March 2011 Archives

Single-Payer Health Care is Back

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Vermont is in the midst of approving the legislation.

The Canadian single-payer system was started in one province, Saskatchewan and worked out so well that it was eventually adopted on a national level.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It's about following legal rules. To wit:

"....and the fact that in the United States it's not unconstitutional to execute an innocent person needs to be addressed once and for all by the U.S. Supreme Court."

Correia brings up a significant but little-known fact about death penalty law in the U.S., namely, that current court precedent allows the execution of innocent people. Remarkably, the Supreme Court, in a 1993 opinion, suggested that "actual innocence" is not a sufficient cause to be let free. The court only cares if the legal rules are followed, while acknowledging that innocent people could still be convicted and put to death.


Tinkering With the Machinery of Death

By Amy Goodman

troy.davis.ad.gifOn March 28, the Supreme Court refused to hear the death penalty case of Troy Anthony Davis. It was his last appeal. Davis has been on Georgia's death row for close to 20 years after being convicted of shooting to death off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah. Since his conviction, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, alleging police coercion and intimidation in obtaining the testimony. Despite the doubt surrounding his case, Troy Anthony Davis could be put to death within weeks.

Davis is now at the mercy of the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole, which could commute his sentence to life without parole. It will be a tough fight, despite widespread national and international support for clemency from figures such as Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter.

Petition to Save Davis

Crack This Code

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FBI can't crack the code in this murder case -- can you?

Click to enlarge:

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ST. LOUIS -- Are you good at solving puzzles and cracking codes? If so, the Federal Bureau of Investigation needs your help in cracking a code connected to a homicide in Missouri.

The mystery begins in a St. Louis field on June 30, 1999. Ricky McCormick, 41, was found dead there, and his killer hasn't been caught.

That's where you come in. The FBI said two encrypted notes were found in the victim's pants, and their code crackers haven't been able to figure out what the notes mean.

"We are really good at what we do," said Dan Olson, the chief of the FBI's Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit. "But we could use some help with this one."

"Breaking this code could reveal the victim's whereabouts before his death and could lead to the solution of a homicide," Olson said. "Not every cipher we get arrives at our door under those circumstances."

"Even if we found out that he was writing a grocery list or a love letter, we would still want to see how the code is solved. This is a cipher system we know nothing about," Olson said.

McCormick was a high school dropout, but he was able to read and write and was said to be "street smart," the FBI said. Members of his family told authorities that he had used such encrypted notes since he was a boy, but it's unknown whether anyone besides McCormick could translate his secret language.

The FBI said investigators believe the notes, which contain more than 30 lines, were written up to three days before his death.

If you have an idea how to break the code, or you have seen similar codes, contact the FBI:

FBI Laboratory
Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit
2501 Investigation Parkway
Quantico, VA 22135
Attn: Ricky McCormick Case

Starting Young

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The new tax havens

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This is pure BS on the part of corporations. They are using American infrastructure, military and police protection and the US economy to sell their products and pay nothing in taxes to support those things.

American companies are finding new overseas tax havens to legally protect some of their profits from the U.S. tax rate of 35 percent, among the highest in the world. Lesley Stahl reports.


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The Genius Puppetry Behind War Horse

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The MwangaBora Lamp

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Or the Wadongo Lamp. Evans Wadongo deserves to have won a CNN Hero award for sure for both his invention of a solar lamp and his charity in giving them to poor Kenyan families for free.


"My family are very supportive. I got many offers from different companies after they saw the work that I was doing. But I turned them down. At first people did not understand, but they soon came to understand that I was determined in my cause. Now they support me."


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'Saving lives' with solar-powered lights

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- The villagers' faces light up as Evans Wadongo arrives. Men, women and children sing and gather around as he shows how his invention -- a solar-powered LED lantern -- will soon light up their homes.

"These families, they are so poor. They don't have electricity," said Wadongo, a native of rural Kenya. "It's only kerosene and firewood that they use for lighting, cooking.

"The amount of money that every household uses to buy kerosene every day -- if they can just save that money, they can be able to buy food."

Wadongo, 23, not only is giving his country's rural families a way to replace the smoky kerosene and firelight with solar power, he says he also hopes his invention will ultimately improve education and reduce poverty and hunger. And he's providing it for free.

Turf is everything

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The question is does the arrested guy go free? I doubt it.

The Delaware County District Attorney's Office is investigating a rivalry between Darby and Colwyn Police after a YouTube video surfaced showing a heated dispute between the two.

The fight began March 18 after a Colwyn Borough police officer was flagged down about a domestic dispute. The Colwyn officer arrested a man who allegedly punched a woman. The arrest evidently occurred about a block into Darby Borough.

After the Colwyn officer arrested the man, members of the Darby police force arrived on the scene and a melee began.

Darby officers, including Darby Borough Police Chief Robert Smythe, were apparently outraged that a Colwyn officer made an arrest on their turf.

"Get out of Darby, get out of Darby," Smythe yells on the video.

The Delaware County Assistant District Attorney Michael Mattson told the Inquirer that the office is investigating the incident, but would not comment further.

Ezra Klein's Naive Take on SS Reform

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I am an avid fan of Ezra Klein and consider him one of the sharpest knives in the political commentary drawer, but his take on Social Security reform had me questioning his thoughts that Republicans would do "the right thing" regarding Social Security reform. He seems to miss the concept that the modern right wing is primarily composed of shameless opportunistic ideologues who would eat their children if Reagan approved. I tend to agree more with the following article:

Ezra Klein Is Right About Social Security, Wrong About The Threat

By Roger Hickey

Ezra Klein has a prominently displayed piece in the Washington Post this morning, entitled The Pro-Social Security case for Social Security reform. He takes to task liberals most committed to Social Security for being unwilling to "reform" Social Security out of fear that reform would turn out to harm the system. He then goes on to outline his version of reform that no liberal would ever quarrel with: no cuts to benefits, dealing with future shortfalls by lifting the cap so all the income of the wealthy is subject to FICA tax - and improving Social Security benefits for low income retirees and spouses.

And then he pooh-poohs the fears of program's defenders who, he says

"are so concerned that conservatives will slash benefits -- now or down the road -- that they are afraid to open the pension plan to any reforms at all. I think they're wrong. This country is better than that. A political party that tries to tell ordinary Americans their retirements are too secure and too long will quickly learn its lesson when the election rolls around. Poll after poll shows the vast unpopularity of cutting Social Security benefits, and Republicans can read those surveys as easily as Democrats can. A politician may as well burn a flag on the Capitol's lawn."

My only response is to ask: "What planet have you been living on, Ezra?:

Firefox 4

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Test driving over the last couple of days proves the new Firefox 4 to be superb. It's much faster and cleaner overall. Kudos to the team. Check it out.

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The Heist

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Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?

Financial crooks brought down the world's economy -- but the feds are doing more to protect them than to prosecute them

thetheft.jpgBy Matt Taibbi

Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.

"Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail," he said. "That's your whole story right there. Hell, you don't even have to write the rest of it. Just write that."

I put down my notebook. "Just that?"

"That's right," he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. "Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there."

Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world's wealth -- and nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people.

The rest of them, all of them, got off. Not a single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom -- an industrywide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities -- has ever been convicted. Their names by now are familiar to even the most casual Middle American news consumer: companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Most of these firms were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling. What's more, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions -- from AIG derivatives chief Joe Cassano, who assured investors they would not lose even "one dollar" just months before his unit imploded, to the $263 million in compensation that former Lehman chief Dick "The Gorilla" Fuld conveniently failed to disclose. Yet not one of them has faced time behind bars.

Rest of the brilliant article
here

Perfect American Assholes

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Who bred these freaks?
America did.

He was a smooth-faced kid, about 15 years old. Not much younger than they were: Morlock was 21, Holmes was 19. His name, they would later learn, was Gul Mudin, a common name in Afghanistan. He was wearing a little cap and a Western-style green jacket. He held nothing in his hand that could be interpreted as a weapon, not even a shovel. The expression on his face was welcoming. "He was not a threat," Morlock later confessed.


Morlock and Holmes called to him in Pashto as he walked toward them, ordering him to stop. The boy did as he was told. He stood still.

The soldiers knelt down behind a mud-brick wall. Then Morlock tossed a grenade toward Mudin, using the wall as cover. As the grenade exploded, he and Holmes opened fire, shooting the boy repeatedly at close range with an M4 carbine and a machine gun.

Mudin buckled, went down face first onto the ground. His cap toppled off. A pool of blood congealed by his head.

afghan15yrold01.jpgOn January 15th, 2010, U.S. soldiers in Bravo Company stationed near Kandahar executed an unarmed Afghan boy named Gul Mudin in the village of La Mohammad Kalay. Reports by soldiers at the scene indicate that Mudin was about 15 years old. According to sworn statements, two soldiers - Cpl. Jeremy Morlock and Pfc. Andrew Holmes - staged the killing to make it look like they had been under attack. Ordering the boy to stand still, they crouched behind a mud wall, tossed a grenade at him and opened fire from close range. This photograph shows Mudin's body lying by the wall where he was killed.

afghan15yrold02.jpgFollowing the routine Army procedure required after every battlefield death, the soldiers cut off the dead boy's clothes and stripped him naked to check for identifying tattoos. Here they are shown scanning his iris and fingerprints, using a portable biometric scanner.






assholewithafghan15yrold.jpgIn a break with protocol, the soldiers also took photographs of themselves celebrating their kill. In the photos, Morlock grins and gives a thumbs-up sign as he poses with Mudin's body. Note that the boy's right pinky finger appears to have been severed. Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs reportedly used a pair of razor-sharp medic's shears to cut off the finger, which he presented to Holmes as a trophy for killing his first Afghan.





Behind the American 'Kill Team' in Afghanistan

How soldiers murdered civilians -- and how officers failed to stop them

By Mark Boal

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Early last year, after six hard months soldiering in Afghanistan, a group of American infantrymen reached a momentous decision: It was finally time to kill a haji.

Among the men of Bravo Company, the notion of killing an Afghan civilian had been the subject of countless conversations, during lunchtime chats and late-night bull sessions. For weeks, they had weighed the ethics of bagging "savages" and debated the probability of getting caught. Some of them agonized over the idea; others were gung-ho from the start. But not long after the New Year, as winter descended on the arid plains of Kandahar Province, they agreed to stop talking and actually pull the trigger.

Bravo Company had been stationed in the area since summer, struggling, with little success, to root out the Taliban and establish an American presence in one of the most violent and lawless regions of the country. On the morning of January 15th, the company's 3rd Platoon - part of the 5th Stryker Brigade, based out of Tacoma, Washington - left the mini-metropolis of tents and trailers at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in a convoy of armored Stryker troop carriers. The massive, eight-wheeled trucks surged across wide, vacant stretches of desert, until they came to La Mohammad Kalay, an isolated farming village tucked away behind a few poppy fields.

To provide perimeter security, the soldiers parked the Strykers at the outskirts of the settlement, which was nothing more than a warren of mud-and-straw compounds. Then they set out on foot. Local villagers were suspected of supporting the Taliban, providing a safe haven for strikes against U.S. troops. But as the soldiers of 3rd Platoon walked through the alleys of La Mohammad Kalay, they saw no armed fighters, no evidence of enemy positions. Instead, they were greeted by a frustratingly familiar sight: destitute Afghan farmers living without electricity or running water; bearded men with poor teeth in tattered traditional clothes; young kids eager for candy and money. It was impossible to tell which, if any, of the villagers were sympathetic to the Taliban. The insurgents, for their part, preferred to stay hidden from American troops, striking from a distance with IEDs.

While the officers of 3rd Platoon peeled off to talk to a village elder inside a compound, two soldiers walked away from the unit until they reached the far edge of the village. There, in a nearby poppy field, they began looking for someone to kill. "The general consensus was, if we are going to do something that fucking crazy, no one wanted anybody around to witness it," one of the men later told Army investigators.

A New McCarthy-ism

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Right now we are in a political climate which is similar to the one that spawned the dark and disastrous McCarthy era. Paul Krugman's article below describes the attack by Republican's on Wisconsin scholar William Cronon for his publishing of information they dislike by "A demand for copies of all e-mails sent to or from Mr. Cronon's university mail account containing any of a wide range of terms, including the word "Republican" and the names of a number of Republican politicians."

This sort of attempted squelching of academic freedom by fishing through the professor's emails for something that can used against him is straight out of the modern Republican's playbook and harkens back not only to Nixon's attempt's to smear Daniel Ellsberg (of The Pentagon Papers fame) by having people break into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office looking for dirt, but all the way back to the 1940's and the attack on famed academician Bertrand Russel by the powerful religious and political leaders of the day:

From a review by Stephen Leberstein of Thom Weidlich's book, "Appointment Denied: The Inquisition of Bertrand Russell"


The Russell case soon reached the New York legislature, where state senator John Dunnigan of New York City denounced it as an example of the "ungodly and un-American ways" of those in charge of New York's schools, and pressed the legislature to authorize an investigation. In response, the legislature resolved to condemn the Russell appointment, after which Dunnigan introduced another resolution calling for a "sweeping investigation" of the public schools. Dunnigan explained to the New York Times that many "prominent educators" had been forced to retire "for the reason that their philosophy has not been in accord with the Godless, materialistic theories of those now governing the New York school system." The legislature voted to authorize the investigation under the auspices of the Assembly Committee on School Finance and Administration chaired by assemblyman Herbert Rapp, with a special subcommittee on subversion in New York City headed by state senator Frederic Coudert.


The Rapp-Coudert Committee helped pioneer the repressive techniques that Joseph McCarthy later made famous. The problem, as Coudert saw it, was a "liberal" permissiveness, a tolerance for the subversive ideas of faculty and governing boards. In the absence of laws proscribing "subversives," the faculty had to be persuaded to police itself and the board persuaded to fire those who were identified as dangerous. Within a year, the Rapp-Coudert Committee elicited the denunciation of over eight hundred public school teachers and college faculty members, pressured the board of higher education to adopt new rules compelling its employees to testify before legislative committees or face summary dismissal, and succeeded in having over fifty faculty and staff (not to mention many more public school employees) fired on charges that they belonged to the Communist Party and had refused to name names for the investigating committee. The Russell case was hardly an isolated affair without long-term repercussions, as Weidlich sees it.


American Thought Police

By Paul Krugman

Recently William Cronon, a historian who teaches at the University of Wisconsin, decided to weigh in on his state's political turmoil. He started a blog, "Scholar as Citizen," devoting his first post to the role of the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council in pushing hard-line conservative legislation at the state level. Then he published an opinion piece in The Times, suggesting that Wisconsin's Republican governor has turned his back on the state's long tradition of "neighborliness, decency and mutual respect."

So what was the G.O.P.'s response? A demand for copies of all e-mails sent to or from Mr. Cronon's university mail account containing any of a wide range of terms, including the word "Republican" and the names of a number of Republican politicians.

If this action strikes you as no big deal, you're missing the point. The hard right -- which these days is more or less synonymous with the Republican Party -- has a modus operandi when it comes to scholars expressing views it dislikes: never mind the substance, go for the smear. And that demand for copies of e-mails is obviously motivated by no more than a hope that it will provide something, anything, that can be used to subject Mr. Cronon to the usual treatment.

The Cronon affair, then, is one more indicator of just how reflexively vindictive, how un-American, one of our two great political parties has become.

The demand for Mr. Cronon's correspondence has obvious parallels with the ongoing smear campaign against climate science and climate scientists, which has lately relied heavily on supposedly damaging quotations found in e-mail records.

Serious Gaming

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Video games are usually viewed as a form of escapism: pure entertainment and shoot-em-up fantasy. But increasingly, games are being recognized as educational tools, or as deliverers of social or political messages. This evolving medium is taking on complex environments and issues, and providing a platform for people to explore a world or situation in an interactive way. In this talk at the X Media Lab in Sydney, video game theorist and designer Ian Bogost gives an overview of how video games can benefit human existence.

Ian Bogost is author of "Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism", recently listed among "50 books for everyone in the game industry". He also wrote "Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames", and was co-author of "Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System". He is widely considered an influential thinker and doer in the videogame industry and research community.

Handy Time Travel Tips Chart

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Click pic to enlarge.

Utah Hindus Celebrate Spring

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People throw colored powder during Holi, the festival of colors, at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple.

Other pix

In Vaishnavism, Hiranyakashipu is the great king of demons, and he had been granted a boon by Brahma, which made it almost impossible for him to be killed. The boon was due to his long penance, after which he had demanded that he not be killed "during day or night; inside the home or outside, not on earth or in the sky; neither by a man nor an animal; neither by astra nor by shastra". Consequently, he grew arrogant and attacked the Heavens and the Earth. He demanded that people stop worshipping Gods and start praising him.

Despite this, Hiranyakashipu's own son, Prahlada, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. In spite of several threats from Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada continued offering prayers to Lord Vishnu. He was poisoned but the poison turned to nectar in his mouth. He was ordered to be trampled by elephants yet remained unharmed. He was put in a room with hungry, poisonous snakes and survived. All of Hiranyakashipu's attempts to kill his son failed. Finally, he ordered young Prahlada to sit on a pyre on the lap of his demoness sister, Holika, who could not die because she also had a boon which would prevent fire from burning her. Prahlada readily accepted his father's orders, and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as Holika burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed, the burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi.
Radha and the Gopis celebrating Holi, with accompaniment of music instruments
Later Lord Vishnu came in the form of a Narasimha (who is half-man and half-lion) and killed Hiranyakashipu at dusk (which was neither day nor night), on the steps of the porch of his house (which was neither inside the house nor outside) by restraining him on his lap (which is neither in the sky nor on the earth) and mauling him with his claws (which are neither astra nor shastra).

In Vrindavan and Mathura, where Lord Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days (until Rangpanchmi) in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. Lord Krishna is believed to have popularized the festival by playing pranks on the gopis here. Krishna is believed to have complained to his mother about the contrast between his dark skin complexion and Radha's (Shakti or energy that drives the world) fair skin complexion. Krishna's mother decided to apply colour to Radha's face. The celebrations officially usher in spring, the celebrated season of love.

There is alternative story detailing the origin of Holi. This story is about Kamadeva, a god of love. Kama's body was destroyed when he shot his weapon at Shiva in order to disrupt his meditation and help Parvati to marry Shiva. Shiva then opened his third eye, the gaze of which was so powerful that Kama's body was reduced to ashes. For the sake of Kama's wife Rati (passion), Shiva restored him, but only as a mental image, representing the true emotional and spiritual state of love rather than physical lust. The Holi bonfire is believed to be celebrated in commemoration of this event.

Singing the primal mystery

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"The human voice: mysterious, spontaneous, primal." With these words, soprano Claron McFadden invites us to explore the mysteries of breathing and singing, as she performs the challenging "Aria," by John Cage.

Like Duh!

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Les mots du jour

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wealthskulls.jpg

Wall St Perverts and Junkies Gone Wild

martin
Portland, Oregon

The reason we have lost our way is that deregulation in banking, free trade agreements, tax policies that favor the rich leading to gross wealth imbalance have unleashed a flood of greed in this country that is both intoxicating and addicting. The war on the middle class and working people, the contempt for the poor and the idol worship of the rich have so warped the judgment of our political leaders that they enact policies without a shred of humanity, social conscience, or rationality.

We are on a self destructive roller coaster as a nation and we are unable to stop, because like other addicts our addition to greed won't let us.

The reason we regulate sex in our society by legally putting into place an age of consent for two adults to have sex is because if we deregulated sex, sexual relations between adults and children would be rampant. Minors would be even more exploited than they already are in this area. The reason is that sex is a very powerful drive which many adults would seek to satisfy is a relationship in where they are the powerful one, in other words, sex with minors. We also have regulations for consuming alcohol for that matter and all recreational drugs are illegal.

However, for some reason our leaders believe that it is desirable to deregulate greed.

The reason that banking, financial transactions, and trade need to be regulated is that the basic greed that fuels our capitalist system must be controlled or else that greed will run amok in these institutions, consume its practioners, leading to fraudulent activities and schemes, illicit practices and immoral decisions. People crazed by overwhelming and unregulated greed basically are at risk for having impaired judgement, overt predatory behavior, voracious need for wealth accumulation and power and a nihilistic value system. This is as old as the Bible,and as ancient as the creation of humanity.

Just like an addict views getting their drug in order to get high as an end in itself, so does a greed crazed banker or corporation seek wealth for wealth's sake and the power discrepancies it creates no matter what the cost or suffering to others. That is where we are at in our society. We have become the Saddam and Gomorrah of greed among the community of nations.

As a consequence our judgement is impaired, our policies flawed, and our values warped. We are on a sliding slope to destruction.

Greece and Rome were also great empires. empires from where we derived our philosophical foundation of thought and legal system. The British had a great empire. Even the Soviet Union was once a powerful and feared entity. They all fell. So will we. It is more a matter of when than if.

We have lost our way because greed has replaced equality as our main social value and the foundation of society.


Word!

"I said breakdowns come
And breakdowns go
So what are you going to do about it
That's what I'd like to know..."

- paul simon ("Gumboots")

Sometimes I Don't Hate Arizona

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...Or how the Citizens United decision comes back to bite corporate sponsored candidates in the ass.

Free Speech Worth Paying For

By Charles Fried and Cliff Sloan

On Monday, the Supreme Court will consider its first campaign-finance challenge since Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 ruling that permits corporations and unions to spend as much as they wish to promote or defeat political candidates. Based on Citizens United, it might appear that the court would be inclined to wipe away all regulation of campaign finance. But that view would be mistaken.

The court will hear a pair of challenges to an Arizona law that provides public financing for candidates who agree to forgo private contributions, including their own. Under the law, adopted in 1998 as a citizen initiative in the wake of election scandals, Arizona allocates additional money to publicly financed candidates when their privately financed opponents spend more than a specified amount.

These challenges are being brought by political action committees and candidates for state office who say that the law violates their free speech rights. But it is the defenders of public financing schemes like Arizona's who have the First Amendment at their back. And they have Citizens United, with its broad protection for speech in the public square, on their side. (We submitted an amicus brief supporting the Arizona law on behalf of a bipartisan group of former elected officials.)

The First Amendment forbids any law "abridging the freedom of speech." While fearing the corrupting effects of unrestrained campaign spending, the people of Arizona abridged no speech, forbade nothing, restricted nothing. Instead, they followed the principle, set forth by Justices Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in the 1927 case Whitney v. California, that the remedy for speech that is threatening or inconvenient is "more speech."

Contrary to the challengers' claims, the Arizona law doesn't prevent privately financed candidates from speaking or spending as much as they like, or from raising as much as they like, or from raising as much money as they need. Nor does it place any limits on how much anyone may spend in support or opposition to a candidate. The law simply ensures that, when a candidate relying on private money speaks, the publicly financed candidate has the money to answer.

NY Times Loses Another Great Voice

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We recently lost the genius of Frank Rich to the "I'm-off-to-write-a-book" exit strategy, now sadly, this is Bob Herbert's last column for the NY Times. Highly suspicious if you ask me...I hope they don't wind up being sold as sausages at some road side Tea party information booth. Ok...people do retire...but still.

I've appended a comment from Marie Burns (another writer I admire) after the "continue reading" jump because she examples the insightful and humane writing style that Herbert gave us during his 18 year sojourn at the Times.

Losing Our Way

By Bob Herbert

The U.S. can find the resources for endless warfare, but not for nation-building here at home.

So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.

Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.

Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.

Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations. A college professor in Washington told me this week that graduates from his program were finding jobs, but they were not making very much money, certainly not enough to think about raising a family.

There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.

Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable. It shouldn't be, and didn't used to be. Through much of the post-World War II era, income distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent receiving two-thirds. That seems like ancient history now.

The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation's wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.

This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.

A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: "G.E.'s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether." Despite profits of $14.2 billion -- $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States -- General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.

As The Times's David Kocieniewski reported, "Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore."

G.E. is the nation's largest corporation. Its chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, is the leader of President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. You can understand how ordinary workers might look at this cozy corporate-government arrangement and conclude that it is not fully committed to the best interests of working people.

Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.

This is my last column for The New York Times after an exhilarating, nearly 18-year run. I'm off to write a book and expand my efforts on behalf of working people, the poor and others who are struggling in our society. My thanks to all the readers who have been so kind to me over the years. I can be reached going forward at bobherbert88@gmail.com.

Who Owns the US Debt?

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Nope, not the Chinese...

The largest lender to the U.S. government is the people of the United States - we own 42.1 percent of the national debt in the form of Treasury bills held in our pension funds, 401(K)s, etc.

And 4.6 trillion - about a third - is held by the government itself. Almost 18 percent of the T-bills outstanding are sitting in the Social Security trust fund, earning interest and making the retirement program incredibly secure despite all the claims to the contrary.

Five Fun Facts About the $14 Trillion National Debt

They say China is our banker, but did you know it holds less than a tenth of our outstanding debt?

Joshua Holland

Our public debt - now at around $14 trillion dollars ($14,233,559,283,692.40 as of this writing, to be precise) - has been in the news lately, but how we accrued it, who holds it and whether it represents a problem are not well understood.

In one sense, for better or worse, our growing public debt has put trillions into the pockets of the American people. There's an economic principle known as "Wagner's law," which holds that as a country gets wealthier, its tax burden tends to increase. Wagner's law makes perfect sense: in a poor country, citizens are happy to have a paved road; in a middle-income country, they expect a public school on that road; and in the wealthiest countries in the world, the public expects safe air-traffic control to guide them into an airport where they can catch a cab to a world-class public university. As the expectations of what we want government to do rise, so do the tax revenues that are necessary to pay for it all.

Wagner's law holds true for every country in the world except the United States, where conservative economic discourse prevails. Thirty years ago the Right convinced a lot of Americans they could enjoy tax cuts without losing out on any of the services they'd come to expect. That's a big part of why our public debt jumped from $997 billion when Reagan took office to over 14 times that number today.

We could have paid for everything as we went through higher taxes but we didn't - in 2008,we ranked 26th out of the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of our total tax burden (the share of our economy we fork over to the government), coming in almost 9 percentage points below the average of the group of wealthy nations.

Here are five more fun facts about the national debt.

Corporate Tax Cheaters Like G.E.

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It's your basic corporate welfare scamming on a grand scale and as criminal as Al Capone...what was Capone jailed for again?


"Once again, this shows how corporations have come to control the U.S. government and use this power to legalize criminal activities. We were warned about this over and over:

"I hope we shall ... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country." -Thomas Jefferson (Letter to George Logan, 1816)

"Corporations have been enthroned. An era of corruption in high places will follow ... until wealth is aggregated in a few hands ... and the Republic is destroyed." -Abraham Lincoln, after the National Banking Act of 1863 was passed

"This is a government of the people, by the people and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations." -Rutherford B. Hayes.

"The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government ever since the days of Andrew Jackson." -President Franklin D. Roosevelt, November 21, 1933.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." -Dwight D. Eisenhower, farewell speech

One of the definitions of fascism is corporate control over the state, and we certainly have that. Behind all these corporations are the financial puppet masters, who have muscled their way to control over currency and credit, leveraging their position to profit by war and depression. - RAB, Bolder, Colorado



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G.E.'s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether

By David Kocieniewski

General Electric, the nation's largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010.

The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.

Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

That may be hard to fathom for the millions of American business owners and households now preparing their own returns, but low taxes are nothing new for G.E. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies.

Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.'s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world's best tax law firm. Indeed, the company's slogan "Imagination at Work" fits this department well. The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.

While General Electric is one of the most skilled at reducing its tax burden, many other companies have become better at this as well. Although the top corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, one of the highest in the world, companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less.

In a regulatory filing just a week before the Japanese disaster put a spotlight on the company's nuclear reactor business, G.E. reported that its tax burden was 7.4 percent of its American profits, about a third of the average reported by other American multinationals. Even those figures are overstated, because they include taxes that will be paid only if the company brings its overseas profits back to the United States. With those profits still offshore, G.E. is effectively getting money back.

The Austerity Ruse

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austerity.gif

The Austerity Delusion

By Paul Krugman

Portugal's government has just fallen in a dispute over austerity proposals. Irish bond yields have topped 10 percent for the first time. And the British government has just marked its economic forecast down and its deficit forecast up.

What do these events have in common? They're all evidence that slashing spending in the face of high unemployment is a mistake. Austerity advocates predicted that spending cuts would bring quick dividends in the form of rising confidence, and that there would be few, if any, adverse effects on growth and jobs; but they were wrong.

It's too bad, then, that these days you're not considered serious in Washington unless you profess allegiance to the same doctrine that's failing so dismally in Europe.

It was not always thus. Two years ago, faced with soaring unemployment and large budget deficits -- both the consequences of a severe financial crisis -- most advanced-country leaders seemingly understood that the problems had to be tackled in sequence, with an immediate focus on creating jobs combined with a long-run strategy of deficit reduction.

Why not slash deficits immediately? Because tax increases and cuts in government spending would depress economies further, worsening unemployment. And cutting spending in a deeply depressed economy is largely self-defeating even in purely fiscal terms: any savings achieved at the front end are partly offset by lower revenue, as the economy shrinks.

So jobs now, deficits later was and is the right strategy. Unfortunately, it's a strategy that has been abandoned in the face of phantom risks and delusional hopes. On one side, we're constantly told that if we don't slash spending immediately we'll end up just like Greece, unable to borrow except at exorbitant interest rates. On the other, we're told not to worry about the impact of spending cuts on jobs because fiscal austerity will actually create jobs by raising confidence.

How's that story working out so far?

Less Regulation? What Regulation?

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On her show last night, Rachel Maddow exposed the incredible lack of rational oversight policies affecting both the oil drilling and nuclear industries. In the case of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, new permits are currently being granted even in the face of a recently completed study of the blowout units used across the industry to ostensibly prevent the recent BP Deepwater Horizon spill disaster, finding those units are highly subject to failure due to critical design flaws which basically render them useless:

The long-delayed DNV report is very thorough and highly technical. I've been wading through it for several hours and will write about some of their more detailed conclusions in a later post, but I wanted to make this one key point right now: The US Government is currently issuing permits to drill knowing full well that operators are using blowout preventers that are insufficiently designed to shut in blown out deepwater wells. I have been talking about this fatal flaw for months now. The industry and Gulf Coast politicians have been applying unrelenting political pressure on the government to let deepwater drillers go back to work, and it has rationalized its capitulation saying that the industry has demonstrated its ability to contain deepwater blowouts with new equipment designed to do that. That's not really true, of course, since this new equipment is untested in real life conditions. Add this to the now well documented flawed BOP design, and we have another potential catastrophe on our hands. - Bob Cavnar

And that's just part of it -- The new permits for deepwater drilling are being issued for drilling companies that not only submitting disaster plans from 2009 (a year prior to the Deepwater Horizon debacle) but who also want to drill at 7000 ft (2000 ft deeper)!

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Who's watching you online? FTC pushes 'Do Not Track' plan

Unregulated 'behavioral tracking' raises serious privacy concerns

By Herb Weisbaum

...it's ludicrous to allow companies that make money by collecting your personal information to be the ones who protect your privacy.

Don't look now, but you're being tracked -- some might say stalked -- whenever you go online. Information about the sites you visit, the things you buy and the topics you search is used to build a detailed profile about you.  In most cases, this is done without your knowledge or consent.

"The Internet has become a serious threat to our privacy," says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

By spying on you, companies can learn about your personal finances, religious beliefs, political affiliation, race, ethnic background, even health problems or sexual preferences.

"Most people have no idea this is going on,"says Sharon Goott Nissim with the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "Your online profile is being sold on the web. It's kind of crazy and it's not harmless."

Right now, this "behavioral tracking" is mainly for marketing purposes, to target the advertising you see online. But the potential for abuse is enormous, since this information can also be used by insurance companies, financial institutions, landlords and prospective employers.

"There are no limits to what types of information can be collected, how long it can be retained, with whom it can be shared or how it can be used," notes Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America.

The Obama administration wants Congress to pass a "Privacy Bill of Rights" that would require online companies to tell you what information they collect and what they will do with it. Senators John Kerry and John McCain are crafting new digital privacy legislation that is expected to be introduced very soon.

The Federal Trade Commission would like to see Congress create a "Do Not Track" program that makes it easy to tell companies you do not want them to collect your personal information or browsing history.

"We think Do Not Track is an important way for consumers to have more choice over what happens to their information online," says Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.

Online advertisers say they strongly believe in protecting consumer privacy and want people to have a choice as to whether they are tracked online. But the industry believes self-regulation is the way to go.

Of course they do.

If you insist on wanting to do religion

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at least make it more like this


firerainbow.jpg

and perhaps consider living more like this

nordictents.jpg



hat tip Mr Baker

If Only

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Religion may become extinct in nine nations, study says

By Jason Palmer

The study found a steady rise in those claiming no religious affiliation.

christwept.jpgThe team's mathematical model attempts to account for the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being one.

The result, reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.

The team took census data stretching back as far as a century from countries in which the census queried religious affiliation: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Their means of analysing the data invokes what is known as nonlinear dynamics - a mathematical approach that has been used to explain a wide range of physical phenomena in which a number of factors play a part.

One of the team, Daniel Abrams of Northwestern University, put forth a similar model in 2003 to put a numerical basis behind the decline of lesser-spoken world languages.

At its heart is the competition between speakers of different languages, and the "utility" of speaking one instead of another.

"The idea is pretty simple," said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona.

"It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility.

"For example in languages, there can be greater utility or status in speaking Spanish instead of [the dying language] Quechuan in Peru, and similarly there's some kind of status or utility in being a member of a religion or not."

Dr Wiener continued: "In a large number of modern secular democracies, there's been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%."

The team then applied their nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the "non-religious" category.

They found, in a study published online, that those parameters were similar across all the countries studied, suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of them.

And in all the countries, the indications were that religion was headed toward extinction.

However, Dr Wiener told the conference that the team was working to update the model with a "network structure" more representative of the one at work in the world.

"Obviously we don't really believe this is the network structure of a modern society, where each person is influenced equally by all the other people in society," he said.

However, he told BBC News that he thought it was "a suggestive result".

"It's interesting that a fairly simple model captures the data, and if those simple ideas are correct, it suggests where this might be going.

Apple Pulls Exodus iPhone App

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Update:

Amazing! After more than 150,000 petition signatures from Change.org members and saturation media coverage, news outlets worldwide are reporting that Apple has pulled an iPhone application launched by Exodus International that claimed to help "cure" gay and lesbian people.

This is a huge, public victory against the dangerous myth that gay young people can and should be "turned straight" -- a falsehood that contributes to the plague of depression and suicide afflicting these kids and young adults. Our friends at Truth Wins Out, the organization that started the petition on Change.org, are absolutely thrilled.

Apple did the right thing because an incredible 151,125 Change.org members stood together to demand it. We spread the word on Facebook more than 55,000 times. And together we attracted the attention of media around the globe, including CNN, MSNBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, and hundreds of newspapers and blogs.

Thank you for making this victory possible.

Mall Cops Out of Line

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Here's some major BS from mall cops with zero fashion sense.

Bryant Ejected From Mall in Row Over Droopy Pants

Dezs_Bryantl.jpgDallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant was ejected from an upscale Dallas shopping mall after a dispute over the sagging pants worn by him and some companions.

A Tuesday police statement says officers working off-duty Saturday as security at NorthPark Center encountered Bryant and three companions wearing the drooping pants.

According to the statement, when the officers asked the four to pull up their trousers, Bryant launched into a profanity-laced tirade that prompted the officers to escort the four from the mall.

Police say Bryant refused to leave, however, until his "representative" could arrive and he parked in a fire lane until a friend arrived and persuaded him to leave.

No charge was filed. Bryant's agent, Eugene Parker, declined to comment. The Dallas Cowboys did not respond to requests for comment.

Beck's Nemesis

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Finally someone has called Beck out on his snake-oil scamming.

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More Proof Religion Makes People Stupid

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This law is so blatantly offensive it makes me want to beat the snot out the people who proposed and enacted it.

FACT: Abortion is a legal, constitutionally protected medical procedure. It requires no caveat from any parties other than the woman and her physician beyond those already in extant law.

This legislation by South Dakota is nothing more than interference between a patient and her doctor by evangelical extremists who want to assert control by irrationally limiting a woman's choice in exercising her reproductive human rights.


3-day wait for abortion becomes law in S.D.

By Chet Brokaw

pro-life.gifWomen who want an abortion in South Dakota will face the longest waiting period in the nation -- three days -- and have to undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortions under a measure signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Within minutes of Daugaard's announcement that he had signed the measure, abortion rights groups said they planned to file a lawsuit challenging the measure, which one said could create particular hardships for women who live in rural areas hundreds of miles (kilometers) from the state's only abortion clinic in Sioux Falls.

Daugaard, who gave no interviews after signing the bill, said in a written statement that he had conferred with state attorneys who will defend the law in court and a sponsor who has pledged to raise private money to finance the state's court fight. Officials have said estimated the cost of defending the law at $1.7 million to $4.5 million.

"I think everyone agrees with the goal of reducing abortion by encouraging consideration of other alternatives," the Republican governor said in the statement. "I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices."

About half the states, including South Dakota, now have 24-hour waiting periods, but the state's new law is the first of its kind in having a three-day waiting period and requiring women to seek counseling at pregnancy help centers, said Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

The law will certainly make it harder for some women to get abortions, said Kathi Di Nicola, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, which runs the clinic in Sioux Falls. Women could have to drive there several times to schedule an abortion, visit a crisis pregnancy center and then get an abortion, she said.

"It would most certainly be a barrier to women who have to travel. South Dakota is a rural state," Di Nicola said. "Many women who are seeking abortion care already have to take time off work, arrange for child care."

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota said they will ask a judge to strike down the measure as unconstitutional.


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Why do Americans continually vote against their self-interest when it comes to the enormous gaps in wealth? Why do so many lower income people protect the rich?

Living Beyond Your Means

Michael I. Norton

Easy consumer credit and a belief in social mobility have reduced the clamor for wealth redistribution.

In a recent survey of Americans, my colleague Dan Ariely and I found that Americans drastically underestimated the level of wealth inequality in the United States. While recent data indicates that the richest 20 percent of Americans own 84 percent of all wealth, people estimated that this group owned just 59 percent - believing that total wealth in this country is far more evenly divided among poorer Americans.

What's more, when we asked them how they thought wealth should be distributed, they told us they wanted an even more equitable distribution, with the richest 20 percent owning just 32 percent of the wealth. This was true of Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor - all groups we surveyed approved of some inequality, but their ideal was far more equal than the current level.

Why then, given the consensus on this more equal America, are Americans not clamoring for redistribution?

wealth.distribution.gif
The actual United States wealth distribution plotted against the estimated and ideal distributions across all respondents. See more details.

First, the expansion of consumer credit in the United States has allowed middle class and poor Americans to live beyond their means, masking their lack of wealth by increasing their debt. We might think that people who have "zero net worth" have nothing. But in fact, having zero net worth increasingly means owning a lot (cars, televisions, even houses) - but also owing a lot. As a result people with zero net worth, and even negative net worth, can still feel that they are living the American dream, doing "better" than their parents did while keeping up with the Joneses.

Second, poorer Americans' belief in social mobility - despite strong evidence of its rarity - causes negative reactions to policies that would seem to benefit them, like raising taxes on those who earn and own a lot more. Why would the poor oppose taxes on the wealthy? Because many believe that they, or at least their children, will eventually be wealthy, voting for taxes on the rich may feel like voting for taxes on themselves. As a result, even the word "redistribution" has negative connotations.

My colleagues and I are now exploring whether educating Americans about the current level of wealth inequality (by showing them charts and pictures) might increase their support for policies that reduce this inequality. In addition, we are assessing whether different forms of redistribution - for example, raising the minimum wage, or longer term interventions like reducing disparities in education - are less likely to evoke heated opposition, and perhaps increase advocacy for greater wealth equality.

BUT...

Get ready for a populist movement in years ahead.

On the Backs of the Working Poor

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Yep, there's an app for that -- unless we can convince Apple to get rid of it.

Seriously.

A controversy is erupting around a new application for the iPhone that claims gay people can be "cured," and that gay kids should be put through therapy to "fix" their sexual orientation.

Believe it or not, Apple is providing Exodus International -- an organization that promotes "conversion therapy" to try to brainwash gay people into turning straight -- a platform on iTunes for their homophobic iPhone app. This, despite the fact that Exodus believes that LGBT people should be confronted with "spiritual warfare," and that "freedom from homosexuality" should be a societal goal.

Worse, Apple has given the Exodus app a 4+ rating on iTunes, labeling the app "non-offensive," even though the group tells gay kids that their sexual orientation is "immoral," "satanic," and in need of a cure -- factors that contribute to teen suicide.

The grassroots group Truth Wins Out has started a petition on Change.org, asking Apple to follow their own editorial standards -- and remove this dangerous "ex-gay" app from iTunes now. The more signatures they deliver, the more likely Apple executives -- like Steve Jobs -- will do the right thing. Click here to add your name.

Apple has been a strong ally to the LGBT community for years, even donating $100,000 to defeat California's Proposition 8, the state's ban on marriage equality. Just a few months ago, Apple actually removed another app from iTunes that labeled same-sex couples "immoral sexual partnerships" following pressure from Change.org members and others.

Exodus International's "ex-gay" app deserves to be pulled from iTunes as well. "Conversion therapy" has been universally condemned by every major medical and scientific organization around the world. The American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, and American Counseling Association have all rejected "ex-gay" therapy, saying that it results in catastrophic damage to the mental health of its victims.

Please click here to sign the petition to Apple executives, asking them to stand up for equality and remove this dangerous iPhone app from iTunes now:

http://www.change.org/petitions/demand-that-apple-remove-ex-gay-iphone-app?alert_id=QJGtBBlHFV_DFIrvzsrlg&me=aa

Thanks for joining us -- and sharing this petition with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. With your support, we know Apple will do the right thing.

- Eden and the Change.org team

But not in the good way Paul Simon's song intimated. No, their craziness is the genuine sociopathic sort that pits them against the interests and welfare of the public they are supposed to represent. To wit, their fear and loathing of Elizabeth Warren.

The War on Warren

By Paul Krugman

Last week, at a House hearing on financial institutions and consumer credit, Republicans lined up to grill and attack Elizabeth Warren, the law professor and bankruptcy expert who is in charge of setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Ostensibly, they believed that Ms. Warren had overstepped her legal authority by helping state attorneys general put together a proposed settlement with mortgage servicers, which are charged with a number of abuses.

But the accusations made no sense. Since when is it illegal for a federal official to talk with state officials, giving them the benefit of her expertise? Anyway, everyone knew that the real purpose of the attack on Ms. Warren was to ensure that neither she nor anyone with similar views ends up actually protecting consumers.

And Republicans were clearly also hoping that if they threw enough mud, some of it would stick. For people like Ms. Warren -- people who warned that we were heading for a debt crisis before it happened -- threaten, by their very existence, attempts by conservatives to sustain their anti-regulation dogma. Such people must therefore be demonized, using whatever tools are at hand.

Let me expand on that for a moment. When the 2008 financial crisis struck, many observers -- myself included -- thought that it would force opponents of financial regulation to rethink their position. After all, conservatives hailed the debt boom of the Bush years as a triumph of free-market finance right up to the moment it turned into a disastrous bust.

But we underestimated the speed and determination with which opponents of regulation would rewrite history. Almost instantly, that free-market boom was retroactively reinterpreted; it became a disaster brought on by, you guessed it, excessive government intervention.

There remained, however, the inconvenient fact that some of those calling for stronger regulation have a track record that gives them a lot of credibility. And few have as much credibility as Ms. Warren.




Sermonette # 561

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No one was ever converted to a religion because they lost the argument.

Mr Fish and His Scales

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Empathy for the Devil

By Mr. Fish

empathyIllus.jpgI first saw the massive spread of twinkling lights that is Los Angeles at night from the San Gabriel Mountains in the early 1990s while visiting from Philadelphia. It was stunningly beautiful and made me think of a phone interview that I'd heard on CNN a year earlier just after New Year's during the Gulf War.

The images that were being telecast during the interview were those of nighttime warfare, the sort that made every television set in America appear as if it was a murky green fish tank full of randomly ejaculated sparks and vague flashes of percussive light almost too dim to see. Saddam Hussein by that time had already lost his air force and had begun to run out of Scud missiles, which, as projectiles, were never any more precise or destructive than far-flung empty hot water heaters, and there was little doubt, particularly in countries not being fed the CNN feed, that some brutally excessive and wholly unnecessary slaughter of Iraqi soldiers and civilians was being perpetrated in the desert.

The interviewee was a 10-year-old Israeli girl who was being asked her opinion about how well the U.S.-led coalition forces were faring in their bombing campaign--a loaded question to be sure, particularly because a 10-year-old girl might not be trusted to honestly answer the question "Did you brush your teeth?" without a corroborating fondling of her toothbrush's bristles to test for wetness; forget about asking her to elaborate on something as outlandishly subjective as a war. Thus, it was not a question in search of a real answer. Instead, it was an attempt by a news corporation to give its viewers the same thrill at holiday time that radio listeners got to experience in the 1940s while listening to Edward R. Murrow tell them how the GIs were sacrificing their own innocence and pleasant dispositions and apple-cheeked virginity to the noble barbarity of butchering all the fascist monsters who wanted to devour America's children, grandchildren, puppies and kittens.

The girl answered the question by saying, "I heard an American pilot who was dropping bombs on Baghdad at night say that it looked beautiful, like a Christmas tree. I don't think I'll ever understand Americans."

Sitting in the dark woods above the L.A. basin a year after that interview, with the scent of pine and damp roots and cold earth permeating my clothes, I wondered what super-sparkly destructiveness I was looking at down below and I questioned the sanity of my elation. Sure, I knew that there was a difference between me looking down at Tinseltown from a wooded mountaintop in Southern California and a U.S. fighter pilot exploding the soft gooey insides of Iraqis from an F-15 Eagle, but the difference was by no means significant enough to make what was startlingly similar inconsequential; the similarity, of course, being that both my and the pilot's physiologies were completely interchangeable in their reaction to what each had experienced.

Both said "neato" and asked that we not turn away, declaring that there was poetry in what we had witnessed.

Ever since then I've wondered how anybody can ever really feel morally superior to anybody else, even when comparing himself to those who might find beauty in the rocket's red glare as it vaporizes those whose only retaliation against annihilation is to stain the soles of the conqueror's shoes. With that in mind, I've also extended my mystification to the question of whether or not anybody can truly be classified as evil. Kurt Vonnegut has famously claimed that there are no villains in the human species, nor are there heroes. It was his belief that only those circumstances born from the intellectual and emotional inadequacies of humankind should be seen as being either good or bad--and, then, not even as good or bad, but rather as fortunate and unfortunate.

Can this be right?

A Great Lady Passes

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Twin sisters Suzanne, Bethanne and I watched our mother, Ettie, take her last breath on March 17th. Each of us no doubt had our own private and complex way of weighing at that intense moment what it meant to be alive. What I realized then was that her greatest gift to me, other than my birth, was her example that nothing is more important in life than to place our humanity above all else. She taught me to care.

we all come and go alone
flesh and bone
keeping us apart
between the cradle and the stone
we are shown
all that matters is the heart
but more than this is that the heart can share
the best we are is when we learn to care
what we are is what the heart can bear
to hold
call it love
call it what you will
it's when we share
that we find out fill
arms entwined we climb our hill
to reach our final goal

What is the meaning of life?
Right now? Right here?
Isn't it to give life meaning?



ETTIE B. HAYES, 89

WINTER HAVEN - Mrs. Ettie B. Hayes, 89, of Winter Haven, Florida, went to be with the Lord on March 17, 2011 due to complications of pneumonia.
She was born February 19, 1922 in Jarrow, England to William and Susan Hill. Ettie graduated valedictorian from St. Bedes and was a munitions worker during WWII in London. She became a war bride and moved to Port Huron, Michigan where she worked as a proofreader for the Times Herald. Ettie married Allan C. Hayes on December 6, 1952 and together they raised six children.
Ettie was an avid golfer and loved to ballroom dance. She attended Parkland Baptist Church and was a member of the Moose and Elks Lodges.
Ettie is survived by her husband, Allan, children, Alan Heath, Ocala, Michael Heath, Maureen Heath, Daniel and Bethanne Carr, Susanne Hayes, and Kathleen Hayes, all of Winter Haven, FL, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She was preceded in death by her parents, brother William, sisters Doris and Mary and grandson Jason Heath.
A celebration of life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Ettie Hayes Christian Scholarship fund, administered by Parkland Baptist Church, 1800 8th St. SE, Winter Haven, FL 33880.
A special thanks for the extraordinary care given by Dr. J. Randall Edwards, Dr. Jose' Martinez-Salas, Ronnie Rowe, and the staff of MICU at Winter Haven Hospital.

We Ain't Broke

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That's just the most recent excuse for dismantling social programs from the republican quarter. They instinctively know this is their last hurrah and are shooting for the moon to finally destroy government. They're idiots and so their misdirections are idiotic.

The High Cost of a Broken Metaphor

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

"We're broke."

You can practically break a search engine if you start looking around the Internet for those words. They're used repeatedly with reference to our local, state and federal governments, almost always to make a case for slashing programs--and, lately, to go after public-employee unions. The phrase is designed to create a sense of crisis that justifies rapid and radical actions before citizens have a chance to debate the consequences.

Just one problem: We're not broke. Yes, nearly all levels of government face fiscal problems because of the economic downturn. But there is no crisis. There are many different paths open to fixing public budgets. And we will come up with wiser and more sustainable solutions if we approach fiscal problems calmly, realizing that we're still a very rich country, and that the wealthiest among us are doing exceptionally well.

Consider two of the most prominent we're-brokers, House Speaker John Boehner and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

"We're broke, broke going on bankrupt," Boehner said in a Feb. 28 Nashville speech. For Boehner, this "fact" justifies the $61 billion in domestic spending cuts House Republicans passed (cuts that would have a negligible impact on the long-term deficit). Boehner's GOP colleagues want reductions in Head Start, student loans and scores of other programs voters like, and the only way to sell them is to cry catastrophe.

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Walker, of course, used the "we're broke" rationale to justify his attack on public-worker collective bargaining rights. Yet the state's supposedly "broke" status did not stop him from approving tax cuts before he began his war on unions and proposed all manner of budget cuts, including deep reductions in aid to public schools.

In both cases, the fiscal issues are just an excuse for ideologically driven policies to levy lower taxes on well-off people and business while reducing government programs. Yet only occasionally do journalists step back to ask: Are these guys telling the truth?

The admirable website PolitiFact.com examined Walker's claim in detail and concluded flatly it was "false."

"Experts agree the state faces financial challenges in the form of deficits," PolitiFact wrote. "But they also agree the state isn't broke. Employees and bills are being paid. Services are continuing to be performed. Revenue continues to roll in. A variety of tools--taxes, layoffs, spending cuts, debt shifting--is available to make ends meet. Walker has promised not to increase taxes. That takes one tool off the table."

And that's the whole point.

Bloomberg News looked at Boehner's statement and declared simply: "It's wrong." As the agency's David J. Lynch wrote: "The U.S. today is able to borrow at historically low interest rates, paying 0.68 percent on a two-year note that it had to offer at 5.1 percent before the financial crisis began in 2007. Financial products that pay off if Uncle Sam defaults aren't attracting unusual investor demand. And tax revenue as a percentage of the economy is at a 60-year low, meaning if the government needs to raise cash and can summon the political will, it could do so."

Precisely. A phony metaphor is being used to hijack the nation's political conversation and skew public policies to benefit better-off Americans and hurt most others.

We have an 8.9 percent unemployment rate, yet further measures to spur job creation are off the table. We're broke, you see. We have a $15 trillion economy, yet we pretend to be an impoverished nation with no room for public investments in our future or efforts to ease the pain of a deep recession on those Americans who didn't profit from it or cause it in the first place.

As Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., pointed out in a little-noticed but powerful speech on the economy in December, "during the past 20 years, 56 percent of all income growth went to the top 1 percent of households. Even more unbelievably, a third of all income growth went to just the top one-tenth of 1 percent." Some people are definitely not broke, yet we can't even think about raising their taxes.

By contrast, Franken noted that "when you adjust for inflation, the median household income actually declined over the last decade." Many of those folks are going broke, yet because "we're broke," we're told we can't possibly help them.

Give Boehner, Walker and their allies full credit for diverting our attention with an arresting metaphor. The rest of us are dupes if we fall for it.

CEO Pay Bashing, Tea Party-Style

Sam Pizzigati

Has Jim DeMint, the right-wing senator leading the assault on federal domestic spending, finally gone too far? His corporate executive benefactors may soon come to think so.

Even hypocrites can sometimes have a point. Take Jim DeMint, for instance, the U.S. senator -- and Tea Party favorite -- from South Carolina who may well be Capitol Hill's most zealously single-minded budget-cutter.

Earlier this month, DeMint came out swinging against the defenders of federal funding for Big Bird, Elmo, and the rest of public broadcasting's powers that be.

How dare the muckety-mucks of public TV and radio demand our tax dollars, DeMint roared in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. These muckety-mucks, he went on to expound, "are making more than the President of the United States."

That happens to be true. PBS president Paula Kerger is taking home $632,233 in annual compensation, a hefty chunk of change over President Obama's $400,000. Her counterpart at NPR, Kevin Close, came in at $1.2 million in 2009.

If public broadcasting can afford to shell out executive paychecks like these, Jim DeMint declares, "surely it can operate without tax dollars."

So what makes DeMint a hypocrite here? If the good senator really believed that enterprises with lavishly paid executives can afford to do without taxpayer support, he wouldn't be wasting his time ranting against public broadcasting. He'd be raging instead at Big Oil -- or Corporate America writ large.

In 2009, CEOs at America's oil and gas giants averaged $10.4 million each. These same executives happily accepted billions in U.S. taxpayer largesse, sums that dwarf the relative peanuts that go annually to public broadcasting.

Most of this largesse to Big Oil comes in the form of tax breaks, or "tax expenditures," as budget experts label them. Our nation's budget experts, the conservative Tax Foundation notes in a new report, consider these tax breaks "the equivalent of spending through the tax code."

How much do U.S. taxpayers spend on the oil and gas industry? The Tax Foundation has identified $5.8 billion in targeted tax breaks set to go to oil and gas corporations over the next five years.

These oil and gas companies also, of course, benefit from various other corporate tax breaks not specific to the oil and gas industry. Overall, the Tax Foundation reports, these general-purpose corporate tax breaks will cost U.S. taxpayers $448.5 billion over the next five years, on top of the $54.2 billion U.S. companies will be reaping in industry-specific tax breaks.

The combined taxpayer outlay going to private corporations from these two revenue streams: over $100 billion a year, computes the Tax Foundation.

The annual taxpayer outlay last year for public broadcasting: $420 million, or less than one-half of 1 percent of what goes annually to private corporations.

Cheat and defraud without consequence

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Welcome to the American financial industry, especially the banks holding mortgages.
These people need to be dragged from the offices into the streets and have rabid wolves set on them....just to re-balance the universe with some karmic justice, doncha know?

Another Inside Job

By Paul Krugman

Count me among those who were glad to see the documentary "Inside Job" win an Oscar. The film reminded us that the financial crisis of 2008, whose aftereffects are still blighting the lives of millions of Americans, didn't just happen -- it was made possible by bad behavior on the part of bankers, regulators and, yes, economists.

What the film didn't point out, however, is that the crisis has spawned a whole new set of abuses, many of them illegal as well as immoral. And leading political figures are, at long last, showing some outrage. Unfortunately, this outrage is directed, not at banking abuses, but at those trying to hold banks accountable for these abuses.

The immediate flashpoint is a proposed settlement between state attorneys general and the mortgage servicing industry. That settlement is a "shakedown," says Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. The money banks would be required to allot to mortgage modification would be "extorted," declares The Wall Street Journal. And the bankers themselves warn that any action against them would place economic recovery at risk.

All of which goes to confirm that the rich are different from you and me: when they break the law, it's the prosecutors who find themselves on trial.

To get an idea of what we're talking about here, look at the complaint filed by Nevada's attorney general against Bank of America. The complaint charges the bank with luring families into its loan-modification program -- supposedly to help them keep their homes -- under false pretenses; with giving false information about the program's requirements (for example, telling them that they had to default on their mortgages before receiving a modification); with stringing families along with promises of action, then "sending foreclosure notices, scheduling auction dates, and even selling consumers' homes while they waited for decisions"; and, in general, with exploiting the program to enrich itself at those families' expense.

The end result, the complaint charges, was that "many Nevada consumers continued to make mortgage payments they could not afford, running through their savings, their retirement funds, or their children's education funds. Additionally, due to Bank of America's misleading assurances, consumers deferred short-sales and passed on other attempts to mitigate their losses. And they waited anxiously, month after month, calling Bank of America and submitting their paperwork again and again, not knowing whether or when they would lose their homes."

Still, things like this only happen to losers who can't keep up their mortgage payments, right? Wrong. Recently Dana Milbank, the Washington Post columnist, wrote about his own experience: a routine mortgage refinance with Citibank somehow turned into a nightmare of misquoted rates, improper interest charges, and frozen bank accounts. And all the evidence suggests that Mr. Milbank's experience wasn't unusual.

Notice, by the way, that we're not talking about the business practices of fly-by-night operators; we're talking about two of our three largest financial companies, with roughly $2 trillion each in assets. Yet politicians would have you believe that any attempt to get these abusive banking giants to make modest restitution is a "shakedown." The only real question is whether the proposed settlement lets them off far too lightly.

What about the argument that placing any demand on the banks would endanger the recovery? There's a lot to be said about that argument, none of it good. But let me emphasize two points.

First, the proposed settlement only calls for loan modifications that would produce a greater "net present value" than foreclosure -- that is, for offering deals that are in the interest of both homeowners and investors. The outrageous truth is that in many cases banks are blocking such mutually beneficial deals, so that they can continue to extract fees. How could ending this highway robbery be bad for the economy?

Second, the biggest obstacle to recovery isn't the financial condition of major banks, which were bailed out once and are now profiting from the widespread perception that they'll be bailed out again if anything goes wrong. It is, instead, the overhang of household debt combined with paralysis in the housing market. Getting banks to clear up mortgage debts -- instead of stringing families along to extract a few more dollars -- would help, not hurt, the economy.

In the days and weeks ahead, we'll see pro-banker politicians denounce the proposed settlement, asserting that it's all about defending the rule of law. But what they're actually defending is the exact opposite -- a system in which only the little people have to obey the law, while the rich, and bankers especially, can cheat and defraud without consequences.

The birth of a word

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MIT researcher Deb Roy wanted to understand how his infant son learned language -- so he wired up his house with videocameras to catch every moment (with exceptions) of his son's life, then parsed 90,000 hours of home video to watch "gaaaa" slowly turn into "water." Astonishing, data-rich research with deep implications for how we learn.

The corporatocracy makes its move.

It's astonishing how blatantly fascist this move by Michigan republicans is in terms of destroying any pretense of democracy. This is government by pure fiat.

Hey! Who Stole My Democracy?

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro

Warning: You are about to enter the Twilight Zone.


Imagine, if you will, that you live in a state where a governor wields extraordinary power over its residents. Imagine, if you will, that your governor has the legal authority to appoint an "Emergency Manager" to oversee the local government in the town where you reside. Imagine that the monetary compensation for the Emergency Manager of your community has no cap. Imagine that your Emergency Manager declares that there's a financial emergency in your town and then takes over control of it. Imagine that the Emergency Manager can break contracts, seize and sell assets, eliminate services--and can also fire duly elected public officials who serve your community. Imagine, if you will, that the Emergency Manager empowered by your governor to run your town has the right to dissolve your school district and to disincorporate your town. AND imagine that you and your fellow residents have no say about what is going on! Just imagine how you might feel if you lived in a state where that kind of thing was going on. Well, the people who live in Michigan may not have to imagine much longer.

Who, you might ask, will be responsible for transforming the state of Michigan into a Rod Serlingesque otherworldly undemocratic Twilight Zone right here in the United States? Why, Governor Rick Snyder and his bold band of Republican state legislators-that's who. In January, Governor Snyder called for "Emergency Manager" legislation--and the Republican state legislators were more than happy to comply with his request.

This all seems hard to believe, doesn't it? I'm not making it up. Karen Bouffard of The Detroit News reported the following: Legislation that would allow emergency financial managers to throw out union contracts and overrule elected officials in financially distressed municipalities and school districts was approved Wednesday by the state Senate. Similar legislation passed in the House in February, and the two chambers are working on a final version to send to Gov. Rick Snyder.

In an article published in The Michigan Messenger, Eartha Jane Melzer wrote:

Under the law whole cities or school districts could be eliminated without any public participation or oversight, and amendments designed to provide minimal safeguards and public involvement were voted down.

An amendment to require Emergency Managers to hold monthly public meetings to let people know how they are governing was rejected by Senate Republicans, along with proposals to cap Emergency Manager compensation and require that those appointed to run school districts have some background in education.

Critics say that Republicans are manipulating concerns about budget problems in order to consolidate power by undermining unions.

According to E. D. Kain: Snyder's law gives the state government the power not only to break up unions, but to dissolve entire local governments and place appointed "Emergency Managers" in their stead. But that's not all - whole cities could be eliminated if Emergency Managers and the governor choose to do so. And Snyder can fire elected officials unilaterally, without any input from voters. It doesn't get much more anti-Democratic than that.

The Simple Fact

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Sheen is shining so bright he's blinding them.

A Tiger Blood Quaff,
probably heavy on the ginseng

sheen.jpg

Wisconsin Needs to Recall All Republicans

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The Mass Deaths Begin

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First the birds...then the fish.

deadfish.jpg

The Metformin & Ketoacidosis Songs

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Diabetes Medications (Sulfonylureas, Metformin, Acarbose)

Thanatos Overwhelming

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This Time We're Taking the Whole Planet With Us


garbage.jpg

by Chris Hedges

I have walked through the barren remains of Babylon in Iraq and the ancient Roman city of Antioch, the capital of Roman Syria, which now lies buried in silt deposits. I have visited the marble ruins of Leptis Magna, once one of the most important agricultural centers in the Roman Empire, now isolated in the desolate drifts of sand southeast of Tripoli. I have climbed at dawn up the ancient temples in Tikal, while flocks of brightly colored toucans leapt through the jungle foliage below. I have stood amid the remains of the ancient Egyptian city of Luxor along the Nile, looking at the statue of the great Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II lying broken on the ground, with Percy Shelley's poem "Ozymandias" running through my head:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Civilizations rise, decay and die. Time, as the ancient Greeks argued, for individuals and for states is cyclical. As societies become more complex they become inevitably more precarious. They become increasingly vulnerable. And as they begin to break down there is a strange retreat by a terrified and confused population from reality, an inability to acknowledge the self-evident fragility and impending collapse. The elites at the end speak in phrases and jargon that do not correlate to reality. They retreat into isolated compounds, whether at the court at Versailles, the Forbidden City or modern palatial estates. The elites indulge in unchecked hedonism, the accumulation of vaster wealth and extravagant consumption. They are deaf to the suffering of the masses who are repressed with greater and greater ferocity. Resources are more ruthlessly depleted until they are exhausted. And then the hollowed-out edifice collapses. The Roman and Sumerian empires fell this way. The Mayan elites, after clearing their forests and polluting their streams with silt and acids, retreated backward into primitivism.

As food and water shortages expand across the globe, as mounting poverty and misery trigger street protests in the Middle East, Africa and Europe, the elites do what all elites do. They launch more wars, build grander monuments to themselves, plunge their nations deeper into debt, and as it all unravels they take it out on the backs of workers and the poor. The collapse of the global economy, which wiped out a staggering $40 trillion in wealth, was caused when our elites, after destroying our manufacturing base, sold massive quantities of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities to pension funds, small investors, banks, universities, state and foreign governments and shareholders. The elites, to cover the losses, then looted the public treasury to begin the speculation over again. They also, in the name of austerity, began dismantling basic social services, set out to break the last vestiges of unions, slashed jobs, froze wages, threw millions of people out of their homes, and stood by idly as we created a permanent underclass of unemployed and underemployed.

The Mayan elite became, at the end, as the anthropologist Ronald Wright notes in "A Short History of Progress," "... extremists, or ultra-conservatives, squeezing the last drops of profit from nature and humanity." This is how all civilizations, including our own, ossify and die. The signs of imminent death may be undeniable. Common sense may cry out for a radical new response. But the race toward self-immolation only accelerates because of intellectual and moral paralysis. As Sigmund Freud grasped in "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" and "Civilization and Its Discontents," human societies are as intoxicated and blinded by their own headlong rush toward death and destruction as they are by the search for erotic fulfillment.

Shiny Boots of Leather

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fashion nazi.jpgFascists and sadists, haughtiness and contempt. Ingredients so frequently expressed by the recessive genotype of thin, blue-eyed, sharp angled, self-proclaimed arbiters of taste...in a word, Fashion Nazis. Literally.

....kiss the boot of shiny, shiny leather
shiny leather in the dark
tongue the thongs, the belt that does await you
strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart

severin, severin, speak so slightly
severin, down on your bended knee
taste the whip, in love not given lightly
taste the whip and bleed for me....

- Lou Reed

High Fascism
By Rhonda Garelick

As I left a Paris cafe the other night, instead of the usual "Bonsoir, Madame," the waiter called after me, "Happy Fashion Week!" as if we were all celebrating a national holiday.

Maybe we were. Fashion is more than business in France: it's a mythology, a secular religion, a source of national pride, especially during Fashion Week, when the country recalls its history as the birthplace of haute couture.

In recent days, though, in response to the anti-Semitic diatribe by Christian Dior's creative director, John Galliano, the French have been recalling a far more ominous chapter in their history.

galliano.jpgAccording to witnesses, a drunken Mr. Galliano exploded at a woman seated near him in a Paris bar. "Dirty Jewish face, you should be dead," he is said to have told her. "Your boots are of the lowest quality, your thighs are of the lowest quality. You are so ugly I don't want to see you. I am John Galliano!"

France is highly sensitive to such matters, and reprisals came quickly. Dior fired Mr. Galliano, who now faces charges of using a racial insult, a crime in France. But beyond the spectacle of one man's abhorrent politics, the episode invites consideration of the curious relationship between French fashion and fascism.

During the Occupation, the Nazis and their French allies recognized the power and national prestige of the French fashion industry and sought to harness it. When the collaborationist Vichy government took over direction of the French lifestyle magazine Paris Soir, it announced in its pages a "summer of couture ... and shopping." The Nazis were so enamored with fashion's place in French culture that in their plans for postwar Europe, they stipulated that, unlike other industries, the fashion sector would remain in France.

Many in fashion were eager to play along. Lucien Lelong, a designer who supported Vichy and whose house stayed open during the war, saw couture as a political force: "Our role is to give France the face of serenity. The more elegant Frenchwomen are, the more our country will show the world that we are not afraid."

French fashion publications advocated a deep connection between the cultural splendor of couture and Frenchwomen's national, even genetic identity.

"Every woman in Paris is a living propaganda poster, the universal function of the Frenchwoman is to remain chic," wrote one fashion journalist in the early 1940s. "Frenchwomen are the repositories of chic, because this inheritance is inscribed in their race," wrote another. And as Vichy continued to toe the Nazi line about Aryan physical fitness, more French fashion magazines began focusing on exercise and diet for women.

Although not everyone in the world of French fashion fell in line with fascist ideas, it's no coincidence that many did. After all, there are deep and unsettling parallels between the industry, particularly in Europe, and fascism's antidemocratic aesthetic.

Both, for example, rely on a handful of oracular, charismatic leaders who issue proclamations to (select) crowds. Fascist leaders offered their followers the prospect of an enhanced, mythic identity -- a dream of youth and beauty, the same attributes promised by high fashion.

Maybe in the future, wealth itself needs to be redefined. Maybe the only only route back to something like a good standard of living is to change the standards away from our materialistic and rapacious consumerism. Maybe we need to focus on changing ourselves instead of figuring out ways to not have to change.

Degrees and Dollars

by Paul Krugman

It is a truth universally acknowledged that education is the key to economic success. Everyone knows that the jobs of the future will require ever higher levels of skill. That's why, in an appearance Friday with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, President Obama declared that "If we want more good news on the jobs front then we've got to make more investments in education."

But what everyone knows is wrong.

The day after the Obama-Bush event, The Times published an article about the growing use of software to perform legal research. Computers, it turns out, can quickly analyze millions of documents, cheaply performing a task that used to require armies of lawyers and paralegals. In this case, then, technological progress is actually reducing the demand for highly educated workers.

And legal research isn't an isolated example. As the article points out, software has also been replacing engineers in such tasks as chip design. More broadly, the idea that modern technology eliminates only menial jobs, that well-educated workers are clear winners, may dominate popular discussion, but it's actually decades out of date.

The fact is that since 1990 or so the U.S. job market has been characterized not by a general rise in the demand for skill, but by "hollowing out": both high-wage and low-wage employment have grown rapidly, but medium-wage jobs -- the kinds of jobs we count on to support a strong middle class -- have lagged behind. And the hole in the middle has been getting wider: many of the high-wage occupations that grew rapidly in the 1990s have seen much slower growth recently, even as growth in low-wage employment has accelerated.

Why is this happening?



The Return of Spring and Paul Simon

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On Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What

Elvis Costello

album-callout.jpgHow do the fingers of this thing entwine? Which foot falls first upon the trail?

Is it the word? Is it the music?

It generates few visible blisters, so may even be mistaken for an unearned reward.

As Fred Astaire once wisely sang, you have to "Let Yourself Go."

So how do you begin? When do you know when you've reached your destination?

What do you cut and when do you run without painting over the picture?

A thing of beauty?

Who needs it?

But that's the very mystery and fascination of it.

The trick is, as I know it, is to care like hell and not give a damn at the same time or as more elegantly proposed here; So Beautiful Or So What.


"Alright, here is the clue:"

JeopardyAnswer.jpg














"What is Hong Kong?"

"That is correct."

Astounding isn't it? So while Verizon and Comcast want to charge us through the nose for relatively slow speeds and whine that they need to be able to manage their available bandwidth by slowing down certain types of users (movie watchers and gamers), all they really need to do is expand the size of their "pipes" by making fiber optic service universal (like say, Canada did). But that would entail investment in their infrastructure which of course means less profit (oh, the horror). Wait for their spokespeople to declare it a commie plot to destroy capitalism...regardless that the Hong Kong company makes a good profit.



Cheap, Ultrafast Broadband? Hong Kong Has It

By Randall Stross

Hong Kong residents can enjoy astoundingly fast broadband at an astoundingly low price. It became available last year, when a scrappy company called Hong Kong Broadband Network introduced a new option for its fiber-to-the-home service: a speed of 1,000 megabits a second -- known as a "gig" -- for less than $26 a month.

In the United States, we don't have anything close to that. But we could. And we should.

Verizon, the nation's leading provider of fiber-to-the-home service, doesn't offer a gig, or even half that speed. Instead, it markets a "fastest" service that is only 50 megabits a second for downloading and 20 megabits a second for uploading. It costs $144.99 a month. That's one-twentieth the speed of Hong Kong Broadband's service for downloading, for more than five times the price.

One thing working in Hong Kong's favor, of course, is its greater population density, enabling broadband companies to reach multiuser dwellings at a much lower cost. But density is only part of the explanation. The personality of Hong Kong Broadband should be noted, too. A wholly owned subsidiary of City Telecom, it is an aggressive newcomer. It was willing to suffer seven years of losses while building out its fiber network before it turned profitable.

Hong Kong Broadband's principal competitor is an older company, PCCW, which has several other lines of business, including phone, television and mobile. PCCW also offers gigabit service to the home and benefits from the same population density. But PCCW's price is more than twice as much as Hong Kong Broadband's. Despite its low prices, Hong Kong Broadband now operates in the black.

Inexpensive pricing of gigabit broadband is practical in American cities, too. "This is an eminently replicable model," says Benoit Felten, a co-founder of Diffraction Analysis, a consulting business based in Paris. "But not by someone who already owns a network -- unless they're willing to scrap the network."

In the United States, costs would come down if several companies shared the financial burden of putting fiber into the ground and then competed on the basis of services built on top of the shared assets. That would bring multiple competitors into the picture, pushing down prices. But it would also require regulatory changes that the Federal Communications Commission has yet to show an appetite for.

Dane Jasper, the chief executive of Sonic.net, an Internet provider based in Santa Rosa, Calif., says that most broadband markets in the United States today are dominated by one phone company and one cable company.

"Why doesn't Verizon offer gigabit service?" Mr. Jasper asks. "Because it doesn't have to."




Two Cool

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But you know, that whole 2012 thing is getting more plausible by the day....just sayin'

'Two suns' spotted in China defy explanation

The dual sunset comes just weeks after rumors of a second sun flooded the Net

By Natalie Wolchover

Weeks after a story shot across the Web claiming that the imminent explosion of a nearby star would result in the appearance of a second sun in the sky -- a story that was later debunked -- two suns were caught on camera yesterday in China. The suns -- one fuzzy and orange, the other a crisp yellow orb -- appeared side-by-side, one slightly higher than the other.

two_suns.jpgWhat's going on? Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to Space.com, asked Jim Kaler, the University of Illinois astronomer who squelched the excitement over the aforementioned exploding Betelgeuse and who has written books on the day and night sky. The double sun image is an effect of optical refraction, Kaler said, but it's a "pretty darn rare" one, and one not fully explained by science.

"I doubt it's been computer modeled," he said. "There must have been some blob of atmosphere somewhere that caused this truly spectacular phenomenon, which in a sense is a mirage." [Amazing Sun Photos From Space]

Mirages appear when particles in the atmosphere refract, or bend, light. This typically happens near the horizon, where air is thicker, though, and mirages are usually aligned vertically above or below the original source of the light -- not beside it, like in the video. It's possible, Kaler said, that an unusually thick patch of atmosphere wandered in front of the sun to create the unusual effect.

Previous sightings of horizontally-aligned double images of the sun and moon are recorded in a book called "Light and Color in the Outdoors" (English edition: Springer 1993) by the famous Flemish astronomer Marcel Minnaert, which remains the most complete reference on double suns. "So many other instances have been reported that there is no longer any doubt about ... observations of sun and mock sun(s) being at exactly the same altitude," Minnaert wrote.

"The case of a mock sun 3 degrees and 25 arc-seconds to the left of the nearly set sun sounds incredible but has been recorded photographically." Indeed, Minnaert's description sounds nearly identical to the scene in question.

He goes on to state that the double or multiple image phenomena are produced by abnormal refraction, but that "it remains extraordinary that the images of the sun and moon were sharp and of the same size as the real sun and moon."

To check whether more has been learned about the double sun effect since the time of Minnaert's writing, Life's Little Mysteries consulted several atmospheric optics experts. None of them had ever seen anything quite like the effect shown in the video.

"This is not a common optical phenomenon that we're seeing here," said Grant Perry, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Institute for Satellite and Meteorological Studies. "I'm asking myself if this is an artifact of the lens, but if that were the case -- if it's reflections of the lens elements -- then the images would move in relation to each other as the camera moves," Perry said. "But that doesn't happen."

In terms of an optical explanation, he said, "You would have to assume it is particles of ice or something in the atmosphere aligned in such a way that they would refract the sunlight at that very small angle, but only in one direction. It would require some fairly peculiar characteristics."

Several related atmospheric optical effects are fully explained by science. Sun dogs, sunset mirages, sun pillars and sun halos are all relatively common and well understood. But not this effect.

"It's very intriguing," said Kaler.

Teachers vs Wallstreet

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Upping the ante

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M-32_Grenade_Launcher.jpg Its time to dust off that China Lake NATIC 40mm Grenade Launcher you bought at the gun show last year... AK-47.anti-tank.jpgor maybe just retrieve the AKM with GP-25 40mm underbarrel grenade launcher you stashed in the attic with the kids old toys.

Something has to be done to keep up with the Jones' blatant upping of the ante by police departments across the US as they acquire (for free, no less) hundreds of new Bearcat G3 tanks to be used against citizens in various urban situations.

"In the world of law enforcement, we must also be prepared for the highly unlikely, but possible tragic event," Vallejo wrote in an open letter, "and there is no price tag you can put on the life of a police officer who is out there protecting you."


And how can you argue with that?

I'd say by asking about the price tag of the citizen's life who gets assaulted by over zealous swat teams itching to use their new toys or paranoid authoritarian mayors or governors in Wisconsin trying to deal with large numbers of protesters?

There is something very uncool about the trend to turn local police into paramilitary units -- and even more uncool is the public's acquiescence of it. I wonder if our personal well regulated militia will be given a few Bearcat G3 tanks as well?

Why do America's police need an armored tank?

Law enforcement says vehicles save lives; other experts say it's just overkill

By Justin Hyde

America's most in-demand police vehicle is a 10-officer 16,000-pound armored tank that takes bullets like Superman and drives 80 mph.

Bearcat.G3.jpg The federal government buys dozens each year for local police departments. Do America's local police need tanks?

Every day, America produces a fresh batch of barricaded gunmen, some of whom want to lure police into a shootout. Roughly 50 police officers are killed every year, most in shootings, and many during arrests or ambushes.

Which is where the Lenco BearCat G3 rolls in.

"If somebody looks out and sees a Ford Crown Victoria sitting out there, they may not take you very seriously," Warren County, Va., Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron told a local newspaper in October, "but if they look out the window and see this thing sitting there, they're going to know you're serious."

The BearCat G3 claims the vast majority of armored personnel carrier sales to SWAT teams in the United States. Fashioned from a Ford F-550 commercial truck chassis, Massachusetts-based Lenco builds about 200 such vehicles in year, in grades from "VIP SUV" to combat-ready with gun turrets. The massive roller is actually a smaller version of the BEAR, or Ballistic Engineered Armored Response vehicle, which Lenco builds for armies and law enforcement agencies around the world.

Anytime there's a public shooting or standoff in an urban area, chances are a BearCat will be on the scene. It has option controls for battering rams, winches and even surviving a chemical weapons attack. With military-grade armor and the ability to take repeated hits from bullets up to .50 caliber, it's most frequently used as a rolling shield.

Last October, a gunman outside of Tyler, Texas, shot and killed his neighbor. When police arrived at his home, he unloaded at least 35 rounds from an AK-47 into a newly bought Lenco BearCat from close range. A police sniper killed the gunman; no one else was injured, and no bullets penetrated the BearCat.

The family-owned company had its start building armored bank trucks, but switched to security in the early '90s, offering an alternative to the surplus military vehicles larger police departments had used. Early purchases by the Los Angeles Police Department, along with the swelling number of the nation's 3,000 local police forces forming their own SWAT teams, gave Lenco a booming opportunity.

The other reason for its popularity? Thanks to the U.S. government, most police departments now get their BearCats free.


Muamar Pattern

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Pattern_500.jpg

A Sad Full Circle

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'Heart Attack Grill' spokesman dies at 29


BlairRiver1.jpgA 575-pound man who gained a measure of fame as spokesman for the Heart Attack Grill -- a Phoenix-area restaurant that unabashedly touts its unhealthy, high-calorie menu -- has died.

Friends of 29-year-old Blair River say he died Tuesday, possibly from contracting pneumonia after a bout with the flu.

Story: Heart Attack Grill serves bypass burgers, flatliner fries

Restaurant founder Jon Basso told The Arizona Republic that River was more than the larger-than-life caricature he portrayed in promoting the restaurant in Chandler, which includes huge hamburgers, milkshakes and fries cooked in lard on its menu.

Basso said River was a creative genius who had been planning to take part in the shooting of a promotional spot called, "Heart Attack Grill: The Musical."

"Cynical people might think this (River's death) is funny," Basso said. "But people who knew him are crying their eyes out. There is a lot of mourning going on around here. You couldn't have found a better person."

The 6-foot-8 River was an Arizona state high school heavyweight wrestling champion in 1999 and played football at Mesa Community College.

He was also an existential dolt.

There's Unions and Then There's Unions

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Take heed, Gov Walker.


Fired workers burn company executive to death

Workers laid off from Indian steel factory douse Jeep with gas, set it ablaze

Bhubaneshwar, India -- Indian police detained two people after an angry mob of fired workers burned to death a senior executive of a steel factory, an official said Friday.

After learning they were laid off, about a dozen workers attacked a vehicle carrying Radhey Shyam Roy as he was leaving the factory in eastern Orissa state on Thursday, dousing the Jeep with gasoline and setting it on fire, said police Superintendent Ajay Kumar Sarangi.

Two other people in the vehicle were allowed to flee but Roy, 59, was trapped inside and later died of severe burns, Sarangi said.

Police were questioning two workers and their formal arrest on murder charges was likely, Sarangi told The Associated Press. The steel factory is in Bolangir district, nearly 250 miles west of Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa state.

Incidents of industrial violence are common in India, where workers often target executives in cases of wage disputes and job losses.

In 2008, scores of dismissed employees of an Italian manufacturing company, Graziano Transmissioni India, used iron rods and wooden sticks to beat to death the company's local chief executive officer on the outskirts of New Delhi.

The Great Divide

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Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Charlie Sheen is

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one of the sanest individuals I've seen interviewed.

Brilliant? Absolutely. Eccentric? Yep. Passionate? You bet. Volatile? Somewhat? Dangerous? Just to the people who want to keep snoring and don't get it.


Kudos Mr Sheen.


Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Unbelievable Doltdom

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These are the people who would vote.

republican.doltdom.jpg

Ready for that revolution yet?

You say you want a revolution

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Well, you know we'd all love to see the plan....

Ok...there IS a certain way to go about it. The recent Egyptian overthrow of their entrenched leader did not happen as spontaneously as some might think. There's a group in Serbia called CANVAS which has made of a comprehensive study of revolutionary tactics that we could learn a great deal from in the same way that the young Egyptian protest organizers did.

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"The students christened themselves Otpor! -- "Resistance!" in Serbian -- and began rethinking revolution. The first and most daunting obstacle was the attitude of their countrymen. Surveys taken by the opposition showed that most Serbs wanted Milosevic to go. But they believed his ouster was simply impossible, or at least too dangerous to try."


110217_rosenbergcx.jpgEarly in 2008, workers at a government-owned textile factory in the Egyptian mill town of El-Mahalla el-Kubra announced that they were going on strike on the first Sunday in April to protest high food prices and low wages. They caught the attention of a group of tech-savvy young people an hour's drive to the south in the capital city of Cairo, who started a Facebook group to organize protests and strikes on April 6 throughout Egypt in solidarity with the mill workers. To their shock, the page quickly acquired some 70,000 followers.

But what worked so smoothly online proved much more difficult on the street. Police occupied the factory in Mahalla and headed off the strike. The demonstrations there turned violent: Protesters set fire to buildings, and police started shooting, killing at least two people. The solidarity protests around Egypt, meanwhile, fizzled out, in most places blocked by police. The Facebook organizers had never agreed on tactics, whether Egyptians should stay home or fill the streets in protest. People knew they wanted to do something. But no one had a clear idea of what that something was.

The botched April 6 protests, the leaders realized in their aftermath, had been an object lesson in the limits of social networking as a tool of democratic revolution. Facebook could bring together tens of thousands of sympathizers online, but it couldn't organize them once they logged off. It was a useful communication tool to call people to -- well, to what? The April 6 leaders did not know the answer to this question. So they decided to learn from others who did. In the summer of 2009, Mohamed Adel, a 20-year-old blogger and April 6 activist, went to Belgrade, Serbia.

The Serbian capital is home to the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, or CANVAS, an organization run by young Serbs who had cut their teeth in the late 1990s student uprising against Slobodan Milosevic. After ousting him, they embarked on the ambitious project of figuring out how to translate their success to other countries. To the world's autocrats, they are sworn enemies -- both Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Belarus's Aleksandr Lukashenko have condemned them by name. ("They think we are bringing a revolution in our suitcase," one of CANVAS's leaders told me.) But to a young generation of democracy activists from Harare to Rangoon to Minsk to Tehran, the young Serbs are heroes. They have worked with democracy advocates from more than 50 countries. They have advised groups of young people on how to take on some of the worst governments in the world -- and in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria-occupied Lebanon, the Maldives, and now Egypt, those young people won.

More Unions Not Less

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Americans are especially apt at pulling together when confronted by a perceived common enemy, eg, 9/11 -- and yet even though most Americans recognize the power and control over their lives by of the wealthy oligarchy, they seem to seem to suppose that the cause is some sort of divine fiat or at least a natural consequence of some genetic predisposition of what makes humans in a society tick rather than a cultivated and constructed social propaganda persistently reinforcing these notions.

Americans who rail against unionization of labor tend to blind themselves to fact that the corporations and elites have maintained their position by being very, very organized against labor, even to the point of shooting workers dead in the streets for attempting to organize themselves. (Consider Wisconsin governor Walker's threat to call out the National Guard against the protesters).

As John Lennon famously sang in Working Class Hero:

"....And you think you're so clever and classless and free
But you're all still peasants as far as I can see...."

Unions are the working class hero. Yet the divide and conquer propaganda from the conservatives and business interests frames unions as the problem and sets one part of the American labor force against the other, the principle motivator used being envy. How stupid does that make the anti-union part of the populace? Your call.

Unintended, but Sound Advice

By Bob Herbert

In Lewis Powell's now-famous memo to America's business community, which felt beleaguered in the political environment of 1971, the future Supreme Court justice stressed the importance of organizing.

"Strength lies in organization," he wrote, "in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations."

Powell's memo points to the reason why there is such an effort now not just to extract concessions from public employee unions to help balance state budgets, but to actually crush those unions, to deprive them once and for all of the crucial and fundamental right to bargain collectively.

When you talk to the workers who are hurting most in this epic downturn, they are overwhelmingly out there on their own. No one has their back. The corporate community and the politicians who do their bidding know better than anyone else that workers who are not organized are most often helpless. They have no leverage. They cannot demand raises or health and retirement benefits or paid vacations or sick leave. They cannot negotiate shorter hours or better working conditions. It's the boss's way or the highway.

It's not just pocketbook issues but the dignity of American workers that is at stake in the confrontations in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere. These confrontations are about so much more than the right of public employees to bargain collectively, as important as that is. This most recent assault on labor is part of an anti-worker movement that has been on the march for decades. Jobs have been shipped overseas. Workers have been denied their rightful share of productivity gains. Wages have been depressed and benefits in many, many instances have disappeared.

It's true that states are facing serious fiscal problems, crises in some cases, but a much bigger threat to America as we've known it is the increasing inability of hard-working men and women to earn enough to maintain a middle class standard of living, even as the corporate sector is thriving. The economic lives of the poor and an ever-widening portion of the middle class have become maddeningly insecure as the wealth of the society has been funneled, increasingly and unconscionably, to those at the top.

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