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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Games people play

Just for the record, here's the first half of Virtually Speaking Sundays (.mp3), where (after a discussion of Social Security and good verbal politics), I told Jay Ackroyd and David Dayen that I'd be very surprised if the Roberts court struck down the mandate. I gotta say that because it seemed like everywhere else, everyone was all ready for the Supremes to kill it. (Jay Ackroyd interviewed Chris Hayes about the SCOTUS decision on HeritageCare and about Chris' book, Twilight of the Elites, on Thursday's Virtually Speaking, and Chris had somewhat different reasoning from mine, but his was after-the-fact.)

Stuart Zechman noticed that something very unsettling has been going on coming from the entire liberal/progressive commentariat that completely ignores the context in which the entire "mandate" argument is occurring - he pointed to a comment at Swampland and his response, here:

The Individual Mandate was always a way to make people who don't have health insurance to pay for some of the costs associated with their hospital costs when they suddenly did get sick or were in an accident.

I don't understand why conservatives think its okay to make those of us with health insurance to pay at least an extra $1000/year to help hospitals recover the costs of covering uninsured patients but it not okay for the government to charge/tax the uninsured for not having health insurance. That extra $1000/ year doesn't include the extra state and local taxes we have to pay to cover the uninsured in county hospitals, etc.

Stuart Zechman
Are you trying to win an award from AHIP?

"The Individual Mandate was always a way to make people who don't have health insurance to pay for some of the costs associated with their hospital costs when they suddenly did get sick or were in an accident."

Seriously, no: the individual mandate was always a way for insurers and for think-tank conservatives to game for regulation in their interests, and to argue against guaranteed issue and community rating. Free market ideologues and insurers are operating under the premise that health insurance premiums and claims paid are always fairly determined, and not the result of market manipulation by insurers.

Guaranteeing issue, i.e. not excluding the sick and injured, therefore is "unfair" to insurers and a "market distortion" that must be offset by some other, pro-seller "distortion," lest there be a "death spiral" of eventual market collapse, where --quelle horreur!!-- the state might have to step in and offer public insurance, like Medicare.

These are pro-industry and right-wing arguments, with pro-industry and right-wing premises baked in. The individual mandate is an answer to a problem that doesn't exist in the real world, because, in the real world, there are no health insurance "free markets," and consumers have no power over price.

And you're not paying an extra one or two thousand a year in state or local taxes to cover the actual cost of the uninsured to hospitals, you're paying because the hospitals are charging vastly different (even more highly inflated) prices between insured and uninsured to state governments --another way for hospitals to game for regulation in their interests. It's called "cost-shifting."

When hospitals don't get that money from over-charging the state governments, where do you think they're going to turn, next? And then, after they cost-shift back to the insured, what do you think the insurers will do when faced with those bills? What have private insurers always done?

"their hospital costs when they suddenly did get sick"

This is the argument of the insurance companies' public relations campaigns you're making. It's a messaging campaign designed to help you blame other, ordinary people for the prices that anti-trust exempt health insurance monopolies fix, instead of the price-fixers.

They've been making this claim for a very long time, since the 1990s, when they were lobbying against state-based guaranteed issue:

"What happened next is starkly summarized in a 1995 letter sent to Premera Blue Cross by a woman in Eastern Washington.

"A few months before she gave birth that year, the woman bought an individual policy from Premera. As soon as the insurer paid her hospital expenses, the woman canceled the policy, telling Premera "we will do business with you again when we are pregnant."

"True to her word, in 1996, she bought insurance, Premera said, once again canceling after the insurer paid for the delivery of her next child.

"Altogether, she paid in 1,807 in premiums. Premera paid out 7,024.68 in medical bills.

"You don't have to be a business genius to recognize the problem with those numbers when multiplied by thousands of customers.

"Claims went up. Premiums rose. Pretty soon only sick people thought insurance was worth the cost. Premiums rose even more.

"Healthy people, like the Eastern Washington woman, waited until they needed insurance to buy it. At the time, Gov. Gary Locke likened it to buying fire insurance after your house is on fire."

That fabled woman didn't want health care for her kids, only for her multiple pregnancies to be paid for. By everybody else. Right. A big health insurer got a letter from her. They have that letter right here...look, Mr. Reporter! See?

It's the uninsured! They just won't buy insurance! It's not the insurers who are gaming the system, it's those damn consumers! Deadbeats! Pay your premiums like everybody else! Somebody other than you got something for nothing, Mr. and Mrs. Public!

But, of course, the state-based health insurers do price-fix. They are allowed to do so by federal law (McCarran-Ferguson Act). They are allowed to collude, and create "markets." That's why there is such a thing as an "individual market." That's why individuals pay such vastly different prices than even "small groups" of two. That's why the GAO found that HIPAA Act (1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) consumers sometimes got 600% increases in prices for the same "standard" policies! That's why there's no competition on the basis of monthly price, no race to the bottom for premiums, nothing except claims delays and denials. It's not deadbeat emergency-room patients who cause premiums to go up by 5-30% in a year. Insurers price-fix --because they can.

They can also cut people out and put people back into different "markets" to game the law, which is what they did in Washington State, right before they launched public relations offensives to get us to blame other people for their price increases.

So the message you're repeating is the kind of campaign they've been waging for decades in the press, and now their lobbyists don't even have to labor that hard to get Democrats to repeat the pro-industry line.

It's Harry And Louise, all over again.

Except that Harry And Louise were people you were meant to identify with and were nice, middle-class people like you, not deadbeat-mom types who would actually write a letter to the insurance company telling them (using the royal "we") that they were terminating insurance because they apparently believed that delivering a child is the only health care cost they are likely to incur.

So here you have "progressives" parroting this insurance company PR stuff, omitting to notice that we're talking about a fake market where there is price-fixing rather than competition (because they've already managed to con the government into giving them an anti-trust exemption to protect their artificially contrived business model). (Note that the companies that "fled" the state of Washington during this "disaster" were only a tiny percentage of the local insurance market and were essentially junk insurers whose model was to charge small premiums on the understanding that they'd never pay out at all.)

Of course, the takeaway from this, for those who insist on having a commercial insurance market, ought to be that all premiums should be the same (it's one group market, not different groups that get priced higher as they get smaller). Otherwise, the mandate is meaningless, since it's individuals, and not groups, who are part of the risk pool; and that hospitals only get to charge one price, regardless of the insurance status of the patient - and if the insurers won't pay that amount, an individual shouldn't have to, either.

Here's the special Democracy NOW! with Amy Goodman, Margaret Flowers, Michael Moore, Wendell Potter, and some other people who use phrases like "free-riders" and even "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Stuart also pointed out to me a bizarre way of thinking that seems to be leading the "progressives" of today. It works like this: Good policy is ideal. It's idealistic. It's therefore unrealistic. And that's why you can't have good policy. Somehow we need to get across to them that if it's not good policy, it's bad policy, and bad policy is bad policy.

(In other news, it is apparently official that anyone who notices that there's a real danger that the Democratic leadership will use the lame duck session to weaken/privatize Social Security Insurance is a conspiracy theorist because they are a racist. So, like, Jay and Dday and I are, y'know, Birthers.)

* * * * *

Sam Seder did a must-listen interview with Lori Wallach on The Majority Report about the secretive negotiations to destroy what's left of Americans' ability to have any say in their own country. Seriously, you need to know just how awful the "trade" bill is, and you need to spread the word - especially to your right-wing relatives who might actually help give it some legs. Among other things, it pretty much deletes the ability of any country to make any laws that put any national or human interest above the privilege of corporations to do anything they want. So American laws would be subordinated to foreign corporations - even foreign state-owned corporations. Or corporations owned by the French!

Twelve years too late, E.J. Dionne calls for Scalia to resign.

People who say they are moving to Canada because SCOTUS upheld HeritageCare

Portraits by Alice X. Zhang
"Flower Love" Photos by Oer-Wout
Larger Than Life marketing series
Photos by Mariya Maracheva

16:13 BST

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

They say candy is sweet, but it just can't compete

I've been giving short-shrift to my commenters lately, and I shouldn't - they're worth taking note of. For example, in comments to this post, there's a discussion of the re-emergence of neoliberalism after the Johnson presidency. CMike supplied a useful link when he said, "I'll add that Clinton came to office at the right time in the business cycle. Now it is true that Clinton's fiscal policy led to the nineties stock boom but that came after he agreed to abandon the progressive agenda he ran on and stay within the boundaries set out for him by Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin when he first arrived in Washington instead of playing a game of chicken with Greenspan in the matter of Fed interest rates, which, looking back, Clinton probably would have won. This story, with an accompanying one about Ayn Rand, is told powerfully in Part One of a three part Adam Curtis documentary found online here. I recommend it highly to anyone who has not seen it, most progblog fans will find it worth an hour of their time I would think. (BTW, it includes some interesting on camera comments by Joe Stiglitz.)

At the moment, you can't listen to the Virtually Speaking Sundays I did with David Dayen the other night due to, um, technical difficulties, but the takeway is that we should stop asking for what's supposed to be possible or reasonable and start asking for what we really want. I said we should respond to rubbish about how we need to cut Social Security benefits or raise the retirement age with a demand that we expand SSI, eliminate the cap, and lower the retirement age. (There's an extremely strong chance that they will use the lame-duck session to cut Social Security.) Jay said no, we should just tell them to do nothing, but I said we can't do that, because they'll "compromise" - we have to make doing nothing the compromise. Similarly with the Bush tax-shift haggle, we should insist on letting it expire and demand that the standard deduction be raised to $57,000. (You may notice that there is nothing new about me saying this sort of thing. Because the only way to negotiate is to ask for the moon as your starting point.)

Mike Norman is Thinking about how dumb the gold standard is.

QotD: "The great irony is that with productivity at an all-time high, and with no actual shortage of the real resources needed to take care of our seniors at a level that makes us feel proud to be Americans, to care for the sick, to educate our children, and to provide for the public infrastructure and institutional structure that facilitates and fosters private sector output and employment, there has never been a better time for the progressive agenda." -- Warren Mosler

Robert Reich: "So when regressives talk about 'preserving and protecting' the nation, be warned: They mean securing our borders, not securing our society. Within those borders, each of us is on our own. They don't want a government that actively works for all our citizens. Their patriotism is not about coming together for the common good. It is about excluding outsiders who they see as our common adversaries."

How Big Banks Run the World - at Your Expense

Chamber of Commerce Pitching Perfect Game at Supreme Court This Session

Audio of Obama insisting in 2006 that private insurers must be included in any health care bill

Jimmy Carter's op-ed in the NYT, "America's Shameful Human Rights Record," is framed as complaints about "America", but it looks to me like an attack on Obama's policies. (VastLeft is waiting to see which progbloggers will be first to trot out the old right-wing sneers about Carter and his brother.)

KenInNY got his brain running hard over a piece by Ezra Klein, and actually wrote two whole posts about it, "The rapid reverse polarizing of the public view of the individual mandate can tell us something deeply important and troubling about our politics," and "As long as groupthink encourages people to approach reality "independent of accuracy," is there any hope for reasoned discourse? (A: Nope)."

Paul Krugman on the 'Cartoon Physics' of the 2008 Crash

RIP: Nora Ephron, whose hilarious book Heartburn revealed that Carl Bernstein kept claiming he was going out to buy socks when he was sneaking around on the side.

Tom Tomorrow's Health care glossary

Via Ansible:
George Takei, cyberterrorist
How the ansible works

File 770's Extra Credit Bradbury Links include: "A much younger Bradbury - age 14, to be precise - appears in this photo with George Burns in 1934, taken in the days when he was submitting jokes to the Burns and Allen radio show. Decades later when they met again, George was astonished to learn that Ray was the same kid who once wrote for him. 'That was you!?' he exclaimed." PLUS! Bradbury in a Stan Freberg ad.

"Starry Night" in dominoes.

I've finally started watching Game of Thrones and mentioned to the Alpha Geek that the opening credits were a work of art in themselves. He'd never seen it, so he looked it up on YouTube and he said, "Oh, now I understand this."

Dept. of Hey, Susie, look what I found! "You Baby". (And this.)

17:35 BST

Sunday, 24 June 2012

It looks like Heaven's lost an eye

Pour Moi? Opulence full cup plunge braBra of the Week

This week's panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays will be Avedon Carol and David Dayen.

Bill Moyers with Yves Smith and Matt Taibbi - definitely pass it on.

How municipal bond dealers robbed Americans of billions - Matt Taibbi says that, "Someday, it will go down in history as the first trial of the modern American mafia."

Sam Seder interviewed Chris Hayes on The Majority Report about Chris' new book, Twilight of the Elites. This is valuable stuff about the myth - and danger - of "meritocracy".

Maybe after you listen to Sam's interview with Chris, you'll want to refresh your memory of the speech from Meet John Doe. As some once said, the business of our country is always safer in the hands of the American people than it is in the boardrooms of the elites.

Gaius Publius is looking for feedback on his Four Rules for managing an Effective Progressive Coalition:
1. No constituency in the Coalition takes a backward step to advance another's cause.
2. Members of the Coalition have each others' back. No constituency under attack stands alone.
3. The Coalition serves the Coalition, not the Democratic Party or any other group or goals.
4. The Coalition preferences political action to discussion. (This is the No Dithering Rule.)

The best reason I can think of to work to get out the vote for Norman Solomon is that the DCCC doesn't want him to win.

The Democratic leadership is working a little too hard to lose white working-class voters.

Way back in the dark ages, Margaret Sanger had a big love affair with Havelock Ellis, the world's most famous proponent of eugenics. They argued a lot about that subject, but she had more important things to do and went back to America to get The Pill invented. The right-wing, today, likes to make a great deal of that long ago tie between Sanger and the eugenics movement. But it wasn't liberal philosophers who actually enacted eugenics programs that forcibly sterilized thousands of "undesirables" - oh, no, that was someone else.

Drifty's reaction when Andrew Sullivan discovers other people.

Bush knew. Seriously, everyone predicted it.

I always check Suburban Guerrilla for links because Susie does a great blog, and she's been doing it in the face of considerable hassles for a long time. So, if you have it to spare, give to one of my favorite causes.

Farewell to Liz Shaw, the really smart Doctor Who companion.

Man, I wish I wasn't going to have to miss seeing Greg Palast and Warren Ellis at Blackwell's. And it looks like the rest of Greg's London schedule is carefully placed to clash with mine, too. Damn. But if you're in London this week, maybe you can drop by and get your book signed.

Congratulations to Northstar and Kyle for getting a full wrap cover for their wedding. Sign of the times: Although this is also an interspecies and interracial wedding, people only seem interested in the fact that it's not intersexual. Fancy that. I did find it weird that the person who we see refusing to attend the wedding is an alien - why does she care? (PS. The real issue about older comics readers is that they know Alan Scott, and they know him as a straight guy who had two kids who are themselves important characters in the DC universe. In the same way that original Earth 2 fans know The Huntress as the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. And they don't like having the characters they love completely re-written and stories they loved declared null and void. There's no problem with Northstar being gay, because he was never anything else.)

Mom's old typewriter (via)

How to solve the Alan Turing Google Doodle

"From a Distance"

14:26 BST

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

People are talking

Charles Pierce says, "The Lessons of Watergate Do Not Belong to Us. [...] But, if you happen to be passing by the Mount Transfiguration Baptist Church Cemetery in Aiken County down in South Carolina, you might stop by the grave of Frank Wills and say a little prayer for his soul. This weekend is his 40-year anniversary. It belongs to him, and to the three cops - public employees, as they are reckoned in the politics of the moment - who answered his call. Forty years ago this Sunday, they all did their jobs very well. In the 40 years since, as citizens of a self-governing republic, we've all done ours very badly."

The only real fiscal conservatives want liberal policies, because they are more efficient and cheaper.

Bruce Schneier notes that Stuxnet was around earlier than people think. (Also: If it stops being just a cheap thrill to find holes in security, it's a whole new ballgame.)

Cory Doctorow reviews Drugs Without the Hot Air: the most sensible book about drugs you'll read this year [...] The latest in this series is Drugs: Without the Hot Air, by David Nutt. If Nutt's name rings a bell, it's because he was fired from his job as UK drugs czar because he refused to support the government's science-free position on the dangers of marijuana, and because he wouldn't repudiate a paper he wrote that compared the harms of taking Ecstasy to the harms of horseback riding (or 'Equastsy')."

Obama's former law professor says Obama must be defeated if progressives want to defeat conservatives.
Also: "Remember the Ladies? [...] Use your lever and see what happens. The Democrats are in a tight spot. Let me spell it out for you: The Democrats entire electoral strategy, and that which they are pinning their hopes this year, depends on women staying on their side. In fact, you might almost say that all of the new laws enacted against women this year play right into their hands. At this point, they have no reason to try to curtail any of them. All they have to do is nothing and they will look good in comparison. But if you ever decide that's not good enough for you, they're going to start shitting their pants. You can get anything and anyone you want this year. Now is the time to ask for everything."

Map of Shame-Voting Rights-4-11-12

Irony still dead, Supreme Court division.

Via Making Light, I see that Jonathan Chait has supplied the shorter Sally Quinn: "Once Washington was a happy place where a girl and her mother could be groped simultaneously in good fun by a white supremacist. Sadly, it has all been ruined by Kim Kardashian and Ezra Klein." Also, a reminder that the root of the word "privilege" is "private law", and the dangers of The Fruit Punch Czar. And X-Men Guernica (via)

Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals didn't come out until 1971. Those '60s radicals hadn't read it, and many never heard of Alinsky until his name was suddenly being associated by the right-wing with Hillary Clinton. At this juncture more Tea Partiers have read it (yes, read it - because they're using it) than lefties ever did. Seeing excerpts from it turn up on the CoolTools site is amusing, but seeing the reaction in the comments is priceless.

RIP Victor Spinetti. Well, I saw both A Hard Day's Night and Help! several times on their first runs, so I'll always remember him fondly. Thank you, Victor.

Sometimes I just sit around and miss it. This would have been fun.

1981: Bob Shaw (yes, the very one who wrote "Slow Glass" and The Two-Timers and a bunch of other great stuff) on TV with Bryan Talbot in Celebration, and their story Encounter With a Madman, featuring Jenny Eclair. Part 1, Part 2. (via)

17:33 BST

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Something to make us all happy

Marcy Wheeler and David Waldman are the panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays this week - that should be hot.
On Thursday, Stephanie Kelton of New Perspectives discussed MMT on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd.
I'm recommending, for those who haven't yet, that you give a listen to Paul Newell and Stuart Zechman talking about New York politics last week. For one thing, it's fairly upbeat without being icky. For another, it provides some insight into how Democratic Party leaders arrange to lose, and how they might be defeated.

Jon Walker: "Voters simply don't want Social Security or Medicare cut. Raising taxes primarily on the rich and reducing military spending on needless wars are the few big deficit reduction ideas relatively acceptable to voters. The idea that there is some great silent majority in the electorate who wants their representative to get 'serious' on the deficit by cutting spending on popular government programs is a complete myth."

The thing that interested me most about the guy who heckled Obama during his immigration announcement was that it was the right question at the wrong occasion. Obama was talking about kids who were raised in America and continue to live there, but someone really should ask Obama the same question about his trade policies: "Why do you favour foreigners over American workers?" Because virtually every trade deal Obama makes is bad for Americans.

I really don't see how we're going to slow down a wholly undemocratic institution of the extremely unpopular recommendations in the Bowles and Simpson letter unless everyone finally starts deluging Congress with phone calls and, more importantly, walks away from their keyboards and gets out into the streets. A deluge of postcards to Democratic legislators saying, "I'm a Democrat and I will not vote for you if you show any support for the Bowles-Simpson recommendations or any further cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid," would be nice.

People need to understand that shows that appear to be apolitical really aren't. It's a shame Mr. Sorkin doesn't get that, either. (Ever notice that The West Wing always had plenty of room for right-wing talking points but, when it came to policy, no real rebuttal from the so-called liberals on the show?)

So, is fat shaming a liberal value, then?

Family values: Nevada Republicans favor brothels 3-1 over marriage equality.

4E Ackerman and Ray Bradbury in photographs - in color, and in old, old black & white.

Traffic live, 1976

20:35 BST

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The root of all evil

I get annoyed when I hear people talk about tax hikes or tax cuts as if all tax hikes are equal and all tax cuts are equal. When someone says, "You don't raise taxes during an economic downturn," there is no reason to take it seriously. Because it doesn't hurt at all to raise taxes on money that isn't working, and your average billionaire's money isn't working for the economy - tax it all you want. Hell, tax it into oblivion. No one should be a billionaire, anyway, they're automatic damage to a society. Frankly, I'm thinking there should be an earnings cap and maybe even a property cap, I just haven't worked out where to put it, yet. But I'm absolutely certain that no private individual needs more than a hundred million dollars. I just don't see how you can argue with that. Nor do I see any reason why unearned income shouldn't be taxed at a higher rate than earned income; it certainly shouldn't be taxed at a lower rate.

Meanwhile, raise the personal deduction on income to something that isn't ridiculous. Here's Wikipedia:

The personal exemption amount in 1894 was $4,000 ($80,000 in 2005 dollars). That tax was declared unconstitutional in 1895. The tax in its present form which began around 1913 had a personal exemption amount of $3,000 ($57,000 in 2005 dollars), or $4,000 for married couples.

Over time the amount of the exemption has increased and decreased depending on political policy and the need for tax revenue. Since the Depression, the exemption has increased steadily, but not enough to keep up with inflation. Despite the intent of the exemption, the amounts are also less than half of the poverty line.

There's a handy chart showing the 2012 exemption at a stunning $3,800, only $800 more than it was at a time when the steel mills were paying workers, what, two or three dollars a day?

For comparison, in the wild socialist high-tax misery of England, the Inland Revenue lets you make £8,105 before it starts taxing any additional income - that's about $12,000 or so at current rates.

* * * * *

There's a reason why I'm not glowing with pride at the wonderfulness of Obama's announcement that he is going to stop being such a hard-line enforcer of immigration laws against "DREAM" kids - because it's too little, too late, and because it's the lame, counterproductive way he does everything. He could have passed the DREAM Act in his first two years. He didn't. Instead, he made life more miserable than ever for immigrants and funny-colored people and helped catapult the right-wing propaganda. Even when he's not actively trying to do evil, he still does. Of course, he is also actively and deliberately doing evil when it comes to jobs and labor in general.

The trouble with prosecuting leakers is that it's not actually illegal to leak. So instead, they find extra-legal means to wreck your life, or throw up smoke about espionage. But we have a government so full of criminals that they live in fear of leakers - when they are not doing the leaking themselves. It's not always easy to work out whether the leaks are "official" (that is, handed out to journalists by "sources" carrying out the orders of the administration), or from real whistleblowers (that is, dedicated Americans who want to expose inefficiency and criminality). The latter, of course, are the ones the administration fears.

Rick Pearlstein on How Republicans Cheat Democrats - and Democrats Cheat Themselves - and how Democrats really threw Wisconsin away, the familiar narratives notwithstanding.

Long-time readers of The Sideshow will know that for people like me, at the dawn of the liberal blogosphere, Gene Lyons was one of the few bright spots in the newspapers who we could link to without throwing up. This, too, has changed in the Age of Obama, when he has joined Karl Rove as seeing liberal critics of terror policies as, yes, terrorist-coddlers.

The Powell of positive thinking - Colin Powell isn't losing any sleep over his crimes, but apparently, his glibness passed for statesmanship on The Daily Show. Or so I'm told - can't see the clips, of course.


Fear itself

Will the revolution be FaceBooked?

All best wishes to Stu Shiffman and Andi Schecter. The Caring Bridge page* says Stu had "an ischemic stroke (a blood clot in his brain) late on Wednesday. He was taken to Harborview Hospital, an excellent center for this, and is in the Neurological ICU there," where he has since "had an operation to relieve pressure on his brain, which went smoothly. Andi has been with him from the start. He has shown good cognitive signs, good bilateral function and some humor. This is a serious time, but we're guardedly optimistic. We expect much more information tomorrow (Saturday 16 June) and on Sunday." Later posts tell us that Stu managed to get out of bed, only to fall and break a knee and his nose. I'm sure this will all make a hilarious Shiffman cartoon when he's better - and I look forward to it - but right now it doesn't seem very funny to me.

Why is it impossible to connect to the internet for more than 20 minutes without being offered a free iPad?

17:05 BST

Thursday, 14 June 2012

World of delusions

I have to say I didn't feel terribly enlightened by this week's Virtually Speaking Science with Chris Mooney and Tom Levenson. Leaving aside the fact that I'm not sure this whole "conservative mind" stuff is terribly useful, it's probably wise to keep in your liberal little mind the fact that our neoliberal "centrist" wise men regard liberals as conservatives because we, you know, wish to conserve - or return to - a country that doesn't drive us all down to subsistence living. And they'd be right, if they didn't overlook that little flaw in their thinking that also regards New Deal America as an aberration in the natural order of things. In other words, they want to go back to the old ways because they are forward-looking, as opposed to we old-fashioned people who want to go back to the spanking-new idea of liberal government and freedom - you know, that stuff Jefferson and Madison were talking about - that was rather a departure from thousands of years of Our Betters making the masses miserable for our own good. That's the thing we call "progress" - movement toward more individual freedom for the masses, with greater democracy and more economic opportunity (and security) for all. And I found it further depressing that an hour of talking about how conservatives are the people who reject demonstrable fact while liberals are the people who are open to seeing things that are outside of our habits of mind, it ended with an apologia for Obama because, hey, look what he had to work with! Well, I know what he had to work with: A massive public rejection of conservative policies, control of the House and Senate, a mandate for a health care policy that would serve us all and for not screwing around with Social Security, and for withdrawing from Stupid Wars - a huge liberal mandate with which Obama could have done anything we wanted - or anything he wanted, which, unfortunately, was something else entirely. He could have done anything he wanted, and he did. That's the empirical fact. So, who is it, again, who is "reality-based"?

I hate to give Politico a link, but they've got Stiglitz on The vicious cycle of economic inequality and how rent-seeking is not wealth creation. (via)

Paul Craig Roberts is at Counterpunch saying the economy is coming unglued, but Paul Rosenberg is at Al-Jazeera saying that The slumbering giant of American democracy is waking up.

For me, of course, there was nothing controversial in Jeremy Scahill's criticism of Obama's kill list. But for some Democrats, no criticism of Obama is acceptable. It's all pretty depressing, actually.

Jon Schwarz reminds us of the glory days of the BBC (it ain't like that anymore - it's neoliberal just like everything else that isn't overtly "conservative") when they did a series in which John Kenneth Galbraith himself presented a history of the indiscipline of economics. What he didn't mention was that you can see the series on YouTube, starting here. (Also at A Tiny Revolution: why they don't love Hillary and the difference between Osama bin Laden and Glenn Greenwald. Plus! Lobbyists! Oh, I guess this sums up Democratic strategy. Where ya gonna go? What ya gonna do? Nothing.)

And, speaking of lobbyists, Ira Glass on just how shocking the corruption of our system has become.

Flying Blind, Robert Kuttner and James Lardner's report on the effects of deregulation of the airline industry (.pdf). This is really worth reading if you have any illusions about the advantages of airline deregulation.

From time to time I notice there's a bit of confusion hither-and-yon about the meaning of certain words and phrases we hear all the time and think we've picked up from context, but we haven't. (Even some pretty erudite people do this; it's not just illiterate dummies.) One of these is "hoi polloi", which some people take to mean its opposite, thus proving the dangers of using anything other than the plainest of English. The "hoi polloi" are the common people, the little people - you know, the ones who still have to pay taxes. Similarly, I've noticed confusion on some people's part over the meaning of "rank-and-file", as in "rank-and-file Democrats" - a term which does not refer to the party leadership or its hacks, but to ordinary people who are simply registered with their party and tend to vote for candidates in that party but have no real connection to its politicians and operatives. And now I see there are people who do not know what legislators and talking heads are talking about when they say "the public sector", and don't realize this is a reference to people who are civil servants (or "public servants") of some kind, who work for "the government" and are directly paid out of the public purse. Cops, teachers, and firefighters are obvious members of this group, along with all of the employees of the National Institutes of Health, the Park Service, and so on, and so on - and, of course, our elected "representatives". The private sector, at least in theory, gets its paycheck from various sorts of commercial activity - your plumber gets paid more directly by you, as does your grocery store, your drug store, etc. That division used to be more obvious back in the days before it became the habit of government to farm out work to private firms who gouged them for costs to do a shoddier job than government could do more efficiently on its own.

"Spanish activists raise money to sue bank boss at center of financial crisis [...] Bankia did not last even two years; how is it that Rodrigo Rato leaves his position, hastily and receiving millions in compensations without anyone in an institution having asked nothing before, without anyone asking for an explanation, and nobody asking for an investigation? The Spanish political class is complicit in covering up anything that could have happened, and even more troubling, will continue to do so." Also at Boing Boing, MC Escher's "Relativity" recreated in Star Wars Lego (my heart soars like a hawk!), and Joe Jackson and Iggy Pop sing Duke Ellington .

I can never resist an opportunity to sneer at either of these people and I'm delighted to find an article sneering at Matt Bai and Bob Kerrey together. (Not sure what Pareene means about these "political parties", though. What we have is tribes, but their leaders all seem to have the same agenda, so there's not much help there.) (via)

Editorial cartoons:
by Kate Palmer
by Steve Artley

Tom Tomorrow: Invisible-Hand-of-the-Free-Market-Man (via)

Cephalopod Blogging: here, and have a few more squids.

A sad and somewhat sudden farewell to our friend Jim Young, who joined us at the pub and for card games regularly when he was assigned to London for the State Department, but who, more importantly, greeted us in Chuch's limousine to Corflu. A toast: Mpls in '73.

17:20 BST

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The decline and fall (cont'd.)

Tonight on Virtually Speaking Sundays, Stuart Zechman talks with Paul Newell, New York Democratic District Leader, grassroots community organizer and reformer, about Paul's history in politics and the differences in perspectives between grass-roots, partisan Democrats and movement liberals. 6:00 PM Pacific, 9:00 PM EDT; listen live or later at the link.

Sally Quinn - yes, the same Sally Quinn who once launched a jihad against the Clintons because Hillary turned down an invitation to one of her dinner parties - has now written a piece lamenting the decline in civilization after she went to one of those Events of Important People and found herself forced to breathe the same air as nouveau riche riffraff like - ugh! - the Kardashians. The comment section has many educational contributions, but my favorite was this:

J. Pierpont Snively wrote:

I'm going to the Hamptons for the week-end, so dash it all, I will just have to miss one of those marvelous Washington cocktail get-togethers. And anyways, it's such a bother. Not like the good old days. What a good show it was, all the right sort of people. Not these ruffians and hooligans one has to associate oneself. And you find they hadn't even gone to Groton, or even Choate for that matter, so no use engaging them in reminiscences of one's youth. I was relating this to our dear old girl Muffie, who told me that the Seven Sisters now even accept men!

Yes, and it's frightfully difficult to get good help these days. My gin and tonic was brought to me by one of those damned wog servants, nasty little chap who's from one of those simply dreadful little countries in Africa that keep changing their names, who failed to include the requisite three icecubes. I'm just so glad Mater and Pater are no longer with us, they'd have been shocked at how simply awful things have become.

NASA's gift from NSA: "America's secretive spy agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, has been in possession of two space telescopes which are better than Hubble - and has now decided to gift them to NASA. Sources say that the reason for the hand-me-down is because the NRO - motto: 'Vigilance from above' - has found even better technology. The revelations leads to questions over how long the NRO has had the satellites - which are said to have 100 times the field of view of Hubble - and what exactly they were planning to use them for." Well, gosh, no wonder there's "no money" for NASA, eh?

I was interested in the way Obama's news conference has been reported as "catastrophic" because he uttered the words, "The public sector is doing just fine." Of course, Obama knows what he's doing - words guaranteed to stimulate someone like Jennifer Rubin to say, "The Republicans will have a field day, and rightly so. With 23 million Americans unemployed, unemployment at 8.2 percent and more than 500,000 fewer jobs than when Obama took office, the private sector is doing miserably. But in his universe, if government is borrowing more money to hire more public employees, all is well. Nothing Romney could say can be more damaging to Obama than the revelation that this is what the president actually believes." Obama hates the public sector, at least that part of it that is still trying to do its proper job. And, of course, the public sector is not doing "just fine", because under both Bush and Obama jobs and benefits have been devolving for over a decade and a full-scale assault on public workers is still in progress. And that assault is part of what is contributing to the ailments in the private sector. But you're not supposed to know that. Obedient progressives are supposed to be mollified by the assurance that the public sector is doing "just fine" while everyone else is supposed to continue to make it easy for him to make things even worse for the public sector and for private sector workers. Meanwhile, Obama wants a narrow victory, not a repeat of the overwhelming victory Democrats got in 2008 that forced them to make up embarrassingly bad excuses for doing what the Republicans want. If he was better than that, he'd have been saying all along, "The problem is not that the public sector is doing too well, but that the private sector is not carrying its own weight. It's not that school teachers make too much, it's that everyone else is not being paid enough." You'll never hear him say something like that, because he doesn't believe in paying people enough.

"As 'Fraudclosure' Continues, County Clerks Take Up Cudgel: Visit the office of John O'Brien, register of deeds in South Essex County, Massachusetts, and he'll eagerly show you stacks and stacks of documents. He calls it a crime scene. Why? These documents, a plethora of mortgage-related assignments, were used as legal justification for evicting millions of families from their homes through a deeply flawed foreclosure process, enabled by the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems industry consortium. There's nothing that gets O'Brien's Irish up more than a discussion of the rampant fraud he sees perpetrated on the court. [...] O'Brien is in good company on this bully pulpit. Other registers like Jeff Thigpen of Guilford County, N.C., have taken up the cudgel, declaring that MERS has effectively bypassed centuries of property law (an inheritance from English common law) mandating that real property be recorded at the time of transaction in a place accessible to the public: a registry." I still don't get the theory under which MERS was ever supposed to be legitimate. The law has always been perfectly clear that you have to register a transfer at the time of transfer and you have to pay the fee to the registrar. The idea that you can set up your own private transfer system to bypass that procedure makes no more sense than if I just bought a house and the previous owner and I declared ourselves a transfer facility and that therefore we didn't have to register the transfer and pay the fee.

Yves reports on An important case reversal in Alabama on a foreclosure case.

"Former Wall Street bailout watchdog Neil Barofsky blasted the banking industry on Friday for inflicting a litany of abuses on American homeowners, and issued a withering critique of the Obama administration for protecting those same banks at the expense of homeowners. 'Our entire housing system is built on a foundation of fraud,' said Barofsky, who served as special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program from 2008 into 2011. [...] But Barofsky levied particularly heavy criticism on the Obama administration, which he said broke a promise to Congress to fix mortgages in exchange for the TARP vote in 2008. As Barofsky recounted, Obama told lawmakers he would change bankruptcy laws to secure widespread foreclosure aid if they voted in favor of the bank bailout. But once in office, according to Barofsky, Obama abandoned the pledge. Other lawmakers, including Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), have previously presented a similar accounting of the events to HuffPost."

Matt Stoller places the blame for Tuesday's election results: "Now voters are making their own choice. Once again, this is a direct consequence of how Barack Obama has led the Democratic Party and redefined liberalism, into a party and an ideology that is defined by wage cuts, foreclosures, debt, and acceptance of dramatic political and economic inequality. Voters don't want to pay for a government and for government workers who they perceive as out of step with their interests. These pension cuts and the victory of Scott Walker-like candidates are consistent with the overall trend of liberals losing or throwing in the towel nationally. For example, prominent progressive incumbent Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, who chaired the progressive caucus in the House, just endorsed the establishment candidate in Northern California over the more outspoken anti-corporate candidate, Norman Solomon. Solomon is behind by a little over a thousand votes, with tens of thousands remaining to be counted. Meanwhile, New Mexico liberal Democrat Eric Griego, who ran ads demanding Wall Street bankers be sent to jail, lost his primary to a more moderate candidate. Sending bankers to jail is a popular position, so why didn't Griego's message work? It's simple. Voters don't trust any Democrat to credibly deliver on that or really any promise on economic justice. Obama has designed the party's policy framework specifically in opposition to economic justice. In that case, why not vote for the Republicans? It's a more consistent brand."

Joblessness in America is not just "structural".

Bill Maher says Democrats should learn from the Walker campaign to stick to their guns. That'd be right if the Democratic leadership's "guns" were any different from the Republicans' "guns". But they're really not.

Legislators in action:
Republican humor, or what happens when you pass that transvaginal peep-show law.
Democratic humor

Family matters: Ron Paul Supporters Are Fuming Mad at Rand Paul for endorsing Romney.

I was looking for a particular picture of a wave at Porthcawl from this weekend's Guardian with this story, but I couldn't find it on their website; however here are some others of the flooding in Wales.

Bruce Springsteen: last of the protest singers, is headed for London on Bastille Day, Woody's birthday. Well, maybe he's not the last, but he's certainly the biggest, and no one with his sentiments is likely to be given much air by our big media corporations anymore. (PS. Up yours, U2.)

John Peel, Captain Beefheart, who could ask for more? Jimmy Carl Black: "Frank's good, but Beefheart's the real thing."

16:30 BST

Friday, 08 June 2012

Unfriendly skies

CMike reminds me that I haven't bitched about flying in a while, mostly because I don't do it so much anymore. I used to regard flying as just another way to travel. I didn't love it, but it was faster than the train and I didn't have to wander endlessly down the corridor looking for the cafe car. And it made remote places accessible, which was cool. Of course, they used to let me put my guitar under my seat. Not anymore. Now I hate flying so much that when the BBC asks me to fly up to Scotland for a show, I ask them to send me by train instead. They used to act like I was crazy, at first, but they couldn't argue with the fact that it no longer costs me much time, since there's all that pre-boarding waiting around and security BS at the airport, and the seats on a train are just plain roomier and more comfortable. Plus, you can enjoy the scenery out the window (although that's not so much the case in America; it is in Britain, though).Which brings us to Doug Henwood:

The industry was deregulated in 1979. Though it's forgotten now, dereg - even though it's destroyed unions - was a project of Democrats. Their initial base was in Teddy Kennedy's office (as a wit once remarked, this shows Kennedy's merchant origins, since merchants - bootleggers in the case of the Kennedy family - always want to reduce transport costs). Dereg's intellectual guru was Alfred Kahn of Cornell, an advisor to Jimmy Carter, who signed dereg into law as president. Route and fare regulation was replaced by a free-for-all. The result has been disastrous.

A few numbers to make the point. Good stats on the industry (Annual Results: U.S. Airlines) begin in 1948. These tell us that the entire industry has cumulatively lost money since then. Add up all the gains and losses between then and 2011, and you get $37.7 billion in total losses. Adjust that for inflation, and you get $12.9 billion in total losses (2011 dollars). But what a difference deregulation has made. Between 1948 and 1978, the industry made $5.5 billion in total (or $28.7 billion in 2011 dollars). Between 1979 and 2011, it lost $37.7 billion (or $41.6 billion in 2011 dollars). Of course, I'm not here to defend corporate profits, but it's hard to see how an industry can survive under capitalism in a chronic state of loss.

Ah, but fares are down and ridership has grown faster, right? No.

No. Because to even approach the quality of a coach seat on a plane in the '70s, you have to fly first class today, which costs a boatload more than seats back in steerage did then or do now. And that's well before you have the added indignity of the post-911 security theater which seems designed to make you never want to get anywhere near an airport again.

* * * * *

Back-story notations: There is some confusion about the Confidence Fairy and where it came from. It's even more confusing when you realize that the people advancing this idea regard themselves as Keynesians because they reinterpreted something from Keynes. The main culprits seem to be George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, who used a Keynesian phrase, "animal spirits", to justify policies of which Keynes would never have approved. If you look at that Amazon page, you'll see the rather long list of laudatory reviews by everyone from the Cato Institute to Matt Yglesias to [*gasp*] Robert Kuttner (but not, it should be noted, the Heritage Foundation). They've all read it. They've all signed on to it. And they're all wrong.

One argument taking place among the MMT crowd is about a jobs guarantee. The argument appears to rest on the idea that you can only do one thing, but I see no reason why you can't have a jobs guarantee and a basic income guarantee.

Florida has become the new Selma - Voter suppression, at Current TV.

If you never read VastLeft's interview with Paul Street, now might be a good time.

I was trying to find an old link (Google isn't as easy as at used to be) and stumbled on something completely unrelated, which led to something else which found me this page at Tom Paxton's site in which he talks about his relationships with some of his most notable colleagues. One is Doc Watson, who liked Paxton's "Leaving London" so much that he added it to his own repertoire, like this.

Cool penguin photo

LOUDER THAN LOVE-The Grande Ballroom Story

17:27 BST

Tuesday, 05 June 2012

Rain, rain, go away

Yesterday, Sam Seder talked to Amanda Terkel about the Wisconsin recall (vote today!) on The Majority Report. Today's guest is Rachel Grady, whose film Detropia explores the destruction of Detroit.

Privatization: a way to steal taxpayers' money for the Jubilee. Atrios: "Aside from the obvious 'slave labor' element of this, using people like this for security by a private security is a complete scam. It's just collecting a bunch of money from the government to pretend to provide security. Security people need to be trained, have authority, and actually give a shit to serve any legitimate purpose. The only purpose here is 'take tax dollars and run.'" My breakfast companion: "Well, I'm glad Boris is in charge." Gosh, I just can't wait for 52 days of Olympics.

Radley Balko found an opinion by a Florida judge that ought to be required reading for every police commissioner and judge in the country, condemning police lying. But I was fascinated by the assumptions in the comment thread below in which people argued about why there was so much police lying. I even left a comment.

Just for the record, what some theologians like to call "eternal truths" aren't exactly eternal.

The Hospital Shakedown: "The detailed six volume report from Swanson's office highlights alleged misconduct so reprehensible that if found to be true, the company violated numerous federal and state laws. The company is alleged to have back-dated documents; shared with random employees the personal medical histories (as well as social security numbers and other personal data) of more than 20,000 patients; harassed patients at the hospital (often at their bedside) for payments; contacted relatives of patients; deceived patients who had credit in their account by demanding payment anyway and not disclosing that the company owed money to the patients; were careless with laptops, which were lost or stolen with unencrypted data; embedded employees among hospital staff so that patients believed they were sharing sensitive information with hospital staff; and that is not all." (via)

When someone finally looked at Eli Whitney's journals to suss out the origins of his famous invention, they found a note that someone called Ellie had come to him that day with an idea for "a kind of cotton gin." Elias Howe's journals turned up a similar credit for a woman who has also been lost to the history of the sewing machine. And now, to Xeni Jardin's annoyance, the NYT has informed us that, "MEN invented the Internet."

Somerby on or failing schools: "The New York Times has never reported those remarkable data from the NAEP! 'By the best national assessment we have available,' black fourth-graders are now scoring higher in math than their white counterparts from 1992! And no, there is no sign that cheating has been involved in this process. [...] Truly, that's an astonishing fact. And the New York Times has never reported it! Simply put, the New York Times doesn't care about low-income kids. Rather plainly, neither does the high lady Collins, although she does care about dogs."

Young people Challenge Alan Simpson to a debate on Social Security.


The gnome community has been hit by the infection: Zombie gnomes!

Neil Gaiman helps Sue Ellen with her story.

Paintings by Mary Jane Ansell
3D Apophysis Flowers by Chiara Biancheri
Scapes by Jakob Wagner
Charcoal Drawings by KLSADAKO

It's cold and wet and rainy and it doesn't feel much like Summertime - but the guitar is nice.

16:55 BST

Avedon Carol at The Sideshow, June 2012

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