Pope Francis said in the first peace message of his pontificate that huge salaries and bonuses are symptoms of an economy based on greed and inequality and called again for nations to narrow the wealth gap.
In his message for the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Peace, marked around the world on January 1, he also called for sharing of wealth and for nations to shrink the gap between rich and poor, more of whom are getting only "crumbs".
"The grave financial and economic crises of the present time ... have pushed man to seek satisfaction, happiness and security in consumption and earnings out of all proportion to the principles of a sound economy," he said.
"The succession of economic crises should lead to a timely rethinking of our models of economic development and to a change in lifestyles," he said.
Such forward-thinking radical commie leftism would get you banned from most D.C. cocktail parties and cable news circuits.
That more than anything lets you know the rot and corruption at the heart of our political and media culture. digby 12/13/2013 07:30:00 AM
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Colbert therapy: curing Huckabee headache
I'm pretty sure Mike Huckabee thinks he's a very funny guy generally --- and especially with his excessively lame "12 Days of Obamacare parody." So does Stephen. It's not pretty:
Called the Hutchinson Letters Affair, it began in December, 1772 when Benjamin Franklin, who was in England at the time, anonymously received a packet of thirteen letters. They were reports by Thomas Hutchinson, the lieutenant governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, to Thomas Whately, a leading member of the British government. In the letters, Hutchinson made some damning comments about colonial rights. Even more provocative, Hutchinson recommended that popular government be taken away from the colonists “by degrees”, and that there should be “abridgement of what are called English liberties”. Specifically, he argued that all colonial government posts should be made independent of the provincial assemblies. Finally, he urged his superiors to send more troops to Boston to keep American rebels under control.
Understanding the inflammatory nature of these letters, Franklin circulated the letters to his American friends and colleagues but on the condition that they not be published. Clearly in the public interest, at least from the point-of-view of American revolutionaries, the letters were published, in defiance of Franklin’s request, in the Boston Gazette in June of 1773.
As you can imagine, the patriotic citizens of Boston were furious, and in May 1774 Hutchinson fled the colony back to England before he could be tarred and feathered. As the American colonies were on the edge of rebelling against the authority of the Crown, this could easily have triggered a revolution, and while it didn’t, it certainly provided the insurgents with ammunition in their fight against England.
Having been severely embarrassed and having had its interests in the American colonies compromised, the British government set out to discover who leaked the letters. In December of 1773, three men were charged, two of whom fought a duel over the matter and were preparing to do so again. As it turned out, they had nothing to do with the Hutchinson letters, and in a letter to the London Chronicle, Franklin confessed: “Finding that two gentlemen have been unfortunately engaged in a duel, about a transaction and its circumstance of which both are totally ignorant and innocent, I think it incumbent on me to declare (for the prevention of farther mischief, as far as such a declaration may contribute to prevent it) that I alone am the person who obtained and transmitted to Boston the letters in question.” However, he refused to say who gave him the letters
On January 29, 1774, Franklin was hauled up before the Privy Council to explain why he had leaked letters in the ‘Hutchinson Affair’. He was accused of thievery and dishonor, called the “prime mover” of Boston’s insurgents and charged with being a “true incendiary”. Throughout the hearing, Franklin maintained a dignified silence. For his disloyalty to the Crown, he Privy Council held off sending Franklin the gallows or even sentencing him to an afternoon in the stocks. Instead, Solicitor General Alexander Wedderburn was satisfied with the tongue-lashing he meted out to Franklin and the next day the Board of Trade dismissed Franklin from his post as Deputy Postmaster General of the North America colonies.
Had the Espionage Act been in place in Great Britain in 1774, Franklin would not have been around to lead the War of Independence, nor would he have been around to raise vital funds to support the rebellion and we would not have seen his signature on the Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution.
Even the British royalists in the midst of a growing insurrection in one of their own colonies were more level headed than American leadership more than 200 years later. Kind of depressing.
The GOP will still regret their Obamacare intransigence
by David Atkins
The problematic rollout of Obamacare has seemed to validate the Republican strategy of doubling down on opposition to Obamacare. The polling suggests that the Democratic Party has suffered in the polls due to the rollout, both in terms of the generic Congressional ballot and the President's approval ratings. Still, as more and more people sign up for the program, the GOP's bet will likely still turn out to be a bad one--especially if Democrats go on offense about its strengths and advantage. Greg Sargent has the rundown:
But now top Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg – having just done extensive polling in 86 competitive House districts — is advising Dems they should go on offense over the Affordable Care Act. The key finding: Even though voters in the battlegrounds have extreme doubts about the law, they still prefer implementing it to the GOP stance of repeal. And after a month of crushingly awful press for Obamacare, opinions on this matter in the battlegrounds have barely budged since October.
Dem pollster Stan Greenberg will roll out the new polling on a conference call with reporters later this morning. The poll — sponsored by Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund and Democracy Corps – was conducted in 50 GOP-held districts and 36 Dem-held districts from December 3-8, right after the administration announced its fix to the website. The key findings:
* Offered a straight choice between “implementing and fixing” the health law and “repealing and replacing” it, voters in these 86 districts prefer “implementing and fixing” by five points, 49-44. That’s only a slight difference from October, when implement and fix led by seven, 51-44.
* Implement and fix is preferred, even though the poll also finds widespread skepticism remains about seeing the law’s benefits. Only 33 percent of these battleground voters say the law will make things better for them, versus 46 percent who say it will make things harder, leaving a sizable chunk uncertain.
Greenberg tells me that all of this indicates that skepticism of the law does not necessarily translate into support for the GOP repeal stance — or GOP gains – and so Dems should not let that skepticism divide them.
“For sure, the rollout mess hurt the president and shifted the focus away from the hated Republican Congress,” he says. “But in the battlegrounds, the voters are split down the middle. This is not a wedge issue. Voters still want to implement and fix. Democrats can, and should, engage on health care.”
This long piece by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker about the NSA programs post 9/11 and the Obama administration's policies toward them is a must read for anyone who cares about our constitution and the relationship between the governed and the government. It's is a fine overview of the evolution of the programs under the purview of Dick Cheney and then President Obama, much of it seen through the eyes of Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden. It's a riveting tale.
This particular bit of information is something I did not know before but it sheds light on Wyden's point of view (a point of view, by the way, that used to be shared by most liberals but today seems to be seen as rather quaint)
In 1961, when John F. Kennedy took office, he inherited a scheme from his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, to invade Cuba with a small band of exiles and overthrow Fidel Castro. The plot, devised by the C.I.A. and carried out in April of that year, was a disaster: the invading forces, shepherded by C.I.A. operatives, were killed or captured, and Castro’s stature increased.
The failed plot is richly documented in a 1979 book, “Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story,” written by Senator Wyden’s father, Peter. At the time of its release, the book, which won an Overseas Press Club award, was the most comprehensive account of the Bay of Pigs fiasco. (During a six-hour interview with Peter Wyden, Castro marvelled that the author “knows more about it than we do.”) One recent morning, when Ron Wyden and I were sitting in his office discussing the N.S.A., he leaped out of his chair and walked across the room to a small bookshelf. “I want to show you something,” he said, and handed me a tattered copy of his father’s book. It describes how the C.I.A.’s arrogance and obsessive secrecy, combined with Kennedy’s naïveté, led a young President to embrace a wildly flawed policy, resulting in an incident that the author likens to “Waterloo staged by the Marx Brothers.” In Ron Wyden’s view, the book explains a great deal about the modern intelligence community and his approach to its oversight.
Fast forward 48 years:
At the White House, Olsen and Powell told Obama of the problems. “I want my lawyers to look into this,” Obama said. He pointed at Holder and Craig. Olsen believed that the N.S.A. simply had difficulty translating the court’s legal language into technical procedures; it could all be fixed. Wyden believed that the court never should have allowed the N.S.A. to collect the data in the first place. In his view, the court’s unusually harsh opinion gave Obama an opportunity to terminate the program.
“That was a very, very significant moment in the debate,” Wyden told me. “Everybody who had been raising questions had been told, ‘The fisa court’s on top of this! Everything that’s being done, the fisa court has given the O.K. to!’ And then we learned that the N.S.A. was routinely violating the court orders that authorized bulk collection. In early 2009, it was clear that the N.S.A.’s claims about bulk-collection programs and how carefully those programs were managed simply were not accurate.”
On February 17th, about two weeks after the White House briefing, Olsen, in a secret court filing, made the new Administration’s first official statement about Bush’s phone-metadata program: “The government respectfully submits that the Court should not rescind or modify the authority.” He cited a sworn statement from Keith Alexander, who had replaced Hayden as the director of the N.S.A. in 2005, and who insisted that the program was essential. “Using contact chaining,” Olsen wrote, “N.S.A. may be able to discover previously unknown telephone identifiers used by a known terrorist operative . . . to identify hubs or common contacts between targets of interest who were previously thought to be unconnected, and potentially to discover individuals willing to become US Government assets.”
Judge Walton replied that he was still troubled by the N.S.A.’s “material misrepresentations” to the court, and that Alexander’s explanation for how they happened “strains credulity.” He noted that the fisa court’s orders “have been so frequently and systemically violated that it can fairly be said that” the N.S.A. program “has never functioned effectively” and that “thousands of violations” occurred. The judge placed new restrictions on the program and ordered the agency to conduct a full audit, but he agreed to keep it running. Olsen, and Obama, had saved Bush’s surveillance program.
It was the first in a series of decisions by Obama to institutionalize some of the most controversial national-security policies of the Bush Administration. Faced with a long list of policies to roll back—torture, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of the prison at Guantánamo Bay to hold suspected terrorists—reining in the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs might have seemed like a low priority. As core members of Al Qaeda were killed, the danger shifted to terrorists who were less organized and more difficult to detect, making the use of the N.S.A.’s powerful surveillance tools even more seductive. “That’s why the N.S.A. tools remain crucial,” Olsen told me. “Because the threat is evolving and becoming more diverse.”
The N.S.A.’s assurances that the programs were necessary seemed to have been taken at face value. The new President viewed the compliance problems as a narrow issue of law; it was the sole responsibility of the fisa court, not the White House, to oversee the programs. “Far too often, the position that policy makers have taken has been that if the intelligence agencies want to do it then the only big question is ‘Is it legal?’ ” Wyden said. “And if government lawyers or the fisa court secretly decides that the answer is yes, then the intelligence agencies are allowed to go ahead and do it. And there never seems to be a policy debate about whether the intelligence agencies should be allowed to do literally anything they can get the fisa court to secretly agree to.”
Any doubts about the new Administration’s position were removed when Obama turned down a second chance to stop the N.S.A. from collecting domestic phone records. The business-records provision of the Patriot Act was up for renewal, and Congress wanted to know the Administration’s position.
It was one thing to have the Justice Department defend the program in court. But now Obama had to decide whether he would publicly embrace a section of the Patriot Act that he had criticized in his most famous speech and that he had tried to rewrite as a senator. He would have to do so knowing that the main government program authorized by the business-records provision was beset by problems. On September 14th, Obama publicly revealed that he wanted the provision renewed without any changes. “At the time of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, there was concern that the F.B.I. would exploit the broad scope of the business-records authority to collect sensitive personal information on constitutionally protected activities, such as the use of public libraries,” a Justice Department official wrote in a letter to Congress, alluding to one of Obama’s former concerns. “This simply has not occurred.” The letter, which was unclassified, did not explain the details of the metadata program or the spiralling compliance issues uncovered by the court.
Wyden’s early hope, that Obama represented a new approach to surveillance law, had been misguided. “I realized I had a lot more to do to show the White House that this constant deferring to the leadership of the intelligence agencies on fundamental policy issues was not going to get the job done,” he said.
We'll be lucky if the worst thing that happens from blindly empowering the spooks like this is the Bay of Pigs. The stakes really couldn't be higher.
Ryan Lizza has a long review of the dragnet programs. As far as the phone dragnet, it’s a great overview. It’s weaker on NSA’s content collection (in a piece focusing on Ron Wyden, it doesn’t mention back door searches) and far weaker on the Internet dragnet, the technical and legal issues surrounding which he seems to misunderstand on several levels. It probably oversells Wyden’s role in bringing pressure on the programs and treats Matt Olsen’s claims about his own role uncritically (that may arise out of Lizza’s incomplete understanding of where the dragnet has gone). Nevertheless, it is well worth a read.
Hillary Clinton [declared] that the banker-bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish. ... [S]he told the audience, in effect: We all got into this mess together, and we're all going to have to work together to get out of it. What the bankers heard her to say ... Beating up the finance industry isn't going to improve the economy-it needs to stop. ... (Clinton's minimum fee for paid remarks is $200,000). ... 'It was like, "Here's someone who doesn't want to vilify us but wants to get business back in the game,"' said an attendee. 'Like, maybe here's someone who can lead us out of the wilderness.' ...
Right. Business hasn't been "in the game." Obviously that means being "in the game" isn't about making money. They're making boatloads of it. It's about everyone in the country kissing their asses and telling them how wonderful we all think they are. And it's about the government lifting any possible impediment to them doing whatever they want to do without even the remotest possibility of being held accountable if it fails.
And it would appear they believe Clinton is on their side in this. (Or they want to believe it. I'm not prepared to believe it based solely on this report. It's second hand and who knows what the agenda is.) But because of the gargantuan cost of running a presidential campaign it's probably inevitable that candidates of both parties will come hat in hand to these delicate flowers and give them whatever props they feel they need.
And I'm afraid that Hillary Clinton is going to have to do a gut check on this because her base does not want to hear the kind of pandering they reported in this story. She may just do it anyway, under the impression that her base has nowhere to go. But it will be ugly in a way I doubt any candidate wants. And I hope her campaign reads the rest of that article. These sensitive banker boys have a serious crush on their manly man Chris Christie so I honestly don't know what trying to give these boys an emotional happy ending will buy her. I think they want to come out of the closet and have a real boyfriend this time, one who will proudly be seen in public with them. Clinton will not be able to give them what they need.
Both chambers of the Michigan legislature have passed a measure banning insurance coverage for abortion in private health plans unless women purchase a separate rider. And because of the way the legislation was put forward, it is set to become law despite the objections of both the state’s Democratic minority and the veto of the Republican governor.
In a charged hearing Wednesday, Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer told the story of her own rape and called the legislation “one of the most misogynistic proposals I’ve ever seen in the Michigan Legislature,” according to the Detroit Free Press. The fact that women are required to plan in advance to have an abortion, Whitmer said, “tells women who are raped … that they should have thought ahead and bought special insurance for it.”
“The fact that rape insurance is even being discussed by this body is repulsive,” she added.
“There are people in this chamber who have lived through things you can’t even imagine,” said Whitmer, referring to a colleague who had a wanted pregnancy that ended in abortion. Then she tearfully told her own story.
Yes, Michigan ladies you'll need to insure yourself against pregnancy from rape because the misogynistic pigs of the Michigan legislature think women should be forced to give birth to their rapists children. This is Handmaid's Tale come to life.
Michael Sherer wrote what would have been the cover story on Edward Snowden had he been chosen TIME's man of the year. And it's good. I urge you to read the whole thing but I thought I would just highlight some of the quotes from Snowden himself:
“There is a far cry between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement—where it is targeted, it’s based on reasonable suspicion, individualized suspicion and warranted action—and the sort of dragnet mass surveillance that puts entire populations under a sort of an eye and sees everything, even when it is not needed. This is about a trend in the relationship between the governing and governed in America.”
“The NSA is surely not the Stasi, but we should always remember that the danger to societies from security services is not that they will spontaneously decide to embrace mustache twirling and jackboots to bear us bodily into dark places, but that the slowly shifting foundation of policy will make it such that mustaches and jackboots are discovered to prove an operational advantage toward a necessary purpose.”
“The President could plausibly use the mandate of public knowledge to both reform these programs to reasonable standards and direct the NSA to focus its tremendous power toward developing new global technical standards that enforce robust end-to-end security, ensuring that not only are we not improperly surveilling individuals but that other governments aren’t either.”
"In general, if you agree with the First Amendment principles, you agree with encryption. It’s just code. Arguing against encryption would be analogous to arguing against hidden meanings in paintings or poetry."
“What we recoil most strongly against is not that such surveillance can theoretically occur but that it was done without a majority of society even being aware it was possible.”
*Note: I did find it telling that Mark Zuckerberg was portrayed as the "light" to Snowden's "dark". But then Zuckerberg is stupid rich so I suppose in our culture that automatically makes him someone with a positive optimistic vision.
Democrats shouldn't be crowing about the unemployment rate
by David Atkins
There's a growing political phenomenon out there of Democrats saying nice things about the economy because unemployment seems to be going down somewhat. That's a big mistake.
Americans who aren't part of the economic elite and the asset class can see and feel that the economy is still terrible. The official unemployment rate may be decreasing, but it doesn't feel that way to most--either because the unemployment rate isn't being measured like it used to, or simply because underemployment is so prevalent that it barely matters if you're making $30,000 a year at a service job if you used to make $70,000 a year at a skilled one that no longer exists. You may be "employed" per the official records, but the economy isn't going to feel any better to you.
The country still hasn't recovered from the worst economy since the Great Depression caused by Wall Street's reckless greed and overleverage. The economy would be worse today under McCain/Romney, but both parties have been far too obsequious to the wealthy elites in general.
The entire economy is run on behalf of the asset class. Wage earners have been getting dumped on for the last 40 years, at least since Ronald Reagan if not before. Democrats have better than Republicans, certainly, but not even Democrats have done a great job of addressing these issues over the last 40 years or so.
That's it's important that the Democratic Party rally behind the banner of Elizabeth Warren and others like her. We need to acknowledge the reality that the system is still broken, and that while six years of a Democratic President have saved us from the depredations of the Tea Party, they still haven't begun the right the ship of state. We need to acknowledge that both parties have frankly been far too cozy with the economic elite, and haven't done the work to put the needs of Main Street ahead of the needs of Wall Street.
We need to boost wages in this country, and stop the runaway flood of money away from the middle class and into the coffers of the 1%. We need to either stop corporations with record stock prices making record profits from abusing and slashing their workforce, or we need to figure out a way to reorient the economy so that it works for regular people in spite of the challenges in the labor market.
It may well be that globalization, mechanization and deskilling of the labor market means that the new "natural" employment rate is only 90%. It may well be that companies simply don't need to hire workers at decent wages anymore to make profit.
That doesn't mean we have to put up with it, or shrug our shoulders as all the money pools at the very top where only skilled workers with advanced degrees can live decent lives.
Just as we changed the rules to prevent child labor, prostitution and the heroin trade, we can prevent the abuse of the American worker by the financial sector, too. Our economic rules were artificially constructed for the industrial economy of the 20th century. We can--and *should*--change them for the information economy of the 21st.
The other day I linked to a video featuring what turned out to be a bit of activist street theatre (or a hoax, depending on your point of view...)A lot of people were offended that anyone would be so clumsily O'Keefish, one even demanding that I apologize for using the "slur" --- "nasty Google boy."
Just got back to SF. I've traveled around the world and I gotta say there is nothing more grotesque than walking down market st in San Francisco. Why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless, drug dealers, dropouts, and trash I have no clue. Each time I pass it my love affair with SF dies a little.
The difference is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it's a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that's okay.
In downtown SF the degenerates gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs, get rowdy, they act like they own the center of the city. Like it's their place of leisure... In actuality it's the business district for one of the wealthiest cities in the USA. It a disgrace. I don't even feel safe walking down the sidewalk without planning out my walking path.
You can preach compassion, equality, and be the biggest lover in the world, but there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us. It's a burden and a liability having them so close to us. Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I'd consider thinking different, but the crazy toothless lady who kicks everyone that gets too close to her cardboard box hasn't made anyone's life better in a while.
It's hard to believe this isn't a hoax too, but he is a real guy. And he later apologized and removed the post from his Facebook page.
"If they added the smallest iota of value I'd consider thinking different."
His contribution to the economy appears to be running an event planning company that organizes contests for new app inventors and then facilitates "parties" for the winners to meet investors. I guess that adds "value" but it's not like he's Steve Jobs or anything. In fact, the John Galt guys probably look at him the same way he looks at the crazy toothless: a parasite or, at best, a moocher. Funny how that works.
A media blackout on detailing the exact number of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay has been put in place because the protest was too successful at generating media attention, a public affairs official has told Al Jazeera.
Detainees at the controversial detention center launched the strike to protest their conditions and the fact that many of them have been held without charge for more than a decade, though scores have been cleared for release.
The dramatic protest has been successful in generating headlines across the globe, and at one time more than 100 prisoners were involved as daily updates were issued by camp officials. But with the number of protesters dwindling, military officials last week made the decision to stop releasing figures for those remaining on hunger strike — even when specifically asked by journalists.
“It’s been a self-perpetuating story,” said Cmdr. John Filostrat, director of public affairs for Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, in an interview with Al Jazeera at the base. “It’s (the strikers') desire to draw attention to themselves, and so we’re not going to help them do that.”
Religious leaders and doctors are weighing in on the subject of alleged torture of prisoners, following three suicides at Gitmo called "an act of asymmetical warfare" by a U.S. admiral, and a "p.r. move" by a U.S. diplomat.
Even though the Bush administration has said that it does not torture detainees and does not condone the torture of detainees, a group of religious leaders and other Americans – reportedly including former President Jimmy Carter – has taken out a full page ad in the New York Times denouncing any U.S. torture.
The American Medical Association is also out with a statement on the subject, making it clear that any doctors who participate in such activities are violating the code of medical ethics which they have sworn to uphold.
Two Saudis and one Yemeni hanged themselves Saturday, the first successful suicides at the base after dozens of attempts at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military prison in Cuba for terror suspects – many held for years after being arrested during the war in Afghanistan.
So far, only 10 detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been charged with crimes.
Military officials said the suicides were coordinated acts of protest, but human rights activists and defense attorneys said the deaths signaled the desperation of many of the 460 detainees held on suspicion of links to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The Bush administration publicly backed off the contention that these prisoners were engaged in a "PR" campaign. I wonder if this administration will as well.
That link is from eight years ago. At the time they were insisting that Guantanamo held no innocent prisoners. In fact, they were "the worst of the worst." Pretty sure we know that wasn't true.
The horror that is Bitcoin and its libertarian dream
by David Atkins
Bitcoin is the biggest thing going in Libertarian-land. A currency that goes unregulated and untaxed by federal governments, it's the grand new hope of the cyberlibertarian community. Because Bitcoin operates under the regulators' radar, life on Bitcoin provides a pretty decent sense of what a purely libertarian world would look like, free of economic regulation and taxation.
Bitcoin is most useful to criminals.
Currently, for ordinary people, cash and credit work just fine. While some mainstream businesses do take Bitcoin, there is no compelling reason — yet — for ordinary people to use it. If you're a criminal, however, there are very compelling reasons to use it: you can transfer vast sums of cash completely anonymously. Cash transfers are a real problem for criminals. When you can't use bank accounts, lugging around vast sums of cash gets old pretty quickly. Bitcoin solves that. So Bitcoin is very, very empowering for criminals.
There is a Bitcoin crime wave going on right now.
Given that Bitcoin is good for criminals, it should not be surprising that those criminals are targeting other Bitcoin users for thefts. The most spectacular theft so far is the Sheep Marketplace robbery, in which one hacker appears to have emptied a massive Bitcoin marketplace of up to $220 million in Bitcoins. Note that Sheep Marketplace was basically a trading post for drug dealers. Bitcoin exchange and account thefts are very common. Here's a potted history of recent Bitcoin capers.
Bitcoin as a currency is horribly unstable.
This chart (above) tells you all you need to know. One day you're rich, when Bitcoin approaches $1,200; the next day half your wealth is wiped out as it plummets to $700. Bitcoin isn't backed by any government's bonds or central bank gold. It's literally an asset without an underlying asset. So its price is determined entirely by its flows.
Bitcoinistan makes the Weimar Republic look sedate. Even if you could live with the crime, the instability makes transactions wildly unfair to the party on the downside.
Bitcoin has produced comical wealth inequality.
Libertarians don't care about inequality, of course. They see it as a reflection of individuals' natural talents, and as an incentive to work harder. But even the most hardcore free marketeer ought to blanche at the incredible level of inequality already endemic to Bitcoin. Just 47 individuals own nearly one-third of all Bitcoins. About 927 people control half the entire currency. There are just over 1 million Bitcoin holders — the vast majority of them own mere crumbs.
Bitcoin hoarding could produce a cartel that controls all Bitcoin.
A study from Cornell has claimed that if Bitcoin miners cooperate, they could end up controlling most Bitcoins and thus control the currency's price. The cartel could beggar or enrich all Bitcoin holders overnight, depending on how they trade it.
There's much more in Jim Edwards' article, including mass instability and assassination cartels.
And this, ultimately, is where the far extremes of the political universe mirror one another and fail. Human beings evolved to be selfish animals--if not purely for themselves, then at the least on behalf of their little in-groups. Both libertarian and communist paradises fail because people are far too selfish to make either one work, and because human life and dignity are incredibly cheap when put either on the unfettered free market or in the hands of unaccountable politburos.
The primary political imbalance we have in the world today is that after the fall of Communism the left generally learned that lesson, understanding the nuances of human nature and the need to allow the public and private sectors to occupy their appropriate roles. Progressives and neoliberals argue stridently over the nature and extent of those roles, but what binds us together under the big tent of the Democratic Party is the understanding that both the public and private sectors of society need to be healthy and in an uneasy detente for human economic systems to work. Human society will never be perfect because the human animal will never be perfect.
The Right never learned that lesson. A huge portion of the Right believes in their Galt's Gulches and the vision of a perfect society without those nasty "others" in it, never had their own ideological chastening, and simply want to destroy the public sector entirely. That's what makes them so radical and dangerous.
In the neoliberal utopia, all of us are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping track of each and every facet of our economic lives. That, in fact, is the openly declared goal: once we are made more cognizant of our money, where it comes from and where it goes, neoliberals believe we’ll be more responsible in spending and investing it. Of course, rich people have accountants, lawyers, personal assistants, and others to do this for them, so the argument doesn’t apply to them, but that’s another story for another day.
The dream is that we’d all have our gazillion individual accounts — one for retirement, one for sickness, one for unemployment, one for the kids, and so on, each connected to our employment, so that we understand that everything good in life depends upon our boss (and not the government) — and every day we’d check in to see how they’re doing, what needs attending to, what can be better invested elsewhere. It’s as if, in the neoliberal dream, we’re all retirees in Boca, with nothing better to do than to check in with our broker, except of course that we’re not. Indeed, if Republicans (and some Democrats) had their way, we’d never retire at all.
True. But in this neo-liberal dream most of us won't live to a ripe old age because we'll die early of stress-related diseases. Which is a feature, not a bug. After all, it's that extended life expectancy that's causing all the trouble.
He goes on to explain that it's not that the left thinks socialism is a path to utopia. Indeed he describes it like this: "I think the point of socialism is to convert hysterical misery into ordinary unhappiness. God, that would be so great."
Wouldn't it though?
This complexity is more than just vexing, I'm afraid. I know a lot of people for whom it's simply impossible. They don't think in these "market terms" and trying to navigate all the bells and whistles the wonks think are so terrific because it gives people "choice" are painful exercises in futility. It may be that the health care websites turn out to be just simple enough (and the costs of failure so high) that people will force themselves to claw their way through the system to come out on the other side with something they fully understand and which makes sense for their current financial and health status. But I have to believe that a good many folks are going to get in there, pick the lowest prices (or use some other metric that doesn't necessarily reflect a measured analysis of their needs) and call it a day. And that's if they do it at all.
I keep coming across a peculiar phenomenon, especially among people I know who are getting older. They come into a little money, an inheritance or an insurance settlement say. And rather than being thoughtful about what to do with it, by investing in a portfolio or even a piece of property that will likely increase in value, they spend every penny of it almost immediately. I think they are so daunted by the complexity of being financially responsible that they want to get rid of the money as quickly as they can so they don't have to think about it anymore. It's not like it used to be where you could just put your money in a savings account and feel like you're saving your money. There's intense pressure to "be smart" with your money and yet the world of money is ever more arcane and impenetrable. A lot of people just say to hell with it and live in the now. As Robin says, "we’re either athletes of the market or the support staff who tend to the race."
I'm always a little bit confused by people who revere the corporate beehive and worship the markets because it's not that I can't understand how these systems work, it's that I find it so tedious and unpleasant to do it that the idea it represents "freedom" is simply ridiculous. It's the opposite. But then that's probably the point.
“I don’t think that Barack Obama believes that the U.S. is an exceptional nation,” Cheney complained on Fox and Friends. “Nobody cares much in the Middle East anymore what the U.S. thinks because we don’t keep our commitments.”
The former vice president moved to Iran and without mentioning any specific criticisms of the agreement, claimed it’s bad because of unrelated health care issues. “We don’t follow through and Iran we’ve got a very serious problem going forward and a deal now been cut,” he said. “The same people that brought us you can keep your insurance if you want are telling us they’ve got a great deal in Iran with respect to their nuclear program. I don’t believe it.
Keep in mind that this man is not just some talk radio gadfly. He spent 8 years at the highest level of government and was give free rein by the halfwit president who picked him, to do pretty much whatever he wanted. Recall that on 9/11 this man basically took over the government and ordered the shoot-down of commercial airplanes despite the fact that the president was in good health and fully accessible. Also keep in mind that the president refused to be interviewed alone by the members of the 9/11 commission and insisted that Cheney be at his side.
Dick Cheney had top level access to the entire US spying apparatus for nearly a decade, as did various loyal henchmen such as Scooter Libby and David Addington. What on earth makes people believe that someone like this could never abuse such access? In addition to his imperious assumption of authority on 9/11, his administration took office through a very dubious and undemocratic process, he was known for his visits to CIA headquarters where he made sure that information justifying an unjustifiable war was "stove-piped" and he was proved to be someone who would punish dissenters without compunction. And yet I still hear people pooh-poohing the Snowden revelations as if it's nothing that the government is collecting and hoarding extremely private, personal information on just about everyone because they just can't believe anyone in government could possibly have such ill-intent as to use it for the wrong reasons.
I sure wish I still believed in such fairy tales. Life would be so much simpler.
A Christmas compromise tradition. Let's get creative!
Greg Sargent says the local media around he country are pounding on the expiration of Unemployment Insurance and that Republicans are feeling the pressure. He notes that GOP leaders we a little bit tepid in their defense of the expiration:
Will any of this matter to Republicans? It’s hard to say, since so many are cosseted away in such safe districts that tough headlines may not matter to them. But the public statements from GOP leaders on the extension have seemed tepid, suggesting their opposition isn’t really visceral. It seems like they’d love for this issue to go away. Boehner has said he’s willing to look at an extension if the White House offers a “plan,” which seems like he’s open to some kind of trade. Of course, conservatives who are already scorching GOP leaders over the deal will only get more outraged if they agree to a UI extension, making it that much harder.
Still, the coverage could get a lot worse, once the deadline looms and human interest stories multiply about folks facing the loss of benefits during the holiday season, at a time when reporters have little else to write about. I wouldn’t give up on Republicans agreeing to the extension just yet.
They will, at the very least, require that UI be paid for in some way. Ryan's entire pitch to his caucus is that this is still a deficit reduction budget that slashes spending in deliciously painful ways. It's possible they could agree to require the cuts beyond ten years as they did with some of the other spending restorations (which would probably be best since anything that goes out 10 years might as well not exist.) But it's probably a good idea to think about what pound of flesh these GOPers might demand --- and what the centrists and moderates might think is a fairly good idea as well. The whole point of these UI extension battles in the past few years has been to use the threat of throwing people out in the street to blackmail progressives into signing on to something awful. Now that the Bush tax cuts have been permanently dealt with it's not as obvious a ploy as it used to be.
So what do the New Dems and the conservatives really want these days that could conceivably fall under the heading of deficit reduction? Lord knows the Democrats can talk of little other than raising taxes these days (just don't call them tax n' spend liberals) so maybe a tax on the poor would be nice compromise. There must be something they can do to stick it to liberals for Christmas. Debtors prison? Mandatory, random drug testing for federal workers? Let's get creative!
The National Security Agency is secretly piggybacking on the tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, using "cookies" and location data to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance.
The agency's internal presentation slides, provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, show that when companies follow consumers on the Internet to better serve them advertising, the technique opens the door for similar tracking by the government. The slides also suggest that the agency is using these tracking techniques to help identify targets for offensive hacking operations.
For years, privacy advocates have raised concerns about the use of commercial tracking tools to identify and target consumers with advertisements. The online ad industry has said its practices are innocuous and benefit consumers by serving them ads that are more likely to be of interest to them.
The revelation that the NSA is piggybacking on these commercial technologies could shift that debate, handing privacy advocates a new argument for reining in commercial surveillance.
According to the documents, the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, are using the small tracking files or "cookies" that advertising networks place on computers to identify people browsing the Internet. The intelligence agencies have found particular use for a part of a Google-specific tracking mechanism known as the “PREF” cookie. These cookies typically don't contain personal information, such as someone's name or e-mail address, but they do contain numeric codes that enable Web sites to uniquely identify a person's browser.
In addition to tracking Web visits, this cookie allows NSA to single out an individual's communications among the sea of Internet data in order to send out software that can hack that person's computer. The slides say the cookies are used to "enable remote exploitation," although the specific attacks used by the NSA against targets are not addressed in these documents.
Nice imagery there.
I'm just glad the government always knows who's really naughty and who's really nice or a good citizen might worry about this. Unless you're searching Amazon for pressure cookers or something obviously nefarious like that, why would they care?
In the wake of the fact that Snowden had been named a top ten finalist for TIME's Man of the Year, I'm hearing that people are just sick of him and that nothing he's revealed has done anything important other than embarrassing diplomats overseas (which is actually the worst thing evah ...) This whole spying thing is just so totally boooooring. I'm sure they're all very much relieved TIME named a Catholic pope who's following the teachings of the Bible instead.
The good news is that unless the government decides to put you on its radar for some reason and unless you do some searches on the internet they consider to be suspicious or write some emails they might consider to be too radical I'm sure you have nothing to worry about. Keep calm and carry on.
Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania, said the debate [within the Democratic Party] is really between “economic populists” and “economic realists,” and he added that he doubts it will come to much.
“You can certainly do things to promote a fairer economic reality, but it can’t be the be-all and end-all of the government,” he said. “Wait and see how populist Bill de Blasio is when he actually has to govern.”
“Look at the turnout in New York,” he added. “It’s not like you had people pouring out of their homes to support the populist message…If Elizabeth Warren ran in the Democratic presidential primary, she gets 15-18 percent, tops.”
Then he took a big bite of Dacquoise cake from Patisserie Poupon and delicately licked his fingers.
Voters are angry. Very angry. And no wonder: Republicans are crazier than ever, while the ACA rollout hasn't exactly made Democrats a beacon of competence.
Still, voter anger is about much more than recent events. It's about the broader failure of elites in our society, and the gnawing sense that the middle class is disappearing even as the elites do very well in spite of their incompetence.
Those whose intuitions lean rightward blame this incompetence on government and academic elites, and suspect that the middle class is suffering because the less fortunate are coddled. That these people are deluded, ignorant and hateful doesn't reduce the passion of their conviction. Those whose intutions lean leftward put the blame where it belongs: on elites of most sectors of society, while understanding that the wage-earner class is suffering at the hands of the asset class.
What almost everyone knows, however, is that the comfortable centrists are getting it very wrong. When people are suffering they don't vote for the status quo. They vote for change that reflects their own suspicions about the way the world works. For some that may look like the Tea Party. For others that will look like a progressive over a corporate Democrat.
The Third Way is upset because they're scared and don't understand why they're losing their grip on politics. The comfortable Republican establishment has been similarly fretting about the Tea Party crowd. The comfortable corporatists of both parties have been shocked to learn that the middle class isn't about to go quietly into that good night.
When voters are angry, populism will rule. If the centrists want to remain relevant, they're going to need to figure out how to actually improve the fortunes of wage earners. Otherwise they're going to find themselves on the outside looking in, either at a far-right totalitarian government, or at a 2nd New Deal government under an Elizabeth Warren or similar. Personally, I'm all for the latter. But I also fear the former enough to hope that the comfortable centrist asset class sees the handwriting on the wall well enough to drop its austerity fetish, stop feeding quite so greedily at the trough, and actually set themselves to righting the balance of the economy for a change.
They won't, of course. But one can hope they at least have that degree of self-preservation.
So it looks like Capitol Hill may get to have a holiday this year:
The deal, which was negotiated over the past few weeks by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), would set spending for the next fiscal year at $1.012 trillion and increase it to $1.014 trillion the year after that. Should their budget framework actually pass through Congress, it would represent an increase in federal spending by $45 billion in one year and $63 billion over the course of two years.
To pay for those increases, Murray and Ryan agreed to hike airline travel fees and require both federal workers and military personnel to contribute a greater portion of funds to their pensions, among other provisions.
The deal does not include an agreement to raise the nation's debt limit, which the Treasury has forecast will be hit between March and June.
I'll be very surprised if the military hawks don't have a meltdown over retiree pensions, but maybe they've worked it out. (Obviously, federal workers are just out of luck.)
No unemployment insurance extension which is really too bad. And despite what everyone's saying on TV about sequestration being lifted hi-hip hoorah, the fact is that they had to rob Peter to pay Paul. Paul Ryan that is:
The deal is very close to the halfway compromise Murray dangled at the start of the talks, coming in between the Senate's budget level of $1.058 trillion and the House's $967 billion. But to get Ryan to agree to undo some of the draconian, across-the-board sequestration cuts, Murray apparently had to find money elsewhere. The budget framework produces savings and non-tax revenue totaling $85 billion, $20 billion to $23 billion of which would be devoted to deficit reduction.
"As a conservative I think this is a step in the right direction," Ryan said. "What am I getting out of this? I'm getting more deficit reduction."
The $63 billion in sequestration relief would be split 50/50 between defense programs, which were set to take a greater hit in the next year, and domestic programs. Murray and Ryan's framework only eliminates a small portion of the roughly $180 billion in sequestration cuts set for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, but Congress itself would be granted greater power to administer the remainder of the cuts...
"While modest in scale, this agreement represents a positive step forward by replacing one-time spending cuts with permanent reforms to mandatory spending programs that will produce real, lasting savings," Boehner said in a statement.
Some conservative groups are kvetching about shifting the numbers around but Ryan seems very confident they won't raise a fuss.
Murray meanwhile is offering federal workers the most fatuous explanation ever: yes you've already given up your raises and didn't get paid for the furloughs and the shutdown, but if you don't agree to give up some of your pensions on top of all that our previous round of budgetary malpractice will remain in effect and it's even worse. See, we're looking out for you.
It's a tiny deal, which is always better than a big deal when you're dealing with these Republicans. But large spending cuts remain the bipartisan objective of the budget as far as the eye can see. At least they've taken their hands off the so-called entitlements for the time being.
Now it has to pass congress. And then we have the debt ceiling. Merry Christmas.
This piece by Amy Davidson in the New Yorker about the latest NSA revelations about the cell phone tracking is a must read. I particularly appreciate this:
What would Joseph McCarthy have done if he could have looked up who had been in a particular college dorm room on a day, twenty years before, when students were talking about socialism? What if people got used to the idea that the government could and would do this, and so picked up the pace and turned away when they saw people gathering to listen to a speaker, or reading a sign on a wall, and never heard or saw what was being said? (The freedom to assemble is linked, in the First Amendment, to the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”) You would know that the government was taking attendance at your church. (This is one reason that the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles has brought suit against the N.S.A., with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.) You would think again before showing up at a talk by a lawyer representing someone the government has called a terrorist. If you were a reporter, or a source, you would wonder how you could safely meet. You might never at all.
I think it's already happening.
Certainly, Joe McCarthy already happened and could easily happen again. He had to rely on innuendo and intimidation. But someone else could easily think it's important to go back in time and look for information to make his case against someone he thinks is an enemy. We don't have to go back to McCarthy, do we?
A former senior C.I.A. official says that officials in the Bush White House sought damaging personal information on a prominent American critic of the Iraq war in order to discredit him.
Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who writes an influential blog that criticized the war.
In an interview, Mr. Carle said his supervisor at the National Intelligence Council told him in 2005 that White House officials wanted “to get” Professor Cole, and made clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to collect information about him, an effort Mr. Carle rebuffed. Months later, Mr. Carle said, he confronted a C.I.A. official after learning of another attempt to collect information about Professor Cole. Mr. Carle said he contended at the time that such actions would have been unlawful.
It is not clear whether the White House received any damaging material about Professor Cole or whether the C.I.A. or other intelligence agencies ever provided any information or spied on him. Mr. Carle said that a memorandum written by his supervisor included derogatory details about Professor Cole, but that it may have been deleted before reaching the White House. Mr. Carle also said he did not know the origins of that information or who at the White House had requested it.
The CIA officially denied this, of course. Does this sound like something that Dick Cheney and his henchmen might have done? You betcha.
Cole filed a lawsuit against the government right after this was revealed and I don't know how it was resolved. But there was this:
The lawsuit was filed just one week after Yale rejected a request from the Middle East Studies Association for an investigation into whether the Bush administration influenced Yale’s decision to reject Cole’s appointment in 2006.
MESA had already contacted then-Provost Andrew Hamilton in June 2006 to voice concerns that political pressure had prevented Cole’s appointment, but Hamilton replied ten days later that “an individual’s political views are never taken into account in making appointment decisions.” The organization renewed its efforts on Cole’s behalf after the New York Times reported June 15 that a former senior C.I.A. official claimed members of the Bush administration had attempted to discredit Cole.
Provost Peter Salovey said in a July 7 letter to MESA President Suad Joseph that there was “no evidence of inappropriate external interference or other impropriety” in Cole’s appointment decision, and that no one from the government or the Bush administration had contacted Salovey, Levin or the deans overseeing the appointment process.
Despite his assurances, the deliberations surrounding Cole’s appointment decision have long been questioned by Yale faculty members.
Cole was initially selected for a tenured professorship in modern Middle East studies by a University search committee and approved by both the Sociology and History Departments. But the Senior Appointments Committee, an interdepartmental body that reviews appointments to tenured positions, ultimately voted against offering Cole the job.
“The decision to not appoint Juan Cole was a political decision, whether you’re for Juan Cole or against Juan Cole,” said a professor in the History Department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he previously received a threat for speaking in Cole’s favor. “[Professors] tried to portray this guy Juan Cole as an anti-Semite and an anti-American.”
I have little doubt that's exactly what happened. And I'm quite sure he's not the only one. He's just one we know about.
In the year since Swartz’s death, a number of other computer hacktivists and whistleblowers have become the targets of the wrath of prosecutors and judges, and they have either gone to jail or are facing decades in prison—in one case 105 years. In each instance, the general theme seems to be the same: these are people who were interested in freeing up knowledge for the social good. In Swartz’s case, the goal was to liberate publicly funded knowledge that had been captured and placed behind a paywall. In other cases, it was to gain and disseminate knowledge about the nefarious dealings between our government and unaccountable private intelligence contractors. And in still other cases, it was to expose the ways corporations and private intelligence firms run psychological operations against Americans.
Taken together, the lesson appears to be that computer hacking for social causes and computer hacking aimed at exposing the secrets of governing elites will not be tolerated. The state will come down on such people as hard as it can. “The same beast bit us both,” jailed hacktivist Jeremy Hammond told The Guardian, referring to himself and Swartz. In both cases, as in many others, the question is why?
I think we know the answer to that too. These are dissenters and whistleblowers. Right now we can probably assume that the government is using its traditional tools to shut these people down. They are not being completely run out of academia or denied trials. But you don't have to be paranoid to wonder whether the government might feel the need to tap into all that juicy information it's storing to shut down critics through other means. (Or even in the best case, accessing that information to build cases against them for a legitimate judicial purpose.)
The point is that governments, to a greater or lesser extent, always try to shut down dissent, whether it's through social pressure, legal means or something else. Even the good ones do it. Allowing them to have even more tools and even more power to do this is a recipe for abuse. You can already see it happening with the ridiculously long sentences for hacking. It is highly likely that at some point a US government is going to believe its justified in using the massive spying capacity it's building to quell what it quite logically believes is a threat. It's so fully baked into the cake of human nature and government power that our founders wrote a whole list of individual rights out on paper telling them they weren't allowed to do it.
Here are the choices conservatives have on inequality
by David Atkins
Conservative hack Glenn Reynolds has a column in USA Today in which he attacks the President's focus on income inequality, with the usual bleating about government dependency and what not. Mickey Kaus agrees.
Reynolds' main thrust is that the nation should be more focused on fixing unemployment than on fixing income inequality. Now, the obvious progressive case can be made that we could have full employment rather quickly if we were willing to let corporations pay people $3 an hour, then watch then starve on the street despite being employed full-time in the service of their wealthy paymasters.
But let's ignore that argument for a moment. After all, Reynolds is right that human beings do crave the dignity of work to a certain extent and that too much idleness can breed social malaise. Fair point. More than that, unemployment represents at a certain level a waste of human potential (assuming that we count homemakers as employed, which is an important digression but not what I want to focus on at the moment.)
If Reynolds and his conservative brethren really want to emphasize work over welfare, then a government jobs program should be right up their alley. Lack of productivity is eliminated, as is any potential social malaise. A government jobs program would help distressed communities and wealthy communities alike, and reduce income inequality as a side benefit, particularly if the wealthy and corporations provide more in tax revenue-which they can certainly afford to do given record profits, stock markets, and inequality figures.
One of the big divides among some of the left's more forward thinkers right now is whether we push for a basic guaranteed income, or a basic guaranteed jobs program. One or the other will be essential as mechanization, deskilling and outsourcing continue to ravage the middle classes of industrialized nations, reducing the natural employment rate on a yearly basis. A guaranteed income would be the more traditional progressive approach, but that does run the risk of creating large social and political problems. A guaranteed jobs program would be a somewhat more conservative approach, but it would also be more sustainable in the long run.
Methinks that Glenn Reynolds and his friends wouldn't favor that approach, however. They would consider a guaranteed job to be just as artificially constructed a "giveaway" as a guaranteed income. Much of the right-wing already considers a higher minimum wage to be "welfare", even though it's nothing of the sort.
The problem for the Right is that the middle classes of industrialized nations are not going to be dragged into a hell pit of full-time labor that still doesn't put food, shelter, education and healthcare on the table. Decent food, shelter, education and healthcare will still be available one way or another, because these things are human rights. They're certainly not going to be taken away while corporations and the wealthy are living higher on the hog than ever. Most people understand that teachers provide more value to society than Wall Street traders do; we're willing to watch the Wall Street trader make ten times as much money only so long as the teacher can still pay their bills.
So the passive income crowd and their conservative and third-way backers have basically three choices as the number of jobs dwindles and wages continue to decrease:
1) Create a society of the wealthy few with good jobs, the poor many with bad or no jobs, and a hefty basic income to make up for it, similar to wealthy petro-socialist states in the Middle East;
2) Reorient the economy toward providing everyone decent employment with a decent wage, removing the incentive from the asset class to kill jobs in order to leverage more profit; or
3) Hope that the middle class accepts its impoverishment under the thumb of a security state designed to protect the interests of the asset class, rather than engaging in violent and bloody revolution.
If I were wealthy I probably wouldn't take the third bet. It would be dangerous, and history says I would probably lose. But history also suggests that's exactly what David Koch, Glenn Reynolds and Mickey Kaus will attempt to do. I can't say I wish them good luck, because I don't.
From no less than Peter Orszag, former king of the deficit scolds:
Orszag cites a "little factoid": If Medicare costs continue to grow at the same rate per beneficiary as the average of the past five years, "there's no increase in Medicare as a share of GDP despite the coming retirement of Baby Boomers, the entire long-term fiscal gap in that program disappears and therefore most of the long-term fiscal gap facing the nation disappears."
Well, well, well isn't that something? After the years of overwrought fulminating this is what it comes to?
In fairness, Orszag has always believed that the answer to the projected long term deficits was cost controls in health care. Unfortunately, he was also playing Washington politics and put his name behind "deficit reduction" as a guiding principle, including the cutting of vital discretionary programs and Social Security benefits. Perhaps he really was just trying to placate people like Kent Conrad who was like a dog with a bone when it came to slashing government, but the result of that particular political strategy is a disaster.
By Democrats being so clever with this endless handwringing over "the deficit" (which they knew was mostly a rhetorical bludgeon the GOP picked up every time they wanted to justify destroying a new chunk of the New Deal and anything else they thought was helping the "wrong people" just a little bit too much) they ended up stepping on their own story and putting the long term budget into a suicidal spiral: austerity budgets as far as the eye can see. (If anyone thinks the GOP is going to suddenly relent on their jihad against government spending in light of lower deficits, I've got some cheap Fukishima real estate to sell them.)
This was political malpractice, in my book. And that's being generous. It's just as likely that most of these people agreed that the government was spending too much money on lazy people and what was needed was a good strong jolt of tough love to get this country moving. After all, most elites believe they all made it solely on the basis of their hard work and perseverance so why can't everyone else do the same? Whatever the motivation, the obsession with austerity is going to be very costly for a long time to come.
A year after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Mother Jones has analyzed the subsequent deaths of 194 children ages 12 and under who were reported in news accounts to have died in gun accidents, homicides, and suicides. They are spread across 43 states, from inner cities to tiny rural towns.
Following Sandy Hook, the National Rifle Association and its allies argued that arming more adults is the solution to protecting children, be it from deranged mass shooters or from home invaders. But the data we collected stands as a stark rejoinder to that view:
127 of the children died from gunshots in their own homes, while dozens more died in the homes of friends, neighbors, and relatives.
72 of the young victims either pulled the trigger themselves or were shot dead by another kid.
In those 72 cases, only 4 adults have been held criminally liable.
At least 52 deaths involved a child handling a gun left unsecured.
Additional findings include:
60 children died at the hands of their own parents, 50 of them in homicides.
The average age of the victims was 6 years old.
More than two-thirds of the victims were boys, as were more than three-quarters of the kids who pulled the trigger.
The problem was worst over the past year in the South, which saw at least 92 child gun deaths, followed by the Midwest (44), the West (38), and the East (20).
That's chilling. And it may be understating the problem:
Our media-based analysis of child gun deaths also understates the problem, as numerous such killings likely never appear in the news. New research by two Boston surgeons drawing on pediatric records suggests that the real toll is higher: They've found about 500 deaths of children and teens per year, and an additional 7,500 hospitalizations from gunshot wounds.
"It's almost a routine problem in pediatric practice," says Dr. Judith Palfrey, a former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics who holds positions at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital. Palfrey herself (who is not involved with the above study) lost a 12-year-old patient she was close with to gun violence, she told me.
No other affluent society has this problem to such an extreme. According to a recent study by the Children's Defense Fund, the gun death rate for children and teens in the US is four times greater than in Canada, the country with the next highest rate, and 65 times greater than in Germany and Britain.
As I noted in the post below, we seem to have decided that children are collateral damage. I knew we thought that about those dusky foreigners, but it would appear we've decided that in the cause of what the American right wing defines as liberty, our own kids are disposable too. Their own kids are disposable too. How sick is that?
The New York Times published the first of a series of investigative pieces on the poor people on New York City yesterday. It's a harrowing tale and one that would make any decent person cringe in shame that such poverty, especially among children, could exist in the wealthiest city in the wealthiest country on the planet. It's right out of Charles Dickens.
Begin with the family at the center of this story. The mother, father and eight kids aren't really homeless at all. True, they live in housing meant for "homeless families." But their 540-square-foot unit gives them a solid roof over their heads, in addition to city-provided meals and services.
Yes, the family's housing has problems, including mice and reports of sexual assaults and other crimes. But the Times and Elliott, like much of the liberal establishment, seem to think it's the city's job to provide comfortable lives to outrageously irresponsible parents. In this case, that's a couple with a long history of drug problems and difficulty holding jobs.
Something's wrong with that picture.
If the city is at fault here, it might well be for having been too generous -- providing so much that neither the father nor mother seems much inclined to provide for their kids. That would be a story worth reading.
Here's a little story for these jerks:
Something very ugly has happened to American society in these last few years. It's not that there haven't always been people who thought the poor brought it on themselves. But agitating to throw these children into even worse circumstances was considered sociopathic. Which it is. Seriously, until fairly recently openly espousing this attitude toward the poor was very much frowned upon (in polite society at least.) We've reverted to a Victorian culture in which the wealthy, in order to justify their greed, gluttony and avarice, decided they no longer have to even pretend to care about anything but themselves. It's sick.
More of what you already knew: bad service jobs are replacing good skilled jobs
by David Atkins
We already knew it anecdotally, of course, but a new MIT study adds further weight to the notion that outsourcing and mechanization are turning previously well-paying skilled jobs into low-paying service jobs:
The widening chasm in the U.S. job market has brought many workers a long-term shift to low-skill service jobs, according to a study co-authored by an MIT economist.
The research, presented in a paper by MIT economist David Autor, along with economist David Dorn, helps add nuance to the nation’s job picture. While a widening gap between highly trained and less-trained members of the U.S. workforce has previously been noted, the current study shows in more detail how this transformation is happening in stores, restaurants, nursing homes, and other places staffed by service workers.
Specifically, workers in many types of middle-rank positions — such as skilled production-line workers and people in clerical or administrative jobs — have had to migrate into jobs as food-service workers, home health-care aides, child-care employees, and security guards, among other things.
“This polarization that we see is being driven by the movement of people out of middle-skill jobs and into services,” says Autor, a professor of economics at MIT. “The growth in service employment isn’t that large overall, but when you look at people with a noncollege education, it’s a very sharp increase, and it’s very concentrated in places that were initially specialized in the more middle-skill activities.”
It's not just that these jobs pay less, are less fulfilling, and have less room for advancement and mobility. It's also that their schedules are more haphazard, making life more difficult:
In Autor’s view, studies of this kind have clear implications for policymakers: The findings, he says, can “alert people to the changing opportunity set faced by contemporary workers. I think that is relevant to education policy and labor standards.”
For instance, he suggests, recognizing that an increasing number of workers are in the service sector might lead some policymakers to endorse regulations about hours and working standards that would help these parts of the American workforce.
“It seems like people in these jobs are treated almost gratuitously badly,” Autor says. “If you work in retail, it’s possible you won’t even know your hours until the beginning of the week. … Having uncertainty about your schedule from week to week, [when] you need to get your kids off to school, makes life that much tougher. … These jobs offer flexibility, but mostly to the employer.”
The United States, he adds, “is unusual in offering almost no standards in this type of work.” And while such standards would impose some costs on employers, Autor suggests that those trade-offs could be part of a larger debate about employment today.
Better labor protections for service workers would certainly help. Beyond that, though, it's just another sign that the global economic paradigm is irreparably broken. A paradigm shift in the social contract is needed if we are to avoid becoming a two-tiered society of the very rich and pampered, serviced by the hopeless and desperate poor.
I have often disagreed with Andrew Sullivan, but on this we certainly see eye to eye. He's talking about leadership, specifically in light of the death of Mandela and his greater meaning to the cause of freedom. He first talks about the popular notion in current political science that pooh-pooh's the the idea that leadership a matters very much, for good or ill. He quotes Stephen Dyson:
Tucker draws our attention to the dangers of the “great leader” view of politics: it promotes apathy and resignation as we wait for superheroes to appear and fix all of our problems. Yet there are also dangers in minimizing the role of leaders, and they go beyond missing important causes of major events, although this is a clear risk. In the explanations of historians, the reporting of journalists, and the political decisions of citizens, leaders often play the role of personifying abstract trends, ideas, and forces, and offering a human connection between politics and life. People learn, understand, and are motivated to take action by compelling narratives, and compelling narratives involve individual human beings. A worthy goal of science is to provide systematic, rigorous knowledge about issues of social importance. But science should also engage with the moral and empathetic possibilities that come from taking leaders seriously.
Alas, political science – a misnomer from the get-go (and I say that with a PhD in it) – is terrified of human nature, individual character, the unknowable biographical and psychological factors that bear down on any leader’s decisions, and anything that, effectively, cannot be quantified. But a huge amount of human behavior cannot be quantified. Which is why I often thought, as I sat through another stats class, that we’d do better to study Shakespeare than mere regressions to the mean.
I have no idea if political science is terrified of human nature but I do believe absolutely that human behavior cannot be quantified. Political science is a very useful addition to our store of knowledge but it hasn't even come close to the subtle, sophisticated understanding of humanity of say, the Bible or Shakespeare or Plato or Kant or even Stephen King.
And while it's true that waiting around for the man on the proverbial white horse can bredd apathy and allow way too much celebrity cultism in politics. But having expectations of leadership and demanding accountability from them is hugely important. It's fundamental to how human beings understand how the world works.
Setting the record straight on Mandela and the American Right
by David Atkins
Al Sharpton provides a breath of fresh air, pointing out that in South Africa America chose the wrong side, calling the ANC Marxists and terrorists:
One thing the left must do a better job of is not letting conservatives rewrite history. It would be great if progressive media outlets could spend more time regularly featuring the past statements of conservatives about Medicare, Social Security, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, etc., and comparing them to those of today. At the very least conservatives should not be allowed to appropriate the scorned progressive heroes of yesteryear. Their words should hang around their heads like millstones for generations.
A nasty little Google boy gets mad and says what he really thinks:
"Why don't you go to a city that can afford it? This is a city for the right people who can afford it. You can't afford it? You can leave. I'm sorry, get a better job. It's time for you to leave. "
I love San Francisco. I used to live there, went to school there. But people like this are ruining it, I'm afraid.
This attitude very much reflects the thinking of far more 1 percenters than you might imagine. On some level I think they know they don't deserve the outlandish sums they "earn" in these elite jobs and have to convince themselves that they are getting rich because they work so much harder and are simply more deserving than those who make less money. The only way they can successfully rationalize their good fortune is to attack the characters of those who aren't doing as well.
Today, numerous Philadelphia protesters from groups including Occupy Philly, Americans United for Change, Philadelphia AFL-CIO, Fight for Philly, SEIU PA State Council, Protect Your Care, Keystone Progress, Moveon.org, NCPSSM, Progress Now, and AFSCME demonstrated at the Wharton School for Business at the University of Pennsylvania after Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) canceled his speech there, apparently afraid of dissident audiences.
As the hundreds of protesters entered the Wharton School and chanted about economic justice, a number of students appeared on the balcony above. These students began chanting in unison, “Get a job! Get a job!”
While the students who jeered the protesters certainly do not necessarily represent all Wharton students, it’s important to understand the context of the elite status they likely either come from or graduate into. Wharton graduates much of the nation’s corporate elite, with the median starting salary for an MBA graduate being $145,000 — six times the poverty level for a family of four.
The school’s Board of Overseers is staffed with with multiple Goldman Sachs executives and high-ranking employees of a wide variety of financial firms. Meanwhile, it’s Graduate Executive Board is staffed with senior employees of Bank of America, Blackstone Financial Management, and PMC Bank. Wharton’s endowment is $888 million, greater than that of many large public universities. Essentially, the students jeering the protesters represented the future financial elite.
Newt Gingrich is losing his touch. He foolishly praised Mandela without explaining how Mandela would think of Obama the same way he thought of the apartheid government of South Africa and his followers went nuts.
...We are ruled by someone who is in effect the pharaoh and at the least a Muslim at heart who disdains the Judeo-Christian heritage and foundations upon which our nation was forged and who has rung up extreme national debt and loathes capitalism, instead seeing it his “duty” to redistribute wealth to “his” people for years of their slavery. President Barack Hussein Obama and his compromised if not corrupt enablers in Congress and in the judiciary, like a time warp, have thrust We the People back to 1776 and provoked our Second American Revolution. And, the current revolutionary climate is even more severe, since unlike the colonies, contemporary America is on the steep decline. Our resources, wealth, ethics, spirituality and liberties are being stifled by a socialistic choke hold on our economy and lives, where our “Muslim” president and the government, not God, is to be worshiped and obeyed – else authoritarian henchmen and thugs at the NSA and IRS will destroy you.
To seek redress for our grievances, as our forefathers attempted leading up to independence day on July 4, 1776, the Reclaim America Now Coalition gave notice in front of the White House on Nov.19 of this year that if the people’s freedoms were not restored by the day after Thanksgiving, the Second American Revolution would begin in earnest. True to the predictions of anyone living in our times, our grievances went unanswered by our illegitimate government usurpers, and now we must make good on our threats of non-violent, civil disobedience to attempt redress.
In this regard, as we mourn the death this week of Nelson Mandela, a great man who, like his American counterpart Martin Luther King, used civil disobedience successfully to bring freedom to his people and by definition all people (who are created equal with certain unalienable rights, as Jefferson put it), let us take Mandela’s achievement in liberating South Africa from bondage as a further example of what we can accomplish in freeing our own nation from the choking despotic governmental slavery of Obama and his pliant Democratic and Republican minions in Congress and the judiciary.
We will soon be announcing the date to convene the Third Continental Congress in Philadelphia early next year where, taking a page from the Founding Fathers, we will meet to plan the next steps of our Second American Revolution, with delegates from all 50 states.
We will also use the occasion to appoint committees to coordinate the revolution and to elect a government in waiting to take over on the day when our current corrupt leaders are forced by the citizenry to leave their thrones and freedom is restored to our shores.
Like our Founding Fathers in 1776, the time is now to risk all we have to save the nation from government tyrants before all is lost.
I mostly know Larry Klayman from the Great Clinton Panty Raid, in which he played a substantial role as the principle in Judicial Watch. He was pretty extreme but he wasn't nuts. He's nuts now.
On the other hand, I suppose I'm foolishly failing to take into account that he might just be doing this for the money. If so, these guys are having to work extremely hard these days to earn their Wingnut Welfare. This is nothing short of a humiliation ritual.