Susie:
The United States of unemployment
Pierce on Obama's SOTU campaign speech
"Citigroup Replaces JPMorgan as White House Chief of Staff."
Mortgage settlement kabuki - it looks like Schneiderman may have been bought off or otherwise sidelined. "Schneiderman isn't chairing anything. He's Co-Chairing. That's a huge difference. If he's Chair he's in charge. If he's Co-Chair he needs consensus. And who is he Co-Chairing with? Lanny Breuer. That's unacceptable."
It's not just New York - the LAPD has been coordinating with the CIA on "terrorism" as well.
Slave labor is good for business.

Sam Seder talked to David Dayen about Obama's SOTU and what it means that Schneiderman is suddenly taking a gig that appears to neutralize his strength, on Wednesday's Majority Report.

War on Whistleblowers - This administration is so opposed to prosecuting serious crimes that they treat honest citizens who report crimes as if they were committing the worst crime of all.

Democracy v. Plutocracy, Unions v. Servitude, and some definitions, and a warning.

My thanks to Edinburgh Eye, whose complaints about Labour are so, so much like the ones I have about the D-crats, led to the provision of this fine quote from my hero, Aneurin Bevan: "Referring to Mr. Churchill's 'set-the-people-free' speech, Mr. Bevan said that the result of the free-for-all preferred by Churchill would have been cinemas, mansions, hotels, and theatres going up, but no houses for the poor. 'in 1945 and 1946,' he said, 'we were attacked on our housing policy by every spiv in the country - for what is Toryism, except organized spivery? They wanted to let the spivs loose.' As a result of controls, the well-to-do had not been able to build houses, but ordinary men and women were moving into their own homes. Progress could not be made without pain, and the important thing was to make the right people suffer the pain." Always remembering that the "pain" of the rich was more of an inconvenience than the very real pain the rich would prefer to inflict on the rest of us.

Man, it sure doesn't take much to be a class traitor to the rich these days. I mean, what Soros is saying here isn't special, it's just a matter of not wanting to kill the golden goose. Except that Soros still believes in democracy, and if Soros is worried about deflation and depression, he's worried about democracy, and, yeah, that makes him a class traitor. (More on this from Digby.)

Software locks hurt everyone - keep "jailbreaking" legal.

No-brainer: "The results are clear: high marginal rates correlate with broad-based economic prosperity and an expanding middle class. Low marginal rates correlate with extreme income inequality, reduced prosperity overall, and ultimately, economic catastrophe."

Welfare Disincentivises Work - for the 1%.

It's nice that all the rich hot-shots are asking the right questions at Davos, but something tells me they won't take the right answers from it.

I think it might get cold in Europe.

Thers posted this protest song. It's got the feeling - oh, and it rocks. (I'm not sure this is quite the same idea.)

Kaiser Chiefs

17:10 GMT

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Good God Almighty

Jay Ackroyd and McJoan mostly talked about Republicans on Virtually Speaking Sundays, and Digby did the same on The Majority Report with Sam Seder. It was entertaining, but I think people spend too much time talking about the Republicans, and I'm a bit annoyed by the effort involved in, say, unpacking Ron Paul, worthy effort though it may be, when there is the much larger issue of restoring liberalism at stake. Talking about Ron Paul's connections to the Koch brothers is all very well, but if you're ignoring the Democratic Party's own ties to some of the most right-wing funders in America, you are missing the larger point, which is that our entire political apparatus has been hijacked by these people. Electing Democrats no longer means building and promoting liberal policies, it just means we don't fight as hard to do it because we're supposed to be protecting and defending Democrats - even Democrats whose "strategy", apparently, is to sabotage their own party. But if the Democratic leadership is manifestly unliberal, as it certainly is, why would we want to defend them? What is the point of electing Democrats whose sole purpose is to help the Republicans slip their own hideously right-wing policies by us without our fighting back?

Remember, George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security, but he failed, and he failed because people - with liberals leading the charge - fought back, to the point where even registered Republicans realized what was going on and called their GOP Congresscreeps and let them know they'd never get another vote from them if they signed on to this outrage. Now Obama is trying to wreck Social Security, and where are those people? Well, they're not telling people to call their Congressmen, because they are still too busy telling us how awful the Republicans are, as if only the Republicans were doing anything outrageous. (The rest of the Virtually Speaking schedule for this week can be found here.)

And, meanwhile, "conservative" thinkers are starting to notice that their Pollyannaish euphoria over the fall of the Soviet Union might have been premature, as William Greider observes: "Just as candidate Newt condemns 'crony capitalism' and Perry denounces 'vultures,' historian Francis Fukuyama has abruptly rescinded the happy talk that made him famous twenty years ago. At the end of the cold war, Fukuyama's book The End of History and the Last Man declared that left-right ideological conflicts were over. Liberal democracy had won. It would henceforth prevail around the world. Hold that prophecy. The professor has issued a sort of retraction (he might say 'correction'). His essay in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, explained that 'some very troubling economic and social trends, if they continue, will both threaten the stability of contemporary liberal democracies and dethrone democratic ideology as it is now understood.' Yikes. What trends are those? Global capitalism, he said. Free-trade doctrine and new technology, along with the steady offloading of American jobs, are destroying the middle class - the necessary foundation for democracy in advanced economies. [...] His alarming observations were picked up by other conservative commentators and treated respectfully, a sign that these anxieties are widely shared. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, longstanding advocate of globalization, embraced Fukuyama's argument. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote with sympathy for the struggling white working class. It votes Republican and gets hammered by corporate capitalists in return." Greider also notes that Fukuyama doesn't recognize his as the liberal critique laid out long before by people like Robert Kuttner and himself, but then, Fukuyama probably doesn't see it that way. What he might imagine is that he is still a bright young conservative thinker who is seeing past the errors of his elders - exactly the way Obama appears to see himself in comparison with "out-dated" liberal New Deal thinking. In which case, Fukuyama is a lot closer to the truth.

Right on the heels of the news that the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, is one of the big culprits in the mortgage mess (gee, no wonder he doesn't want to prosecute anyone!), we see a seasoned union-buster promoted to White House Chief of Staff. As Pruning Shears suggests, we're seeing a pattern. Pruning Shears also has another good quote from Econned talking about just how our overlords protectors made the whole financial crises worse. Whose idea was that, anyway?

If you wanted to read some well-written unpacking of SOPA/PIPA, you couldn't do better than what Patrick Nielsen Hayden put up at Making Light over the last week. from the first announcement that ML would go dark - and why, and a short post later reminding everyone that this isn't going away, and one a couple of days later going into more about what the issues are and who is lying ("The MPAA and RIAA would love to see everybody frame these issues as nothing more than a spat between 'industries.' But the tens of thousands of writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers who spoke out yesterday against SOPA and PIPA aren't the 'tech industry.' They're creators - actual content creators - who know perfectly well that censorship is a greater threat to their livelihood than piracy, and that a world with a crippled internet and a no-appeals, guilty-until-proven-innocent copyright-enforcement regime would be a world in which they would be unable to do their work and survive."). (And, while you're there, Abi Sutherland has a good post about the way rape is used in fiction - to get a particular rating in films, to create motivations for female characters, to tell you the rapists are scumbags - and what lessons are unfortunately taught as a result, "Can't you hear beyond the croaking?.")

So, the evil censorship was defeated? Not really, says Glenn Greenwald: "Critics insisted that these bills were dangerous because they empowered the U.S. Government, based on mere accusations of piracy and copyright infringement, to shut down websites without any real due process. But just as the celebrations began over the saving of Internet Freedom, something else happened: the U.S. Justice Department not only indicted the owners of one of the world's largest websites, the file-sharing site Megaupload, but also seized and shut down that site, and also seized or froze millions of dollars of its assets - all based on the unproved accusations, set forth in an indictment, that the site deliberately aided copyright infringement. In other words, many SOPA opponents were confused and even shocked when they learned that the very power they feared the most in that bill - the power of the U.S. Government to seize and shut down websites based solely on accusations, with no trial - is a power the U.S. Government already possesses and, obviously, is willing and able to exercise even against the world's largest sites..." In other words, once again, we see that the game is to further codify powers that the government already claims to hold. That's something Obama has been making a practice of: They are already doing bad things, then they propose new laws to try to nail down what they are doing, and "progressives" get to "win" a fight when they occasionally manage to "beat" those new laws back, even though it may be only for a month or two or the administration finds some new way to do it through a backdoor (e.g., the "Deficit Commission" Obama couldn't get Congress to give him so he made one himself and treats it as if it is every bit as legalistically solid.) This is pretty much what Dahlia Lithwick has been saying about Obama's tendency to make sure George W. Bush's excesses are given a more solid legal framework.

The stink is everywhere, and after all, there's no reason to think we wouldn't find General Electric in the giant control fraud.

"Obama to use pension funds of ordinary Americans to pay for bank mortgage 'settlement': Obama's latest housing market chicanery should come as no surprise. As we discuss below, he will use the State of the Union address to announce a mortgage 'settlement' by Federal regulators, and at least some state attorneys general. It's yet another gambit designed to generate a campaign talking point while making the underlying problem worse."

"1 Million Recall Signatures vs. 1 Partisan Judge: Activist right-wing judge threatens to thwart democracy by legislating from the bench in favor of Walker..."

Bill Gibson can't predict the future.

Wales has been reclassified as a country instead of a principality. Fancy that. (via)

Supercharged Northern Lights

Now, you do know whose music we've been listening to, right? Oh, yeah, she could sing. Oh, yes, she could. Rest in peace, Etta.

05:20 GMT

Saturday, 21 January 2012

We have met the enemy and he is us

The other night on Virtually Speaking A-Z, Jay and Stuart discussed the idea that the dog-whistles coming out of the mouths of people like Newt Gingrich aren't aimed at the general voter or even at unreconstructed racists, they're aimed at us, and "progressives" keep falling for it. Atrios keeps pointing out that they do and say things "just to piss liberals off," and I suspect he's more right than he knows, and I think a lot of prog bloggers really need to give this some thought, because I believe Stuart is absolutely right - they say things that get liberals to react and that works for them in ways "the left" seems to be entirely unaware of. I don't just mean that it's a distraction; I mean that we're doing their PR for them. People are worried about their jobs. Gingrich talks about jobs, and instead of talking about jobs, progressives react with partisan defenses and accuse him of dog-whistle racism. But ordinary people don't hear racism when Gingrich says he wants to give people paychecks rather than welfare checks, because ordinary people are worried that maybe a welfare check is all they can hope for anymore if things keep going the way they're going. Obama himself has been telling people that we can't have good jobs anymore, we can't have 4% unemployment and a healthy economy anymore, but we'll try to protect "the most needy" - which means the only way you'll get any help from the government is after they have made you too poor to help yourself - and you'll never be able to help yourself again. It doesn't matter that Gingrich is lying about his intentions to create jobs, since no one is actually offering jobs. What matters is that instead of acknowledging that the jobs situation keeps getting worse, liberals sit around crying racism. And racism really isn't the issue.

And in the second half of the Thursday line-up on Virtually Speaking, Matt Stoller came in to discuss his point in the article I was remiss in not linking directly at the time, "Why Ron Paul Challenges Liberals" - an article that caused rather a large fuss. This is not about presidential politics, but about the real intellectual knot that is created by the relationship between war policy and domestic socioeconomic policy - and the fact that these mechanisms that were being used to create liberal domestic policies aren't working anymore, and they aren't working anymore because our government has been thoroughly hollowed out and corrupted. We have reached the point where crucial areas of government don't even contain people who know how to do what is supposed to be their job. For example, Tim Geithner, unlike anyone who was walking down their street looking at local housing prices and realizing they were too expensive for people to pay for, did not notice - even laughed at the idea - that we were in a housing bubble. Apparently, it wasn't so much that he was trying to cause another Depression as that he simply didn't recognize what was as plain as the nose on my face. Even more frightening is the kind of lawyering that's now on display at Justice, where those who actually know how to prosecute criminals have been pushed aside in favor of people who think their job is to rubber-stamp whatever criminal conduct big corporations engage in, and wouldn't know how to run a prosecution even if they thought they should do that. And, for some reason, there don't seem to be any real liberals left in government who actually know how to write legislation. So, it looks like the arch-conservative project of turning good government into bad government has succeeded pretty well, and we have more than a simple course-correction on our hands; we will need to rebuild from the ground up. (But, should we wonder why someone who is a professional political operative is saying this now?)

Stuart Zechman alludes from time to time to a scam that's being run in collusion between our government and the health care industry that could be described as "price-fixing". It's something that not many people are really aware of, and Stuart is one of the few who've actually done the work of researching it, so I asked him if he had anything he could post that helps explain it. The gist is that, though Medicare itself keeps costs down, it is also a vehicle for setting prices for medical treatment - and sets them higher than they need to be. He dug up one of his comments to a post at Swampland that delved into just this question. Have a look at "PPACA: The Third Way To Lowering Health Care Prices?" and incorporate that into your thinking on the subject.

Sam Seder's interviews this week including one with Cory Robin, author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, Garlin Gilchrist of MoveOn about SOPA and the blackout, and Rick Pearlstein (about his his Rolling Stone article, among other things). He also had his usual live coverage of the Occupy movement, this time focused on Occupy DC.

So, after the big fat blackout by major sites, Obama claims he won't support SOPA, which I suppose means he wants to wait until no one's looking to sign it. The lobbyist with "the best job on K Street", doing what the entertainment industry wants, shook his head. Cenk presents Chris Dodd, former pretend protector of Constitutional rights.

David Dayen doesn't appear to have faith in the "more aggressive" stance Obama claims he'll be taking after his prior wimpy performance on the foreclosure crisis. Nor, for that matter, in the recovery.

It's on: Wisconsin Democrats to submit one million signatures to recall Scott Walker [...] One million signatures is 185 percent of the minimum threshold. There is no doubt about it: Gov. Scott Walker will face a recall election. (And, appropriately, CMike celebrated MLK Day by posting a couple of links down in comments to this post to a ten minute YouTube video about the Memphis sanitation workers' strike, complete with some clips of his speeches. He also supplied an "infrequently cited" passage from King's last speech.)

I confess, I don't pay much attention to what movie stars are up to, but I was disappointed to learn that George Clooney had lost the plot.

VastLeft provides a Shorter Andrew Sullivan: "Obama's great because he's conservative, liberals are nuts for thinking he's conservative."

Also from VastLeft, another cartoon: American Extremists: Disposable issues. Plus, Ladies' choice. Oh, and this bitter pill, too.

I haven't thought about this in a long time, but I stumbled on the introduction to David Loftus' book while looking for something else and thought I'd share. A long, long time ago I responded to claims about what men were really thinking when they looked at pornography by pointing out that no one had done any research on the subject and what we had seen so far was projection by some women of what they feared men were thinking about sex. Eventually, thanks to the internet, I stumbled on Loftus, who had decided it was time to at least make a start at that kind of research. Lacking the resources for a full study, he interviewed as many guys as he could (as he acknowledges, a self-selecting group), to find out what men were able to say about their own experience looking at pornography. If that piques your interest, look here.

My friend Yves just posted his sonata at YouTube, and it's lovely.

16:03 GMT

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Back and forth

Tonight's panelists on Virtually Speaking Tuesdays will be Avedon Carol and Lambert Strether.

Dan at Pruning Shears has another quote from Yves' Econned and says: "This model highlights a tradeoff ignored (at least until recently) by most economists. All the arguments for deregulation were those of greater efficiency, that less government intervention would lower costs and spur innovation. We'll put aside the question of whether any gains would in fact be shared or would simply accrue to the financier class. Regardless, risks to stability never entered into these recommendations. But if we put on our systems engineering hat, stability is always a first order design requirement and efficiency is secondary." I guess that depends on the question of: "Efficency of what?" If markets are seen as a means to extract resources for the few at the top, they did a fine job. As the system destabilizes, the only thing they have to worry about is whether their private armies and gated communities can keep the rabble out until after their own deaths.

Most of us have heard by now that someone is murdering Iranian scientists, and pretty much everyone figures it's Mossad, probably with the approval and possibly in concert with the United States. I don't know anyone who approves of it, but I hang out in that kind of crowd. And yes, it was a bit shocking, a few years ago, when Glenn Reynolds advocated doing this very thing. But the problem, you see, is that it's not shocking anymore. By now, so much is so wrong that this is just one little item on a long list of horrific things being undertaken under, most shockingly of all, a president who was clearly elected by people who believed he would put a stop to the United States government's outrageous behavior toward both other countries and its own people. Now, Glenn Greenwald may be right that there's something suspicious about the silence about this coming from the left blogosphere, even among people who condemned Reynolds on the subject of assassinating civilians. And sure, maybe there is an element of people not wanting to go after someone whose side they are on, but I'm no Obamapologist and I haven't written about it, either. That's mainly for the usual reason I haven't posted something yet, which is that I haven't gotten around to it. But there's also the fact that this administration just decided to run around assassinating American citizens, and after that, well, having them connive in the murder of Iranian scientists seems like pretty small beans, and not even a little surprising. Sure, it's outrageous, it's indefensible - but, you know, almost everything is, these days. I don't know why anyone else hasn't written long screeds about it, but for me, I'm tending to narrow my view to things that are closer to home, these days, because until we can figure out what to do about these people, it's almost pointless to rail against one more outrage abroad. We don't have to use the models we're using. We could have a better country - and a better world - if we had made different policy decisions. Stupid, short-sighted, or nasty people have worked hard to close off other avenues, but if there is anything to be done, it won't start merely with saying we shouldn't assassinate Iranian scientists.

Thanks to Atrios for posting this Will Rogers clip. Oh, and this certainly sums up the Labour Leadership. As opposed to America, where it's, "Same policies, but just not foaming at the mouth."

Betty White

My local Google search page did not tell me about MLK day, but that was a local phenomenon.

16:50 GMT

Monday, 16 January 2012

There's more to the theater than repetition - but not much

Culture of Truth and Digby are tonight's panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays. On Virtually Speaking Tuesdays, Susie Madrak talked to Mike Patterson and Stuart Zechman about #J17, Congress, Election 2012, Occupy Congress, being an undecided voter - and the potential for a bloody revolution if certain individuals do not pull themselves together and start behaving sensibly. On the last Virtually Speaking A-Z, Jay and Stuart tried their hand at explaining why socialists, libertarians and what Lambert describes as "benevolent Democrats" are not different forms of "liberals." (God, I'm sick of people who think this is just about taking care of the poor. The point is to keep people from having to be poor in the first place!) Here's the schedule for the next week of Virtually Speaking.

The big news of the week was that the NYT public editor asked readers if reporters should verify facts. No, I'm not making that up. Greenwald: "The New York Times' Public Editor Arthur Brisbane unwittingly sparked an intense and likely enduring controversy yesterday when he pondered - as though it were some agonizing, complex dilemma - whether news reporters 'should challenge 'facts' that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.' That's basically the equivalent of pondering in a medical journal whether doctors should treat diseases, or asking in a law review article whether lawyers should defend the legal interests of their clients, etc.: reporting facts that conflict with public claims (what Brisbane tellingly demeaned as being 'truth vigilantes') is one of the defining functions of journalism, at least in theory." Indeed. It's why the press even has a first amendment right - to cut through the bull. In a day when you can read the Congressional Record, the White House press gaggle, and impending legislation on the web, as well as watch the idiots talk out of their own faces in online videos, newspapers become utterly irrelevant if they are just going to repeat their lies uncritically. There's a reason why people who do things like reading The New York Times turned out to be more misinformed than people who do not follow the news at all.

Listening to Sam Seder interviewing Rocky Anderson the other day, I figured he still sounds much better than the other guys and if he's on my ballot, I might just vote for him. It's not as if Maryland isn't likely to go for Obama, in any case, so there's no guilt, there. I just want to be able to register a vote for someone who isn't any of these other bastards.

You know, I'd almost forgotten Santorum's attempt to get taxpayers to pay a private company if they want to read the weather info online that they'd already paid to collect with their taxes - a service that is currently provided free by the US government, because you pay for it already. Interestingly, listening to the news spot on the Hartmann show when Sam Seder sat in, I noticed that Darrell Issa is trying to pull the same crap with medical information collected thanks to NIH, in a similar kick-back scheme - with the help of a Democratic New York Congresswoman, of course.

Dean Baker notes that the guys who were and are running the Fed were and are utterly incompetent: "btw, as noted in the article, many of the people at these Fed meetings are still in top policy making positions. This shows that the U.S. economy still produces good-paying jobs for people without skills." (via)

Today's Voice of Socialism is, of course, Newt Gingrich, filmmaker. Well, his PAC, anyway, and he seems to be distancing himself a bit from alleged errors or overstatements in King of Bain. But the half-hour video about Mitt Romney's company points the finger at Mitt Romney and Bain in terms that might have been expected to come from the left, a critique of modern capitalism (the version of capitalism Newt once championed) that condemns Gordon Gekko's impact on America's economy - and, especially, on its workers and families. Of course, Romney didn't make this happen all by himself, and there's no one running things who would stand up and say, "This is wrong," and make it stop. Robert Reich addressed this point the other day, and Sam Seder, sitting in for Thom Hartmann Friday, talked to Reich on this subject in the first hour. (Sammy also talked to Dahlia Lithwick later in the show, about Citizens United and the Montana court that decided to ignore that decision to protect its own elections - as discussed in here piece here.) But Romney's Bain Capital has been a profound source for evil in our country, and still is. These welfare cheats also own the airwaves.

Marion in Savannah has an episode of Bobo versus Krugman, discussing the entire "job creation" myth. I'm not sure it's really accurate, however, to say that shutting down companies doesn't actually destroy jobs and only means the new jobs available aren't as good as the old jobs. My experience is that the number of jobs available also contracts as employers feel free to load their employees up with longer hours and harsher conditions, overworking them in lieu of simply hiring an adequate workforce.

Looks like Colbert is running on the RepubliDem platform: "At least some establishment figures are worried that Colbert might cause an upset in the Romney coronation. CNN has a blistering anti-Colbert opinion piece pointing out that Colbert's platform is a travesty, calling for more unemployment, more wars, more inequality. In other words what George W. Bush wanted to do and did and what George W. Romney and George W. Santorum and George W. Gingrich want and plan to do." And Obama, don't forget.

Angelides to lead distressed mortgage firm: "The company, Mortgage Resolution Partners, claims its strategy of using "legal and political leverage" to acquire the loans could generate a 20 percent annual return for investors. The company intends to purchase mortgages at a steep discount and re-work them to enable the homeowners to continue making payments, with the firm collecting the proceeds." I have no idea what to make of this.

Wow, that must be some sale!

Dr. Watson has a blog, but the hit counter is stuck at 1895.

Pretty Aurora picture

Music videos for the deaf. No, it's not ironic, it's just fun.

00:24 GMT

Thursday, 12 January 2012

You've really made the grade

Today, Sam Seder is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Bread & Roses strike on Majority Report, with Robert Forrant.

I guess now we have to put all our energy into protecting programs for the extremely poor, since the plan is to make sure we are all in that category. I look at it, however, as a reason to take your money out of banks and hide it all in a box in the ground so they won't know you've got it.

At Naked Capitalism:
- Nobody likes the Economist's love-letter to the criminals of The City.
- "The Devil and Rick Santorum- Dilemmas of a Holy Owned Subsidiary"
-American exceptionalism and Euro-bashing
- Matt Stoller on the latest flurry of hippie bashing by "progressives".
- Hatchet job by Florida Inspector General to justify firing of two lawyers for foreclosure fraud investigations
-GAO goes after administration "TARP made money" claim.

Bruce Schneier has a round-up of the TSA's top ten good catches of 2011. But my favorite is the butter knife confiscated from the pilot of the plane - you know, in case he wanted to hold himself hostage and hijack the plane. Although a teenage girl's purse with an embroidered handgun design was another great one, since we all know how much damage you can do with embroidery. He also features expert predictions of terrorist attacks, most of which were wrong. Of course, they were all wrong, since the attack on the WTC was so successful that no other attack was necessary. Bush made sure that the terrorists won. Bruce also has some links from himself and EFF on protecting your security at the borders. I'm lately coming to the conclusion that carrying your laptop with you may be more trouble than it's worth if you are crossing the US border. I'll probably just take my (dumb) cell phone with me if I go home for a visit - and a back-up of the piece of paper with vital phone numbers on it that I always carry when I fly.

'Wild Old Women' Close San Francisco Bank Of America Branch - You know, there's a reason why they want to kill older people off as fast as they can. One big one is that these people remember what life used to be like before the "Serious" people took over. (So do the older Boomers, which is why they hate them even more, since they aren't dying fast enough.)

Charlie Pierce, in "Pain: The David Gregory Solution", doesn't mention how often it is that we hear White House policy from Gregory's lips (don't we all remember him, just after this administration took office, insisting, in his "balanced", non-opinionated way, that something has to be done about entitlements?), but I enjoy watching his target practice on the man who won Atrios' The Worst Person In The World award Monday.

Well, thank goodness the Democrats have protected your reproductive rights, yeah?

Are you sure? "'We must leave the Holocaust and its symbols outside the arguments in Israeli society,' said Moshe Zanbar, chairman of the main umbrella group for Holocaust survivors in Israel. 'This harms the memory of the Holocaust." Yeah, let's freeze it in amber and not think about what it means.

"I am RuPaul & I'm not running for president." Which is a shame, since RuPaul is preferable to anyone who is in the race. Right?

Oh, I can't help the feeling this could be dangerous.

The Joy of Books

Murray Gold rocks out at home.

In almost every case, the definitive version of a Beatles song is by the Beatles. However, when I heard this, I immediately felt that it was the way it was intended to be performed. And this is just lovely.

Space Oddity Original Video (1969) - this is a version I'd never heard.

16:55 GMT

Sunday, 08 January 2012

Waiting for the Perfect to be the enemy of the Bad

Tonight's panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays will be Cliff Schecter and Gotta Laff. The rest of this week's VS schedule is here.

Listening to Culture of Truth on Santorum, I caught myself thinking, "Sometimes ya gotta admire their chutzpah," and then I realized, no, actually, you don't.

Thursday's Majority Report covered Obama's recess appointments and the Occupy action in Grand Central Station on the NDAA.

Whenever I see the latest news on how the Occupy movement is being suppressed, I remember all those people who kept insisting that we were lucky America was a free country, because we'd be arrested if we tried to protest in a real dictatorship. Well, Americans are getting arrested for trying to protest. Are we a real dictatorship, yet?

By now it's clear that there is no shortage of people with advanced technical education, skill, and experience in the United States (and Britain) - home-grown geeks of every kind who could easily be employed by the very companies that are moaning about the lack of availability of such people. A considerable number of those people are among the growing numbers of the unemployed. They aren't unemployed because the work doesn't exist or the money isn't there to pay for them - it does, and it is - but because the companies they can no longer find work with are hell-bent on driving down wages and working conditions for employees, and it's easier to do that to foreigners. For example, it's illegal for foreigners on work visas to go on strike in the United States. Employers who want to be able to treat their employees with contempt enjoy that sort of thing. I really wish we could hope that candidates would be pressed to answer questions on their views on giving away Americans' jobs to foreigners. Not that I'd trust anything any of them - especially Obama - said, but Romney would have his work cut out for him. Oh, wait, I forgot - reversing positions is something of a signature for Romney. Um, and for Obama.

This is being described as "new", but "benefit corporation" is just a new name for what used to be perfectly normal - corporations that were not allowed to put share earnings above all other considerations. And when I say "normal", I don't mean there used to always be companies like that, I mean it used to be that companies had to be like that.

Robert A. Gattis is not denying that he murdered a woman. But are we any better if we kill him on January 20th?

Pro editors and journalists finally figure out that SOPA is bad. Sort of. (via)

Gary Johnson, dropped out of the Republican Party and running as a Libertarian, is for reproductive rights, which makes him more libertarian than Ron Paul, but is he a better anti-war candidate? (But is he better than guys who do this?)

Yes, as we have all pointed out, Ron Paul's position on the drug war isn't that these drugs should be decriminalized, it's that there should be no federal laws against those drugs, and the states should be able to make their own indefensible laws about them. Be that as it may, it would still mean that the endless supply of money and clout of the federal government would not be available to states that want to be draconian about drugs. We'd actually be in much better shape now if that had been the case for the last 30 years, because we would have had nowhere near the coast-to-coat militarization of the police that we've had during that time. And, in the meantime, states that want to legalize medical marijuana would not have to worry that the licenses they grant would not protect doctors and providers from being arrested (and robbed and murdered) by the Feds. States that wanted to decriminalize drugs, or reschedule them, could do so. That's still better than what we have now. (Ian Welsh has thoughts on why there seems to be Ron Paul Hysteria.)

What has Obama done so far?

Rare photos of an albino hummingbird.

Anna says, "I want a box of these right now!"

I missed this at the time, but Janis Ian wrote some new lyrics just for us. (Get the .mp3.)

20:03 GMT

Friday, 06 January 2012

I could be so good for you

I guess I need to clarify that when I say that Ron Paul is the only one who seems to have any sensible policies on anything at all, I mean "gives the appearance of" rather than "seems to me". The fact that Paul can give the appearance of someone who understands that military aggression against foreign countries and the War On (Some People Who Use Some) Drugs are stupid policies that should be stopped is what people hear. Whether I, personally, trust that his policy statements on those issues are (a) genuine or (b) coming from the same place as mine is another, and irrelevant, matter. Because it actually takes some attention to get a grip on where Ron Paul or any other public voice is coming from, and right now almost no one is allowed to suggest anything sensible on television. And yet, Ron Paul is running around saying we should withdraw from stupid wars, including the incredibly destructive and wasteful drug war. Those are, by themselves, excellent ideas.

Withdrawing ground action from foreign countries just so we can simply drop nukes on them, of course, would not be consistent with what most people who want to stop the stupid wars abroad want from such withdrawals, and is not a good idea, but it could be what Paul is really thinking - which is beside the point, because it is not, as yet, what he is saying. Stopping the federal war on drugs only to allow states to impose their own drug wars individually is also not quite what Paul sounds like he means most of the time, even thought it actually is what he means.

But we're dealing with an age in which people who watch the news on TV and read the papers think they aren't low-information voters, even though they are actually being wildly misinformed. Those people don't spend a lot of time doing further research on who the misinformers are, where the money is coming from, what the connections are between, say, Ron Paul and the Koch brothers and the John Birch Society, or the funders of the Heritage Foundation and the funders of the Democratic Leadership Council/Third Way bunch that is allegedly to their left in the fantasy "center". It's been a long time since most of those people have even heard a real liberal argument on TV, either from pundit/operatives or from elective officials themselves. Most of them have no clue that virtually everything they are seeing and hearing is a right-wing argument for right-wing goals. In fact, if we are to believe Jay Ackroyd, it is quite possible that the President of the United States himself does not realize that the stuff that comes out of his own mouth is just a pack of right-wing lies made up to serve right-wing goals - and I'm sure Obama doesn't think of himself as a low-information voter.

Nevertheless, we have a situation in which it is fair to say that:

  • The Republicans and the Democrats want to reduce or eliminate your ability to get redress in court against corporations or employers who sell you poison, wreck your environment, or treat you like slaves, under the guise of "tort reform".
  • The Republicans and the Democrats want to bust unions so that wages can be driven down and workers rights can be a forgotten relic of a quaintly sentimental age that is no more than a nostalgic dream.
  • The Republicans and the Democrats want to reduce the number of ordinary employees of the federal government who try to make things work and then go out and spend their paychecks in the real economy.
  • The Republicans and the Democrats want to privatize our public health and unemployment insurance programs that will cease to be useful to the public but still cost us even more money while killing even more people from lack of affordability.
  • The Republicans and the Democrats want to essentially privatize the school system, again reducing the educational capabilities of the schools while costing taxpayers more money.
  • The Republicans and the Democrats want to restrict (or eliminate) the public's access to the internet as a multi-directional communication tool.

And the only discernable distinctions between the two parties seem to be that:

  • The Republicans want to eliminate reproductive choice for women, while the Democrats aver that they sympathize with the (alleged) feelings of anti-choice campaigners but don't actually care about the issue except where they think it will win or lose them votes, and maybe not even then, but they are certainly willing to bargain reproductive choice away as fast as they can if it will buy them some illusory victory on the political playing field as defined by Big Media pundits.
  • The Democrats think overt racism and homophobia are unseemly and the Republicans don't, but the Democrats will sell out their "minority" constituencies if they can do so covertly in order to buy them some illusory victory on the political playing field as defined by Big Media pundits.
  • The Republicans and the Democrats want to continue our wars abroad and our ruinous Israel-right-or-wrong policies - except for Ron Paul.
  • The Republicans and the Democrats want to continue a federal war on drugs which not only imposes its laws against the individual states against the wills of both the voters and the leaders in those states, but also against other countries who try to weaken or reconsider their own part in the drug war - except for Ron Paul, who, remarkably, seems to be the only major political figure who has even noticed its racist enforcement and ruinous effect on the black community.
  • The Republicans and the Democrats are happy with treating whistleblowers like terrorists while letting the criminals the whistle is blown on carry on their crimes, except for Ron Paul, who says Bradley Manning is a true patriot.
  • The Republicans and the Democrats were cool with the extension of the Patriot Act - except for Ron Paul.
  • The Republicans and the Democrats are happy to have the president simply decide to assassinate American citizens and the elimination of due process - except for Ron Paul.

(Here's Matt Taibbi writing about the meaningless sideshow of the electoral process as it currently stands, and he talked to Sam Seder about it, and what Ron Paul's real positions are, Wednesday on The Majority Report. Note that Sammy has no illusions about Paul being genuinely libertarian on any personal freedom issues.)

Jay and Stuart talked about this, and the fuss it's created in the blogosphere, last night on Virtually Speaking A-Z, and covered a lot of ground, but I'd say there's more to cover.

My beef is that it's unforgivable that Ron Paul, of all people, is the only person on the national stage who is making any case for what should be liberal positions, and indefensible that people who call themselves liberals or progressives persist in making excuses for the lack of such a case coming from Obama, and even the fact that he most often makes the case for the opposing positions.

And until we get some national voices making the case for the genuinely liberal approach to those issues - and being heard - we will be in big trouble, because the only person who even makes something that, on the surface, sounds a bit liberal, is a crazy and dangerous right-wing crackpot named Ron Paul.

* * * * *

Yves wants us all to read Amar Bhide's article in the NYT about a need to return to boring - and responsible - banking: "To prevent the next panic, it's not enough to rely on emergency actions by the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. Instead, governments should fully guarantee all bank deposits and impose much tighter restrictions on risk-taking by banks. Banks should be forced to shed activities like derivatives trading that regulators cannot easily examine." Ah, the way it used to be.

Krugman: "Look, economic policy matters. It matters for real people who suffer real consequences when we get it wrong. If I believe that the doctrine of expansionary austerity is all wrong, or that the Ryan plan for Medicare would have disastrous effects, or whatever, then my duty, as I see it, is to make my case as best I honestly can - not put on a decorous show of civilized discussion that pretends that there aren't hired guns posing as analysts, and spares the feelings of people who are not in danger of losing their jobs or their health care."

At Suburban Guerrilla:
- So ICE doesn't even bother to determine the citizenship of people who are obviously American teenagers before they deport them to Columbia.
- Russ Baker, "Obama: 'Yes, I'm in a Can' [...] The essence of Obama is to make gestures that will please everyone, but to do it without genuine enthusiasm or pleasure - and therefore please no one. Ordinary people feel he cares not a whit about them, and the moneyed class resents his occasional populist-firebrand rhetoric. It is a mark of cynicism to operate like this. It is also not necessarily a winning formula for a politician. And for a country, it is a disaster." (Orwell called it.)
- Occupy broadcaster evicted: "Earlier this morning, Global Revolution Studios was ordered to vacate from their building by the NYPD in conjunction with the building department. It took three separate departments visiting 13 Thames to finally come up with a reason to remove the Global Revolution team with a posted notice despite having all applicable paperwork for the department of buildings in order."
- Mole - I just can't believe that Obama has never lifted a finger to put Spakovsky in jail where he has belonged for years, rather than leave him to continue to damage our country from within the United States government.
- Jay Rosen on the Iowa caucus coverage.
- The real reason they are called Liar's Loans. It wasn't the home-buyers who were the liars.
- I can only agree with Susie's Deep Thought.

Play Obamapologist Bingo.

Huh. Two-thirds of caucus members claimed to be Tea Party folks, and Romney still came out ahead - by 8 votes.

Looking for work?

RIP Ronald Searle, who returned from captivity by the Japanese to create the St. Trinian's cartoon series (which became a series of movies), and become the most famous cartoonist in Britain. (And, of course, we know who Flash Harry grew up to be...)

And once I got on that theme, I found this, which is fun.

16:50 GMT

Wednesday, 04 January 2012

Ain't too proud to beg

Spocko and Mike Stark will be on Virtually Speaking Tuesdays tonight.

It's that time of year again (actually, it was that time of year last month, and the people who got theirs done on time have their posts listed here) when tradition calls for a round-up of the best of my own blog posts of the year we've just survived. Dan nominated this post, which I must admit is a pretty good post, but it's sad to think I haven't written anything else up to that standard for a year. He could be right.

And I guess looking back at that post, we're looking at what has increasingly become a major theme here, which could roughly be summed up as, "Globalization is not new, just metastasized by corporatist government policies." It is precisely what our Founding Fathers saw as an intolerable threat to freedom and caused them to foment and fight a revolution against the Crown.

Which makes me go back again to the conversation Jay and Stuart had last week in which Jay made the case that the Centrist Democrats actually believe the crazy, wrong, inconsistent ideology and factoids they keep spouting about the economy.

Which means that they think the speed of the internet is so significant that it can change the fact that everything else - all the real, physical stuff that in the end is what matters - hasn't suddenly been changed. You may be able to move certain "intellectual property" like books and music at rapid speed, but you still can't send a pair of socks or a car or a basket of fruit itself by electronic means, despite the fact that you can order one that way.

Ships don't travel that much faster than they used to when I was a kid, and neither do planes. The turnaround time on an exchange of physical letters across the Atlantic is about two weeks, same as when I was born - when, by the way, we already had phones. We're not talking about putting products on a transmat and sending them instantaneously, we're talking about sending documents faster. The possibility of reducing all of the world's labor to subsistence level was always there and often the reality for a considerable proportion of the world's workers (hence Ricardo's Iron Law), it's just that we chose not to do it. We made that choice in 1776, and we made it again with the New Deal. We could do that again, because Keynes was right. And yet the Democratic leadership honestly seems to believe that there is nothing we can do. And that's not just a local phenomenon. (Jay posted some background material for his discussion with Stuart here.)

Pierce: "And, of course, we must never make the perfect the enemy of the good. But you know what else is the enemy of good? Timidity is the enemy of the good. Cruelty is the enemy of the good, and so are selfishness, bigotry, and ignorance. Why perfection is the only enemy of the good that ever seems worth fighting is a good question with which to launch the new year."

It's now almost permanent election season, which means that we always have to be in partisan mode and never discuss actual issues. We can never acknowledge that maybe a guy on Our Side is promoting bad positions because to do so would give aid and comfort to the Bad Guys on The Other Side. Almost from the moment he got into office, we've been told we can't criticize Obama because it would help the Republicans. We also can't ever admit that someone who isn't a Democrat might actually have a better position on some issue than Obama does. We can't be honest about what's really going on because it might help the Republicans. But it's true that, no matter how wrong and repugnant (and dishonest or stupid) he is on many other important issues, Ron Paul is the only one who seems to have sensible positions about the war and secrecy regime. "Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform - certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party - who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial. The converse is equally true: the candidate supported by liberals and progressives and for whom most will vote - Barack Obama - advocates views on these issues (indeed, has taken action on these issues) that liberals and progressives have long claimed to find repellent, even evil." Sure, his "libertarianism" seems to be limited to a "states rights" fallacy (it's okay for individual states to destroy your freedom, it's just not okay for the federal government to do it) and then only on certain issues (obviously, not reproductive freedom, a fairly crucial one), but then, I haven't seen any evidence that Obama and his cadre of money-grubbing warmongers care about those freedoms at any level. And while Paul advocates ghastly economic policies, so do the people who currently occupy the White House. And yet, while Obama's supporters would draw the line at raping a nun on live TV (sorry, Glenn, but that's in the "dead girl/live boy" category), they are still happy to support him despite the fact that he is deliberately dismantling the American economy and every feature that might have saved you and yours from various kinds of slavery and unnecessary death. (And, you know, though I can tell you from experience that being raped is seriously unpleasant, it really isn't the worst thing that can happen. I mean, be honest: Given the choice between watching your children die because Obama managed to derail the creation of a decent health care system or seeing Obama rape a nun on live TV, which would you rather have him do?) But, you know, what really burns is that the only person saying these perfectly sane things about stupid wars is a right-wing crackpot, because there is no one in the allegedly liberal leadership saying it. And for that alone, those people deserve to be locked up someplace where they will feel forced to scream about their civil liberties and rights as Americans.

"TransCanada Inspector: Keystone Pipelines Not Safe: Writing an opinion piece for the Lincoln (NE) Journal-Star, civil engineer Mike Klink calls TransCanada's predecessor Keystone XL pipeline, for which he was a construction quality inspector, a 'lemon' and a 'proven loser.' Klink was fired from his job and is seeking Department of Labor whistleblower protection. His entire plea is worth reading."

On the bright side, it's nice to have anti-choicers like Retaliban Rick actually saying what they mean so people like me don't get called crazy when we point out that it's what they really mean.

Occupy: It's really hard work, but it's the work worth doing.

Echnidne ruminates on merit.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the first science fiction convention, a report on the 1937 Leeds convention, complete with unseen photographs of attendees like a very young Arthur C. Clarke.

Oh, yeah, happy new year.

The Temptations

01:04 GMT

Avedon Carol at The Sideshow, January 2012

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