Saturday, November 29, 2008

Disguised Mother Woos Juror in Bid to Free Son

Hollywood couldn't do it this good! Mother pulls off complete transformation, knocking 16 years off her age, all to catch a juror's admission that the woman's son was railroaded.


Now, how to cast the movie? In the Hollywood version:
  • Charlize Theron as mom (after Monster success);
  • Skeet Ulrich as son (check out the resemblance to the son).

Have to carry story through to conclusion, so need a good, skeptical cop figure. This cop can also develop a love interest with the mother, that is, in addition to the next role — the male juror — good-looking but slightly malevolent or at least bad quality . . . . Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood are too old for detective. Must have New York grit. And for juror . . . I'm stumped.

And there's the whole Mark Fisher murder angle. He was 6' 5", so actor must be young, tall, handsome, the model of future success.

This is Hollywood Gold. Watch, I guarantee it will get picked up. If nothing else, it'll be a Law & Order episode.

Charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure

New Scientist summary of a recently published book by Stephen Baker: The Numerati.
  • simply by knowing gender, birth date and postal zip code, 87% of people in the United States could be pinpointed by name
  • the people most likely to click on car rental ads are those that have recently read an obituary online, apparently planning their trip to a funeral.
  • Microsoft has filed patents for technology that monitors the heart rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, facial expressions of office workers, and even their brain waves.
  • By tracking the use of cellphones, email and laptops it may even be possible to map workers' movements and social networks of each person.
And it goes on.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Wee Bit o' the Creature for Wall Street

Dark times may have fallen on the best and the brightest, that is in out time, the wealthiest, because after all, wealth is a virtue. And being wealthy is proof of intellect and competence.

It must be terribly confusing, terribly vexing, for the Gods to find that their Power is questioned, not just be The People but by Nature herself. The Boardrooms of Wall Street, like the Halls of Congress, are populated by people utterly convinced of their own superiority. So now is a time of schism. How to reconcile the facts of recent events with the dogma of superiority?

Well, if reconciliation is difficult, it can always be greased with the oil of alcohol. A bit of dutch courage. So reports The Financial Times:

The titans of Wall Street have taken a battering in the financial markets recently, but they are eating well and drinking more, according to the people who run Manhattan’s “power” dining spots.

At the 21 Club, a longtime redoubt of corporate chieftains and big names, alcohol sales are up 9 per cent from last year, and businessmen can be seen drinking $14-a-glass cocktails as early as 3pm on a weekday.

“Where people used to have one vodka on the rocks, now it’s a second one or maybe a third,” says Roger Rice, the floor manager. “I don’t know what to attribute it to. Maybe it’s the last year of the expense account.”

Others say their customers are drinking more to drown their sorrows. “People want to feel a little numb because it’s numbing out there,” says Steve Millington, general manager at Michael’s, the restaurant of choice for publishing and media executives.

Yes, they feel numb. They are also confronting the bitter truth of their own inadequacy.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Why good lenses cost so much:

God hath thereby cleared our title to this place . . .

"But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by smallpox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not 50, have put themselves under our protection."
So wrote the city-on-a-hill proto-American demigod John Winthrop nearly four hundred years ago. This pox was the white gift for which the native peoples of the northern Americas could offer thanks.

Title was of no small concern to John Winthrop. He was an early exponent of the view that the colonists could seize land because the native people had failed to mix their labor with it. (Though it did help when God stepped in to obliterate huge percentages of the indigenous population, thus reducing the possibility of resistance).

The European legalism is still at work today, explicitly in some eminent domain cases, and abroad particularly in Israeli seizures of Palestinian land (in the variant form that "there are no Palestinian people" and they weren't "here" anyway). But it is also tacit in the arguments for allowing the vastly wealthy to keep their gains free of taxation. By dint of superior intellect and labor, the wealthy have earned vast compensation. Since We the People are occasionally skeptical, further arguments are adduced: for example, that we all benefit, albeit indirectly, by the benefit of the few at the top of the food chain.

This latter argument also has historical precedent. In the medieval home of a nobleman, the scullion (the male equivalent of a scullery maid, women not typically being allowed to do such work eight hundred years ago) would get the leftovers after the nobles had eaten. Trickle down theory. No doubt it is a practice that goes back tens of thousands of years.

All of which gives new meaning to the line "When will we ever learn?"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Jeremy Scahill Skewers Obama Hawks, Clintonistas and Neocons

Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater, summarizes the gross problems in Obama's choices to date for cabinet posts and advisors. In particular, he raises the alert over the terribly conservative foreign policy choices Obama is making: Hillary Clinton, the only Democrat to argue that al Qaeda was connected to Saddam Hussein and one of the most belligerent Democrats; Madeleine Albright, apologist for Clinton era atrocities in Iraq; Joe Biden, also among the most hawkish Democrats.

Also on the list of hawks: Rahm Emanuel, Richard Holbrooke, Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, John Brennan, Robert Gates, Sarah Sewall, Michele Flournoy.

Leading Economist Says Crisis May Run for "Years and Years"

Bloomberg News is running a video of leading economist Robert Shiller sounding a great deal more pessimistic than anyone so far named to the Obama team. Shiller's views add to a solid minority of opinion that is profoundly pessimistic about American prospects.

This is the Shiller of the Case-Shiller Home Price Indeces. He is a leading figure in behavioral finance, hypothesizing that investors' and traders' decisions "are often driven by emotion instead of rational calculation." For over twenty years, he has repeatedly and correctly challenged the orthodoxy, accounting for market downturns, particularly in 1987 and following 2000.

In addition to the Bloomberg coverage, the Wall Street Journal reports that the "U.S. Housing Slump May Exceed Great Depression":
Yale University economist Robert Shiller, pioneer of Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home-price index, said there’s a good chance housing prices will fall further than the 30% drop in the historic depression of the 1930s. Home prices nationwide already have dropped 15% since their peak in 2006, he said.

“I think there is a scenario that they could be down substantially more,” Mr. Shiller said during a speech at the New Haven Lawn Club.

Mr. Shiller, who admitted he has a reputation for being bearish, said real estate cycles typically take years to correct. Home prices rose about 85% from 1997 to 2006 adjusted for inflation, the biggest national housing boom in U.S. history, Mr. Shiller said. “Basically we’re in uncharted territory,” he said. “It seems we have developed a speculative culture about housing that never existed on a national basis before.” Many people became convinced that housing prices would increase 10% annually, a notion Mr. Shiller called crazy.

I am consistently astounded that thinking like Mr. Shiller's can be considered wrong, even obviously wrong.

Remember "Dow 36,000"? Remember the endless nightly news reports that characterized any market decline as "a correction" and any increase as proof that we had entered a new economy, where there would never again be prolonged declines?

John Kenneth Galbraith reviews the history of this pattern of absurdity in "A Short History of Financial Euphoria".

What strikes me as painfully obvious is that no price can continue to rise without limit at a rate that will exceed the capacity of people to pay. Now, that is almost certainly an oversimplification. Fine jewelry may rise who knows how much simply because the people who buy it — fantastically rich to begin with — simply never run out of money to pay for it.

But housing? In New York City, a huge percentage of people pay 30%, 50%, even more, for rent or for mortgage. The annual increase in those payments simply cannot grow continuously at a rate that will result in people owing more than 100% of their income.

But take the average renter. Consider his or her annual rental increase. Even the increase set by the Rent Guidelines Board regularly exceeds the rate of inflation, exceeds the rate of increase in renters' incomes. Rents for those not in stabilized housing drastically exceeds inflation and wage increases. This is patently unsustainable.

New York City, and many other places like it, have counted on

  1. a constant influx of people who can pay and
  2. the willingness and ability of those unable to pay to move further away while continuing to work in the city.

But that only delays the tipping point. And the delay is modulated by the indifference of government to the obvious and inevitable. So, for example, commuting costs cannot continually be increased when the people who face those costs are exactly those who moved to reduce costs in the first place. (Never mind the minimal or non-existent attempts to make an inconvenient and usually unpleasant commuting experience more tolerable.)

My own opinion is that the single greatest problem we now face is the gross inability of those in power to contemplate or grasp the circumstances of the rest of us. Commuting, taxes, infrastructure, education, healthcare are all developed with no eye at all to the conditions of average citizens. Lip-service is paid. Heads are noddd. Grim faces adopted. But ultimately, even the erstwhile "good guys", like Representative Charles Rangel of New York, today identify themselves with the privileged. They certainly lead privileged lives. So, too, do the leading figures of American media.

A combination of circumstances are now making impossible the practical indifference of "leaders". That is, leaders have been rhetorically concerned, they say the right things (to the extent needed to get reelected). But in practice they do little or nothing to alleviate the crushing burden of regular expenses — especially in housing, energy, food and healthcare — the necessities.

Moreover, they frequently let slip the near-contempt (in not outright disdain) they feel for us. Witness Charlie Rangel's initial response when his financial and housing shenanigans were made public. He was genuinely taken aback when his own constituents bared their rage in his presense — the sign of a man long divorced from any understanding of reality.

The combination includes the housing bubble (preceded by the tech bubble just a handful of years before), the obscene war which now has cost us who knows how much (Joseph Stiglitz and others estimate one trilllion), the decades of deliberate, even malicious, undermining of public institutions like social security, health care, education, the environment, etc.

The US government has systematically and profoundly failed to serve the interests of the people. I, for one, am increasingly of the view that Obama merely did a great job of paying lipservice. His choices for high-level positions — particularly the total exclusion of progressive or really liberal opinion — are entirely in keeping with the utter indifference that has characterized Washington at least since the Reagan years.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Maybe Obama Fears a 1933

Raise your hand if you've heard of the McCormack-Dickstein Congressional Committee? How about the 1933 plot to overthrow President Roosevelt?

Absurd, you say? The rantings of left-wing conspiracy theorists? Well, check the November 21, 1934, edition of The New York Times.

With the election of Roosevelt, many of this country's wealthiest business leaders looked to Hitler's Germany as a preferable model. The support of Bush patriarch — Prescott Bush — for Hitler is well-documented. Likewise the support of Joseph Kennedy. Other leading American business leaders looked very favorably on Hitler's ruthless suppression of socialism and communism.

Here in the US, a plan was hatched to overthrow FDR. The McCormack-Dickstein Committee investigated this plot in 1934:
The Business Plot (also the Plot Against FDR and the White House Putsch) was a political conspiracy in 1933 wherein wealthy businessmen and corporations plotted a coup d’├ętat to overthrow United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1934, the Business Plot was publicly revealed by retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler testifying to the McCormack-Dickstein Congressional Committee.
Perhaps the explanation for Obama's conservative choices for the economic "dream team" lies here. He doesn't want to bite the hand that feeds him. Goldman Sachs was one of his biggest boosters. Three hundred million Americans clamoring for health care couldn't move the US government. But a few thousand business executives wailing over Wall Street won seven TRILLION dollars in aid. Now that's power. What might those thousands do if really angered by a new President genuinely pressing support for The People?

The Bush administration — with the support of many Democrats — won passage of the Military Commissions Act, the John Warner Defense Authorization Act and the Martial Law Act of 2006 (all three signed on October 17, 2006) undermining, if not outright nullifying, the Posse Comitatus Act (1878) and the Insurrection Act of 1807. Now the President has the power to use military forces domestically.

Establish the legality of a military presence domestically. Then use that military for . . . what? A conspiracy theory? It was more than just a theory in 1933.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Will the American People Be Too Big To Fail?

When the time comes, and it is our actual savings that are on the line, will the government save us? And how?

Here's the news lead to come:
In addition to the $20,000 now owed by every American man, woman and child to Citigroup, AIG, and Goldman Sachs, Americans now owe an additional $20,000 to themselves, for a net obligation of $40,000 per American.
And we're just beginning to see the smoke of a really big fire (as if the conflagration already under way weren't enough). Here's a November 25th Financial Times lead:
‘Problem’ banks stoke fears over FDIC fund
By Saskia Scholtes in New York
November 25 2008 19:29

The list of “problem” banks grew by almost 50 per cent in the third quarter, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reported on Tuesday, stoking fears that further bank failures could put the agency’s insurance fund under severe pressure.

Sheila Bair, FDIC chairman, suggested more failures were likely in spite of government support for the banking industry. While the US Treasury’s capital purchase programme would bolster bank capital levels and revive lending, she said the scheme was not intended to help banks that were not “viable”, such as those on the problem list.

Rapture Economic

Excellent Democracy Now interview with Naomi Klein, Robert Kuttner, and Michael Hudson.

Representative Barney Frank has mocked those who are criticizing Barack Obama's economic team choices. But who can deny that Obama's "change" is proving to be "the more things change, the more they stay the same."


THE ECONOMIC RESCUE TEAM

Nearly all of Obama's economic team to date hails from the Clinton deregulation mania.

Behind many of the "experts" is Robert Rubin, right up there with Alan Greenspan in giving us the current disaster.

Among the named "experts", Lawrence Summers joins Rubin and Greenspan as chief among those bearing responsibility for the deregulation insanity that has doomed the American economy.

And Timothy Geithner won the accolades of Wall Street precisely because the Street knows that Geithner won't change things.

The track record of this gang is not isolated to the United States. Summers, who successfully opposed any regulation of the derivatives underlying the crisis, was instrumental in the shock therapy approach to Russia which lead to the current cult of oligarchs.


TAXATION

During the election, Obama made much of wealthier Americans paying more, much of the injustice of Bush tax cuts. But Michael Hudson and others note, Obama is now changing his tune. Moreover, the rich do not primarily pay taxes through the income tax. If they pay anything, it is largely through capital gains taxes. Obama has never suggested increasing taxes on capital gains.


LABOR

Obama speaks of stimulus for American jobs, yet labor representatives are denied a seat at Obama's table.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Economic Rapture: Chapter III — Give Citigroup Something For Nothing

This is the Economic Rapture. The faithful are being called up to economic Heaven. The rest of us poor saps will rot in everlasting damnation.

On Friday, November 21st, Citigroup stock closed at less than $4 per share.

Today, the US government announced that it would effectively guarantee Citigroup a per share price of about $10.

Wow! The government won't guarantee American workers a wage of $8 per hour. As of July 2009, if you have a job, you must be paid $7.25 per hour. If you work 40 hours per week, or 1080 hours per year, $7,830 per year.

But the government does not guarantee you a job! The government gives you a very modest amount for a limited time if and only if you qualify for unemployment. You may also qualify for food stamps and for housing. So the government may help you achieve mere survival if you qualify.

And for years now, the Official Dogma has been to tighten qualifications on the thesis that doing so — instituting a stick approach — will get people moving, will force us lazy-ass Americans to find work. (Never mind that they may just not be work.)

What is the qualification for a bloated financial institution getting federal assistance? Fucking up! The bigger Citigroup or Goldman Sachs or AIG fucked up, the more money the government gives them — exactly the opposite of the line they take with us.

What's the difference? Well, friends of feds run those institutions. Buddies who went to Harvard, Yale, Chicago. Friends from college, business school. Friends who were colleagues at Goldman or Citi.

This past weekend, guru Robert Rubin was busy meeting with federal officials. Current Citi head was meeting.

When was the last time any Bush figure — or for that matter, any Obama figure — met with a labor leader?

For months I have been saying that this is an economic downturn with an essential difference — the wealthiest Americans, the creditors, the Rentier class — is at risk. In past downturns, when regular folks — you and me — were at risk, who cared? "Let us eat cake."

But Bush and Paulson, or Obama and Geithner, can't let their peers suffer. And make no mistake, even if Obama came up from nothing, he ain't there any more. Stop kidding yourselves, folks. Check out who Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner hang out with. It ain't production line workers.

If the automanufactures get a bailout from Obama, will they be required to refrain from laying off workers? Will they be required to keep jobs in the US?

No requirement has yet been imposed on financial institutions to loan to regular debtors. The British did impose such a requirement, so it can be done. But not in the US.

This will come back to haunt them. Even if We the People don't wake up, as we did in the lead-up to the first round of bailouts (before the media and the elite closed ranks), we must be able to buy stuff.

Bush may have sounded like the craven idiot he is when, after 9/11, he urged us to go out and buy stuff. BUT all he was doing was saying what the Wall Street brigade was thinking. Now they are saying it more explicitly. That's the whole damn point of (supposedly) injecting 'liquidity' into the economy.

But if it doesn't work, and we lose our ability even to buy the food and water we need to live, somebody wiser than our leaders will step in. Watch for China, or some other Asian giant, to formulate its version of the Marshall Plan . . . for us. At the moment, we are still the world's leading buyers, consumers, wasters.

Of course, we needn't be. The US comprises less than 5% of the Earth's human population. Five percent can go by the board with the world's economy still doing quite well. After all, for decades here in the US, 3% or 4% unemployment has been called "full employment". (How's that for Newspeak?)

So if China, India, Korea and others can find other, more flexible recipients of aid, perhaps they'll give up on the US.

_______________
AN ASIDE

Monday, November 24, Citigroup saw its stock soar, increasing in value by almost 60%. How many of the insiders, do you suppose, took advantage of their advance knowledge? In the chaos of the Rapture, given the Bush hostility to regulation and oversight (as opposed to just plain spying on just plain folks), how much inspection will there be of trades by the Rubins or Geithners or Paulsons?

Our British Time — The US Replaces Britain as the World's Richest Third World Nation

Through the 1930s, the US and Europe suffered economic depression. Along came the Second World War and everything changed. After the war, Europe was a basket case. The US, having undergone massive industrial development during the war, wanted to sustain industry. To do that, there had to be somebody to buy American goods. Americans alone could not suffice. Enter the Marshall Plan. Rebuild the economies of Europe and get a ready market in the bargain.

For Great Britain — Europe's greatest pre-war economy and the world's greatest pre-war military power — that was it, the sun set on the Empire. India won independence, Israel statehood, and so on.

We are now seeing the sun set on the American Empire. Precisely what the Niall Fergusons, the Kagans, the George Packers — the broad spectrum of war's idolators — saw as necessary confirmation of American imperial status has instead punctuated the American end. The developing recession, or depression, will be the full realization.

For what must happen for the US not only to recover economically but to regain its status? Americans must find good work, work that pays — something no American employer, in the brave new economics, wants to provide. And somebody needs to buy American stuff. But everybody's buying Chinese, or Asian, stuff.

The best we can hope for is that China and other developing superpowers see the need for the US to remain a solid purchaser. But if those developing powers see better purchasing potential in other regions, then we might just fall by the wayside.

One way or another, I think we cannot hope for the economy of Germany or France or Israel, all of which greatly value education, industry, effort and keeping jobs at home for the sake of the people and the nation.

What we can hope for is Britain, at best. And probably not that. Whatever Obama believes, he will not risk the political blowback of a single-payer — a (horrors!) 'Socialist' medical system. He will not seriously cut military spending any more than Clinton did. We may see some modest improvement in education and research spending. But unlike Clinton's years, we are unlikely to see a brand new bubble in the next eight years to buoy us up as the tech/internet hysteria did through Clinton's terms.

The enormous pension systems which have invested in Wall Street pyramid schemes are now beginning their collapse. Hostile to invention and independent thought, the little giants of American industry — the big three automakers — are failing. And companies, desperate for We the People to buy buy buy, are still determined to lay us off at the nearest possible moment, still determined to cut our wages, to cut our benefits.

So the US becomes the second greatest instance of The Tragedy of the Commons. All, individually, advocate for others what they are unwilling to do themselves. And thus what all advocate (individually) fails to come to pass.

The US marches to replace Britain as the world's richest third world nation.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cult of Personality, Cult of the Middle

At 11:20pm, 21 November 2008, I am watching the fantastically annoying Charlie Rose interview the quite interesting Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law professor, who speaks glowingly of Saint Barack.

Lessig joins a host of academics I have heard describe Obama in glowing, near-reverential terms. (Lawrence Tribe was among this number.) That so many, at Chicago and Harvard especially, rave so uncritically raises serious questions about what apparently is a sad absence of great minds at these institutions.

In the endlessly glowing reports is an oft-repeated dogma — the magic of the middle "not left, not right". Someone who steadfastly walks the middle of the road is likely to get hit by a car. But not according to the American political dogma in which moderation is a virtue no matter what the content of that moderation.

The endless accolades remind me of the early days of Clinton. Several moderate and liberal friends of mine were beside themselves when I raised doubts about Clinton. His early capitulation on healthcare, his attacks in Iraq and elsewhere, his passion for deregulation — all spoke to a man who was no liberal in any sense I recognized.

Strikingly, this evening I heard an ABC reporter compare Obama to Clinton with Obama's likely selection of Gen. James L. Jones to be National Security Adviser. The reporter felt that Obama, like Clinton, liked to surround himself with military men to compensate in some degree for his own lack of military experience. Let us hope that Obama doesn't follow Clinton's example with an early attack on a civilian population (as Clinton did in an April 1993 attack in Iraq).

I did admire Obama in the run up to the primary and through much of the election cycle. I voted enthusiastically for him. It was genuinely moving to crowded into the entry hall of the Brooklyn Museum with hundreds of other voters. All of them, it seemed, were eager to vote for Obama.

But to hear Prof. Lessig or anyone speak so fulsomely (in the actual meaning of "fulsome"), so glowingly — with absolutely no qualification, as if this were indeed the Second Coming — should raise concerns for anyone, especially anyone who shares the characteristic that Lessig praises in Obama, namely an expansive, open view of the world, including the world of ideas.

An expansive, open view must include the possibility of criticizing Obama. But there is none of this in the developing Cult.

But there is plenty to support criticism. There is simply nothing so far in Obama's choices for advisers or cabinet members to sustain hope for a "transformational presidency".

Moreover, the idolization of the middle — now in the form of the enlightened moderate Obama — is purely fallacious. Where on earth do Americans, including Stanford or Harvard law professors, get the notion that being in the middle means being correct? The notion is patently absurd. The middle of WHAT?

If being pro-civil rights in 1955 meant being left — and it did — then the left was correct. Being pro-union in 1932 was a leftist position. And it was the true position.

There is a world of difference between giving a hearing to all sides and trying to find a solution that synthesizes all sides — between hearing all sides and trying to make all sides happy. It is a sad commentary on American discourse that even the "best" educated clearly do not understand this. It is particularly discouraging in a nation where it is routinely assumed that any issue has only two sides, two to match the two parties.

Moreover, Obama is most emphatically not giving a hearing to all sides. Entirely absent from his advisers are any representatives of labor, of the common people, of advocates for single-payer health care, of advocates for Arab or Muslim rights (most especially the rights of Palestinians in their own homeland). Obama has already ruled out any prosecution of Bush administration figures. That is not a moderate position, it is mere surrender to political expedience.

All of this points to a nascent Cult of Personality with Obama as the Revered One.

Anyone even dimly aware of the history of the past three or four thousand years should be wary, at best.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Remember: This is Not Happening

"New claims for unemployment benefits jumped last week to a 16-year high," according to the Times and other news outlets. The stock value of Goldman Sachs (the people who gave us Henry Paulson, Robert Rubin, and the bailout) has dropped below its IPO price — ten years of increases gone. "The index of leading U.S. economic indicators fell in October for the third time in four months as stocks and consumer confidence plunged, signaling a deepening recession." So reports Bloomberg.


"The U.S. may need to spend as much as $1.2 trillion to stabilize the eight largest financial institutions because private investors are unwilling to take the risk, an FBR Capital Markets analyst said." (Bloomberg) One point two TRILLION for EIGHT firms. Four thousand dollars for every man, woman and child in the US.

One TRILLION for the war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two TRILLION for extended bailouts domestically.

And not one penny of direct help for three hundred million Americans.

But conservatives like John McCain, Amity Shlaes, and others believe "fundamentals are strong". Now I'm a broken record on the conservatives, but there is a more general point here.

So are moderates — especially the broad spectrum of the Democratic Party — any better?

Barack Obama and the incoming Congress show little real sign of the 'great awareness' that they are credited with. Obama is packing his cabinet and his staff of advisors with exactly the people who created this disaster and then denied it was happening.

More important, largely absent from government are people who know what it is like to hear the wolves at the door. Barack Obama's adult life has been one of considerable privilege. So too for very nearly every person within 100 yards of him. So too for very nearly every member of Congress. So too for very nearly every person at the Times or the Wall Street Journal or CNN or the Harvard Business School.

In other words, the people taking charge of the solution show neither sympathy for nor experience of the most dire problems they must address. This is true to of healthcare, military policy, pensions, and on and on and on.

How can people who are entirely insulated from, immunized against the consequences of terrible policy feel invested in a good solution? To the solve the problems we face, the problem solvers must be more interested in a genuine solution than in getting re-elected, being popular, or lining their own pockets. With choices like Rahm Emanuel and Hillary Clinton, I have growing doubts about Obama. And with the likes of Nancy Pelosi or Joseph Lieberman holding leadership positions in Congress, I have no hope at all that Congress will do anything, even with a Democratic majority.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Under the News

Marine dead zones set to expand rapidly
Rising levels of carbon dioxide could increase the volume of oxygen-depleted 'dead zones' in tropical oceans by as much as 50% before the end of the century — with dire consequences for the health of ecosystems in some of the world's most productive fishing grounds.

Top judge: US and UK acted as 'vigilantes' in Iraq invasion
One of Britain's most authoritative judicial figures last night delivered a blistering attack on the invasion of Iraq, describing it as a serious violation of international law, and accusing Britain and the US of acting like a "world vigilante".

Emanuel Apologizes to Arab-American
Congressman Rahm Emanuel, recently appointed White House Chief of Staff to President-Elect Barack Obama, called American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) President Mary Rose Oakar to repudiate negative comments about Arabs made by his father Benjamin Emanuel. [See also: The New York Times]

Israel Blocks Food, Fuel for Gaza
UN closes Gaza aid centers, citing lack of food
Gazans seeking food aid walked away empty-handed from locked United Nations distribution centers Saturday after a strict Israeli border closure depleted U.N. food reserves. . . . U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to open the crossings to humanitarian aid and condemned the rocket fire on Israel. Measures that increase the suffering of Gaza's civilians "are unacceptable and should cease immediately," he said in a statement.

Chronic malnutrition in Gaza blamed on Israel
The Israeli blockade of Gaza has led to a steady rise in chronic malnutrition among the 1.5 million people living in the strip, according to a leaked report from the Red Cross. It chronicles the "devastating" effect of the siege that Israel imposed after Hamas seized control in June 2007 and notes that the dramatic fall in living standards has triggered a shift in diet that will damage the long-term health of those living in Gaza and has led to alarming deficiencies in iron, vitamin A and vitamin D.

International Federation of Journalists Condemns Israeli Ban on Entry of Journalists to Gaza
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned Israel's decision to deny foreign journalists entry into Gaza for one week. "Once again, Israel has shown its disregard for press freedom by restricting the right of foreign journalists to move freely," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. According to media reports, military officials in Israel said only humanitarian aid workers and Palestinian patients are allowed to enter or leave Gaza as a result of the resumed shelling of rockets into Israel by Palestinians militants from Gaza. The IFJ is concerned that this decision is likely to have a serious impact on the proper covering of the conflict between Israel and Palestine if journalists are prevented from freely gathering, assessing and reporting information about the ongoing crisis, particularly in the Gaza Strip. "The crisis is made worse by censorship and media restrictions which only encourage fearfulness and rumour. It's time for Israel to end the media blockade of Gaza and to allow all journalists -- Palestinian and foreign alike -- to do their job without interference." White said.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hope

Bread-line, Kentucky, 1937. Margaret Bourke-White.

Remember Clinton's "I still believe in a place called Hope"?

And Barack Obama's "Audacity of Hope"?

Just what are they talking about? Whose hope? What hope? I have just listened to a remarkable piece on a public radio's Hearing Voices: Prison. Interviews with some very thoughtful convicts in the deplorable American prison system. As Milan Kundera (whose work I think is greatly overrated) said — that only one who had lived in a world deprived of freedom to understand freedom — so too can only those who have been deprived of hope truly understand what hope is. (I don't quite believe this, but there is something right about this notion.)

Christmas dinner, sometime in the 30s.

Hope is what so many have invested in Obama. Millions of Americans have given up on the US political system. Corrupt, dedicated to the wealthy, indifferent to the common people. A combination of bad times and the very worst politicians our nation has seen, genuinely awful people — Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales — has robbed and raped us but opened the door to hope.

Breadline during the Depression.

Remember the song that signaled the arrival of FDR? Depression-era music is so dominated by the blues. But then there is "Happy Days Are Here Again". So the Depression is also an era of big band and jazz. Call it a musical debate.

The Republicans have, for at least three decades, worked overtime to criminalize mere bad luck — poverty, being black or now Muslim, unemployed, hungry, drug-addicted. All criminalized in the public consciousness, and often in law, by a massive political movement utterly indifferent to the conditions of the majority. Democrats have spent most of this time meekly going along. Or in the case of Nancy Pelosi, Joseph Lieberman and their ilk, actually endorsing the revolting tactics of the Republicans.

Can Obama change this? Are Rahm Emanuel or Robert Rubin counterpoints, loyal opponents, to an Obama liberalism? Or are they shape of things to come?

"Happy Days Are Here Again". Are they?

Hey, They're Catching On! BBC Reports that Obama Is Clintonizing

The BBC headlines a current article, "Is Obama recreating the Clinton era?" Well, clearly not the era, much as he might like to — tried and true route to reelection, if it were possible. Economic good times; a nice, continuous, low-level bombing campaign directed at a largely defenseless population to provide pretty pictures of explosions for the nightly news; undisputed American currency and business dominance.

But can't turn the clock back, can we. So Obama is settle for second best by picking up the pieces — Clintonizing — appointing a raft of Clinton people in any number of capacities. Rahm Emanuel, Robert Rubin, and even Hillary herself.

What will this get him? They lucked out the first time round. But they also laid a good deal of the groundwork for the current disaster.

Both Time and The New Yorker play on the comparisons between Obama and FDR. (Newsweek opts for a Lincoln analogy.) But as John Kenneth Galbraith noted towards the end of his life, FDR had people who approached the Depression, the reconstruction of Japan and Europe, as genuine problems to be solved. What form should a body of law take to provide a democratic foundation for a country heretofore a-democratic. How best do we deliver aid to get an economy back to health. These questions are getting little more than lip-service if the current cabinet prospects are anything to go by.

Obama is choosing idealogues who want to sound smart and inventive but will try to hammer square pegs into round holes, not least because they start from the premise that certain ideas are entirely unacceptable, or worse, reprehensible.


So just as when Hillary (before she became the craven political creature she is now) found herself gravitating towards a single-payer system as the best solution to the healthcare crisis, now the authorities, the 'experts', have already decided some solutions will be ruled out before the evidence and research is in.

This is not problem-solving. So it is bound to fail as a strategy to solve the problem

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hillary Clinton, Secretary of the State of Nature

The word is now about that Obama may name Clinton his Secretary of State, perhaps in the awful tradition of Madeleine Albright (who, some may remember, dismissed tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian fatalities as a 'necessary price' [1] during the years of Clinton bombing campaigns, little reported in the US).


In the Context of Policy

With Obama's choice of Rahm Emanuel, hawk and privateer, for White House Chief of Staff, a pick of Clinton would signal just how liberal the Obama administration is not going to be. Of course, as of this writing, it's quite possible he will pick real liberals for domestic policy while adopting a hawkish stance abroad. Americans, usually conservative across the board, might like to keep the imperial foolishness abroad but adopt an FDR liberalism at home. But despite popular hopes, there is little chance of that with the likes of Austan Goolsbee or Robert Rubin or Larry Summers advising Obama on economics.

We do know one thing. In the best of times, Americans are both grossly ill-informed (thanks to the slavish and complicit media) and largely indifferent to what is happening even in Canada or Mexico, let along Iraq or the Palestinian Territories or Kashmir. Now, with the economy clearly forecasting an early fall for the American empire, Americans won't just be indifferent to foreign suffering. They will welcome a little 'entertainment' in the form of 'surgical strikes' in Afghanistan or Pakistan. (Never mind that there is simply no such thing as a surgical strike, especially when a drone is being piloted remotely from Florida or Wyoming.)

My prediction: Obama will do something akin to Clinton not long after taking office. In June of 1993, Clinton launched cruise missile attacks, ostensibly on the Iraqi Intelligence Service in Baghdad. No strategic or tactical success, but woman and children were killed, including Iraq's leading woman poet.

The George Packers and Thomas Friedmans, not to mention whole institutions like CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the Brookings Institution, will readily provide the 'intellectual' rhetoric and 'expertise' to support something like this. (I omit the Times as a wholly supportive institution because Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman, and one or two others might dissent.)


Clinton at State as a Political Strategy

The choice of Hillary to head State could also be a brilliant political move if there are any fears regarding her political plans. From the standpoint of 'keeping one's enemies closer,' it would officially make Obama Hillary Clinton's boss, so future saber-rattling by Clinton could be cast in a new light of irresponsibility. With Clinton at State in a time of international turmoil, Obama could keep her abroad for extended periods or at crucial times, hampering her ability to run domestically. Getting her out of the Senate would also limit her ability to claim credit for a role in solutions to domestic problems at a time when domestic issues are clearly trumping international ones in the eyes of American voters.


NOTES

1. Interview with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, May 12, 1996:
Stahl: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bush Defends Capitalism

Based on our experience of Bush — the Iraq atrocity, the 2000 constitutional coup, the credit pyramid scheme — a W endorsement of Capitalism or the 'Free Market' should be more than sufficient to tell us that Capitalism is a con.

But this is also the United States of Perpetual Faith. So the very 'experts' who assured us that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq are still relied upon for 'analysis' of foreign policy. The very 'experts' who manufactured the Credit Pyramid Scheme (Robert Rubin, Henry Paulson, Goldman Sachs, etc.) are now relied upon to solve the disaster of their own making.

So none see any contradiction in (1) proclaiming the glories of our 'Free Market' system, (2) demanding a broad public rescue of incompetent, corrupt billionaires, and (3) demanding that 'free trade' remain unrestricted.


The Great President, while admitting capitalism's lack of perfection, asserted that "by far the most efficient and just way of structuring an economy". Really? To ram down the throats of millions a bill for trillions so that an handful of billionaires can remain billionaires? Talk about taking from the poor and giving to the rich. Is there any precedent in human history for so great a theft from the common folk for the benefit of the elite?

And all under the pretense that the many can only be saved by first saving the few. The irony of this last point is that capitalism does indeed grant priority to the capitalists — the owners, the wealthy — precisely because those few control the business decision-making upon which the rest of us are dependent. But so corrupt is our system that this is true only in principle. We are now seeing the bailout diverted to mergers and acquisitions, bonuses, stockholder bribes. Unemployment skyrockets, wages drop, benefits vanish, retirement accounts evaporate, and to these common disasters the market responds with enthusiasm, as it has for years.

People are now optimistically awaiting an Obama administration that is turning to the same corrupt charlatans that Bush has turned to. The most marked difference to date being an Obama willingness to bail out automobile manufacturers. This on its face might seem like a more honest effort to help workers, but there is a test in this strategy. Will an Obama bailout of Ford, GM and Chrysler include any protections for workers. Or will we see the carmakers instantly take the opportunity to layoff exactly the people they claim to be defending with their calls for assistance?

Gone to the Dogs

Obama and family have a real toughy with the dog thing. Imagine the announcement: "We've decided that we can't have a dog because of the allergy issues." BANG! The Headlines! "Obamas Don't Like AMERICA's PET"

The pet equivalent of the flag pin furore.

So they have to have a dog. It's mandated by appearances. BUT, if they choose a clearly hypo-allergenic Fido, PROBLEM!

The Peruvians (they are so thoughtful) have offered a hairless dog. Oh deah oh deah oh deah. Just won't do, just won't do, just won't do.

Where's the fluffy? The cuddly? Where're the big, round, doeful eyes? Where's the Disney, the Mickey?

The First Dog must be American Cute, brave, strong, but soft, kiddley cuddley. No snarling, drooling beast from Hell. No pitbulls, no German shepherds.

Border collie (oh yeah), Lassie (too prone to aggression), a terrier of some sort. Fala (scottish terrier), Checkers (american cocker spaniel), Millie (springer spaniel). Not too small (no neurotic chihuahuas).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sarah Palin Puts Faith in God

'Cause . . . where the hell else you gonna put it?

Personally, I put my faith in large quantities of chocolate. We're talking pounds here, people. Believe it. And I don't have squat to show for it, except maybe a spare tire iron. (No, not a spare tire, a spare tire iron. It's heavy.)

If The Palin scores the Presidency in either 2012 or 2016, I HEREBY SWEAR that I will put my faith in God and will vote for the Republicon Party for the rest of time.

Here's what God's gift to stupid had to say:
"I'm like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I'm like, don't let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is."
Remember the guy who talked about God calling him home if his university didn't raise some millions? Who was that jerk-off. (And I don't want to give masturbation a bad name. To paraphrase Woody Allen, it's sex with some one I almost like.) Oral Roberts, that's the jerk-off.

God! Go Oral on Sarah Palin's ass, goddamnit!

Palin added:
And if there is an open door in [20]12 or four years later, and if it is something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I'll plough through that door.
Plough through that open door, Sarah. Just let the door be an exit on an airplane flying at 30,000 feet.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Windows Sucks Even More Than Sarah Palin

Test Case for a Double Standard

As often happens, events have provided us with an excellent test case of the double standard applied in events received by Arabs and Muslims versus those received by Israelis and Jews as such.

The BBC reports that Israel's Supreme Court has okayed construction of the "Museum of Tolerance" which will involved destroying part of an ancient Muslim cemetery. Some of the graves date back to the times of the Crusades, centuries ago.

Palestinians and Muslims are understandably infuriated. Many Israeli Jews are likewise upset. Israel's idolaters are, by contrast, displaying just how bigoted they are. The BBC cites Rabbi Marvin Hier, from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who "said the museum was a sensible use of 'derelict land'." The Wiesenthal Center has been the driving force behind the 250 million dollar museum.


We have to marvel at the sheer audacity and hypocrisy in building a "Museum of Tolerance" on land cherished by Muslims. It speaks volumes of the Israeli perception of Arabs.

And interestingly, there are some cases against which to compare reactions. In New York City in 2006, a Jewish cemetery abutting a construction site suffered some damage from falling debris. People were understandably upset. (New York Times. "Debris Falls on Historic Jewish Cemetery", June 9, 2006)

Then, Rabbi Marc D. Angel, senior rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel said, "It's a big deal because the cemetery is very important to us. . . . We are highly sensitive to anything that happens in that cemetery."

Likewise, when an African American burial site was revealed in lower Manhattan, great effort was made to preserve remains and the site itself. Had people responded in the way Marvin Hier has, there would have been wholly appropriate charges of racism. But not so when Israelis treat Palestinians as beneath them.

The "Museum of Tolerance" or "Proof on Intolerance" has already brought controversy, as the New York Times reported in August 2004:
At the most hyperbolic edge of the debate, the American architect and critic Michael Sorkin claimed in Architectural Record that the Gehry design's use of large, irregular stone blocks ''uncomfortably evokes the 'deconstruction' of Yasir Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah into a pile of rubble by Israeli security forces.'' The leftist Israeli politician Meron Benvenisti, the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, denounced the museum in the newspaper Ha'aretz as ''so hallucinatory, so irrelevant, so foreign, so megalomaniac.'' Even mainstream Israelis are dubious that a museum conceived, financed and designed by Americans can possibly fathom, much less redress, the political and social chasms here. Palestinians, who usually agree with Israelis on so little, express similar skepticism.
The Wiesenthal Center's Marvin Hier has also demonstrated just how tolerant he is of Palestinians. The Museum will avoid much, perhaps any, mention of the occupation of Palestinian territory or conflict with Palestinians (either those resident in and citizens of Israel or those in the Occupied Territories). Hier's enlightened comment: "It's not about the experience of the Palestinian people. When they have a state, they'll have their own museum." The obvious question with whether Marvin Hier supports Palestinian statehood.

One point not raised by the BBC: Once the "Museum" is built, that area will of course become off-limits to Arabs, or at least one to which access is severely restricted. Indeed this is already happening. The BBC reported in 2006 that Palestinians accustomed to visiting grave sites in the cemetery were already being barred from so doing.

So much for tolerance.

[Return to this site for the response of Gehry Partners and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. I will try contacting them on Tuesday, 10 November]

References
Gehry Partners

Simon Wiesenthal Center


Times article on Manhattan cemetery

Times article on Museum

2006 BBC article on Museum. The Times article notably omits any mention of the damage mentioned here.

November 2008 BBC article

2007 Jerusalem Post article

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Where's Waldo's Bomb?

Help Waldo and the United States Government find their lost hydrogen bomb!

Have You Seen My Hydrogen Bomb?

If found please mail to:
Dr. Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Here's the BBC lowdown, with video, believe it or not.
Mystery of lost US nuclear bomb
By Gordon Corera
BBC News security correspondent, northern Greenland


The United States abandoned a nuclear weapon beneath the ice in northern Greenland following a crash in 1968, a BBC investigation has found.

Its unique vantage point - perched at the top of the world - has meant that Thule Air Base has been of immense strategic importance to the US since it was built in the early 1950s, allowing a radar to scan the skies for missiles coming over the North Pole.

The Pentagon believed the Soviet Union would take out the base as a prelude to a nuclear strike against the US and so in 1960 began flying "Chrome Dome" missions. Nuclear-armed B52 bombers continuously circled over Thule - and could head straight to Moscow if they witnessed its destruction.

Greenland is a self-governing province of Denmark but the carrying of nuclear weapons over Danish territory was kept secret. . . .

But on 21 January 1968, one of those missions went wrong.

We reunited two of the pilots, John Haug and Joe D'Amario, 40 years on to tell the story of how their plane ended up crashing on the ice a few miles out from the base.
In the aftermath, military personnel, local Greenlanders and Danish workers rushed to the scene to help.

Eventually, a remarkable operation would unfold over the coming months to recover thousands of tiny pieces of debris scattered across the frozen bay, as well as to collect some 500 million gallons of ice, some of it containing radioactive debris.

A declassified US government video, obtained by the BBC, documents the clear-up and gives some ideas of the scale of the operation.

The high explosives surrounding the four nuclear weapons had detonated but without setting off the actual nuclear devices, which had not been armed by the crew.

The Pentagon maintained that all four weapons had been "destroyed".

This may be technically true, since the bombs were no longer complete, but declassified documents obtained by the BBC under the US Freedom of Information Act, parts of which remain classified, reveal a much darker story, which has been confirmed by individuals involved in the clear-up and those who have had access to details since.

The documents make clear that within weeks of the incident, investigators piecing together the fragments realised that only three of the weapons could be accounted for. . . .

MORE - Especially the BBC video >>

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Racist Death Threats Against Obama

Britain's Daily Telegraph (one of the more conservative papers there, but moderate by American standards) reports that the US Secret Service attributes the spike in death threats against Obama to Sarah Palin's race-baiting attacks.

What must be remembered, and what no major American media organization will dare say (especially since many take part in the phenomenon), is that racism is a key element of the standard American political tool kit. Hillary Clinton played the race card. And the list of Republicans doing so is nearly without limit: John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, Michelle Bachmann, Elizabeth Dole, Norm Coleman, Ted Stevens, and on and on. And this makes no mention of the right-wing pundits and talk show hosts who are even more brazen than the Republican officials (Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and the most revolting — Mike Savage).
Sarah Palin blamed by the US Secret Service
over death threats against Barack Obama

Sarah Palin's attacks on Barack Obama's patriotism provoked a spike in death threats against the future president, Secret Service agents revealed during the final weeks of the campaign.
By Tim Shipman in Washington
Last Updated: 4:04PM GMT 08 Nov 2008

The Republican vice presidential candidate attracted criticism for accusing Mr Obama of "palling around with terrorists", citing his association with the sixties radical William Ayers.

The attacks provoked a near lynch mob atmosphere at her rallies, with supporters yelling "terrorist" and "kill him" until the McCain campaign ordered her to tone down the rhetoric.

But it has now emerged that her demagogic tone may have unintentionally encouraged white supremacists to go even further.

The Secret Service warned the Obama family in mid October that they had seen a dramatic increase in the number of threats against the Democratic candidate, coinciding with Mrs Palin's attacks.

Michelle Obama, the future First Lady, was so upset that she turned to her friend and campaign adviser Valerie Jarrett and said: "Why would they try to make people hate us?"

The revelations, contained in a Newsweek history of the campaign, are likely to further damage Mrs Palin's credentials as a future presidential candidate. She is already a frontrunner, with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, to take on Mr Obama in four years time.

Details of the spike in threats to Mr Obama come as a report last week by security and intelligence analysts Stratfor, warned that he is a high risk target for racist gunmen. It concluded: "Two plots to assassinate Obama were broken up during the campaign season, and several more remain under investigation. We would expect federal authorities to uncover many more plots to attack the president that have been hatched by white supremacist ideologues."

Irate John McCain aides, who blame Mrs Palin for losing the election, claim Mrs Palin took it upon herself to question Mr Obama's patriotism, before the line of attack had been cleared by Mr McCain.

MORE >

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Puppies Puppies PUPPIES

Raise your hand if you've enough about puppies. I have not listened to a radio newscast or watched the news on TV in the past two days without hearing about the Great Puppy Debate. More discussed than Afghanistan. More than the bonuses of overpaid, incompetent conmen on Wall Street. It's PUPPIES.

We have FDR and Nixon to thank for this — Fala and Checkers. Back in September 1944 during the presidential election, Republicon dirty tricks operatives charged Roosevelt with leaving Fala behind on the Aleutian islands, then sending a Navy destroyer to retrieve the dog. FDR delivered his now famous Fala speech:
These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. [laughter] Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks — but Fala does resent them.
FDR had a sense of humor about it all. It's become more serious since then. Eight years after FDR, almost to the day (September 1952), Nixon found himself accused of accepting $18,000 in illegal campaign contributions. (He must have been practicing.) In one of the early great uses of television, Tricky Dick rebutted the allegations but did admit receiving a dog — Checkers. He and his family were going to keep the dog, by gum.

This one is interesting. First, Nixon intuited how to use television. Something he supposedly forgot when he refused make-up in his debate with Kennedy. And something that should sound familiar today, Nixon denied that wife Pat had a mink coat: She had a "respectable Republican cloth coat".

With all the lessons that the Republicons have taken from Tricky, you might have thought that Sarah Palin could have learned that one. But then again, she is a person who thinks Africa is a country. (Probably in the same camp as Bush on that one.)

So now each President has to have a dog, and Obama is milking it for all it's worth. At least his kids really are thrilled.

Isn't it interesting that it's not enough that a President has to have a family — be a nice, straight, going-to-church person. He (someday she) has to have dog. Not a cat. Not fish. Not an iguana. A dog.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Today's Rosy Headlines (or "Midway in the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood.")

Oooh, the good news just keeps a-rollin' in. Do not forget that enlightened right-wingers like Amity Shlaes or the editors of the Wall Street Journal or our newest political has-been John McCain believe that the 'fundamentals are sound' and this is just a dip in the gilded road of American Progress. Onward and upward, Dow 36,000 and all that. Never say 'recession' and may Lightning Strike You Down if you say the "D" word.
  • Jobless Rate at 14-Year High After Big October Losses. Almost a quarter million people lost their jobs in October alone. Total job losses for the year = 1.2 million. Official unemployment up to 6.5%, meaning the real unemployment is probably around 13%. My prediction: we will see official unemployment hit 10% before we're out of this dark wood. BUT
  • Retailers Report a Sales Collapse. You can only go on spending the nuthin' you do have or the sumpthin' you don't have for so long. Still waiting for Henry Paulson's announcement that he is going to inject liquidity into US. (Of course, when the Feds inject liquidity into regular folks, it's usually in the form of a lethal injection.)
(By the way, Kevin Hassett, co-author of Dow 36,000 was an economic advisor to the McCain campaign. James Glassman, the other co-author, replaced Karen Hughes as Bush's Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy — propanda minister. All of which just goes to show, if you got The Official American Seal of Approval, you can't help but fall up, up, up, ever up.)

A Belated Thought On Studs Terkel

Howard Zinn rightly — and gently — skewers New York Times conservative cultural critic Edward Rothstein for his 'appraisal' of Studs Terkel.

Rothstein wrote, ". . . [I]f you look closely at these oral histories, you can never forget who has shaped them and to what end. It often seems easy to guess whom Mr. Terkel liked. . . ."

Wow. It's really pretty easy to tell whom The World's Greatest Newspaper likes and dislikes. The Times routinely offers ill-considered and typically not-very-subtle attacks on the people it doesn't like: Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Jimmy Carter come to mind. There are many others. The "Paper of Record" does exactly what it claims Terkel did, but with none of the honesty.

Below is the text of my letter attempting to add to Howard Zinn's response to Rothstein:
Howard Zinn is too kind in his assessment of Edward Rothstein's "appraisal" of Studs Terkel. Rothstein's thinly-veiled hatchet job joins a series of cruel treatments of late progressives. The two that come to mind immediately are literary theorist and Palestinian advocate Edward Said and political philosopher John Rawls. Later Times treatments of both (by considerably better informed and more thoughtful writers) made up somewhat for what initially bordered on cruelty.

Rothstein betrays not just a lack of understanding of Terkel's work but a willful misrepresentation entirely in keeping with The New York Times's treatment of progressives and their causes. The victim need not be dead or even particularly progressive, witness the Times repeated treatment of President Jimmy Carter when he dared to criticize Israel.

Rothstein's take is no surprise coming as it does from a product of the University of Chicago's famously absolutist and conservative "Committee on Social Thought" (probably better called the "Committee on Right Thinking").

That the Times determines to treat progressives or the left so is clear from the glowing treatment of 'moderates' or 'conservatives'. Recall that George Plimpton died at almost the same time as Said. But Plimpton received the white glove treatment.

Rothstein closes his essay with an underhanded, snide attack: "Mr. Terkel presented himself as an avuncular angel with close contact with the salt of the earth, a populist with a humane vision of the world. There are times such gifts are evident, but there are also times when such dreamers should make us wary."

I cannot imagine when a humane vision of the world should make us wary. And in this time and after this election, another dreamer comes to mind. Count me with Studs Terkel, with Martin Luther King, Jr. Count me with the dreamers.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rahm-bo, Obama's Bulldog

Rahm Emanuel, Democratic Representative from north side of Chicago, will evidently be President Obama's Chief of Staff. (He hasn't actually accepted yet.) Frankly, I think I admire this guy — loves the arts, driven, confident, accomplished, and capable — but I don't think this Obama choice bodes well for a liberal, much less a progressive, administration. No surprise. Beyond the rhetoric, Obama shows little evidence of being a liberal, despite McCain efforts to label him such.

(And, yes, I am now playing Devil's Advocate.)

Beyond the name, rank and serial number kind of details, here are some of Emanuel’s highlights:
  • Above all, a fundraising God.
  • Driven, exceptionally loyal, energetic — probably very likeable if you're on his good side.
  • Alone among Illinois congressional Democrats in supporting the Iraq war resolution
  • Studied ballet but chose not to join the Joffrey Ballet (he was that good).
  • A Clintonian, like many of the people advising Obama (Robert Rubin, Austan Goolsbee, Jeffrey Liebman, David Cutler)
  • Architect of NAFTA, like the Clinton crowd, an advocate of 'free markets' and 'privatization'
  • Major advocate of Israeli interests
  • Father Benjamin Emanuel, now a pediatrician, was a medic for Irgun, the Zionist terrorist group in pre-Israel Palestine, responsible for the bombing of the King David Hotel and, with the Stern Gang, the Deir Yassin massacre. (He was a medic, but does membership make Benjamin Emanuel a terrorist? Official American and Israeli standards would say 'yes'.)
  • From 1999 to 2002, worked in investment banking at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, earning $18 million. Schmoozes easily with Wall Streeters.
  • nicknamed Rahm-bo
  • Advocates privatizing border security and denying undocumented immigrants any path to citizenship.
  • Prior to Tony Blair’s first public meeting with Clinton, reportedly told Blair “This is important. Don’t fuck it up.”
  • According to Rolling Stone, “Emanuel was so angry at the president's [Clinton’s] enemies that he stood up at a celebratory dinner with colleagues from the campaign, grabbed a steak knife and began rattling off a list of betrayers, shouting 'Dead! ... Dead! ... Dead!' and plunging the knife into the table after every name.”
  • During 1991 Gulf War, was a civilian volunteer in Israel. Never served in Israeli military, does not have dual nationality, contrary to some rumors.
  • Director of Finance of Clinton’s 1991 presidential primary campaign. Proved his genius for fundraising then.


By the way, I take the term "Obama's Bulldog" from that used to refer to Thomas Henry Huxley, called "Darwin's bulldog" — by himself among others — for his role in advocating Darwin's theories. Darwin himself was notoriously averse to public speaking.


References

Joshua Green. “The Enforcer” in Rolling Stone

Nina Easton. "Rahm Emanuel, Pitbull politician" in Fortune

Orly Azoulay. YNet News.

Eli Kintisch. United Jewish Communities and JTA.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Did


This photo from the Times says it all. Amen. Finally. Something like justice. This is a beautiful moment.

But it's not over. This morning what pass for journalists in the United States are commenting that it was not the landslide some expected. Well, there's a reason for that — a nationwide Republican campaign to disenfranchise poor and minority reporters. Saxby Chambliss may win in Georgia as a direct result of this.

For those who think this is a "conspiracy theory", the Republican campaign of injustice has been systematically and extensively documented by many, including journalist Greg Palast, Bobby Kennedy Jr., the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and many others.

And a pretty easy check of major media organizations shows that the confirmed cases of fraud and injustice are ones perpetrated by Republicans.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

If You Don't Build It, They Won't Come

The joke in the Soviet Union used to be that if you saw a line, better join it. At the end might be toilet paper, milk, some necessity. Here, if you see a line, people must be trying to vote. And it's no joke. On this Election Day (emphasis on singular), how many people will turn away, give up, not vote because the lines are absurdly long, because there is barely any organization, barely any instruction?

At my voting place in Brooklyn's Crown Heights (a largely black, middle class and poor area), the poll workers were phenomenal — helpful, outgoing, patient. And they were overwhelmed. When I arrived with my 6-year-old daughter (hoping to share with her the excitement of this election), there must have been nearly one thousand voters, weaving this way and that in six lines. Two lines for each election district represented. Ask three people where to go, you got four answers. I gave up waiting with my daughter and went back later.

And I am very lucky. Imagine a single parent of two or three kids, holding down two jobs, trying to vote on a day when the kids have no school. In many respects, the voting system seems calculated to deter less-advantaged voters. The voting apparatus is discriminatory.

In New York State, most people still find themselves using ancient machines which are notorious for breaking down or not working at all. Couple this with the one-day-only voting opportunity in New York, the deplorable Board of Elections web site and phone service, and the anti-deluvian voter registration scheme of New York and voting becomes a massive inconvenience. (It must be noted that when I have gotten through to people, they have been great — offering more information than I needed. Hats off to them.)

With regard to one-day-only voting: When we see a "One Day Only" sale, we know it's a gimic, a bait and switch scheme designed to lure us through the door. But, One Day Only Voting is supposed to be a triumph of the democratic process, if you believe the Michael Bloombergs and George Bushes of this world.

Despite all this, I saw lines many times today. People determined to vote. Whether their votes will actually be counted, if they actually manage to vote, is an open question, given the state of New York's electoral machinery. And across the country there are many many comparable stories.

So inconvenient (at best) is the American electoral process that we must ask whether the intent is to deter people from voting. Republicans have stopped just short of expressly admitting that they dread massive voter turnout, knowing that most Americans are indeed Democratically inclined.

What the Democrats' excuse is for acquiescing in disenfranchisement by inconvenience is anybody's guess. In machine states like New York, perhaps incumbent Democrats dread a large turnout just as much as Republicans do. We know that two powerful New York politicians — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn — do indeed oppose the democratic process when it threatens to deprive them of longer political careers and, in Quinn's case, when it threatens to deprive her of the multi-million dollar slush fund scheme she has contrived with others on the City Council.

What is to be done?

It seems to me the time has come for a constitutional amendment forcing standardization across the country and stipulating that a right to vote means a right in law and in fact.



The Facts

News of problems is to found in most media outlets, so far less than a pessimist like me would expect. The best yet? Actor Tim Robbins was turned away from his polling place in Manhattan. Reason? He had been struck from the voter rolls. He, unlike many sharing his problem today, knew his rights and knew what to do.

The Indianapolis Star reports that two Republican election workers were removed from an Indiana polling site "for using improper methods to challenge voters' rights to cast a ballot".

MSNBC reports that in two of the most important swing states, Virginia and Pennsylvania, voters have complained of problems. Florida, Ohio, and Colorado are also plagued by problems. Pennsylvania is particularly troubling because problems seem to center on Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, both of which are Democratic strongholds.

Greg Palast describes on Truthout.org how McCain could win as a result of Republican criminal activity:
Swing state Colorado. Before this election, two Republican secretaries of state purged 19.4 percent of the entire voter roll. One in five voters.
Swing state New Mexico. One in nine voters in this year's Democratic caucus found their names missing from the state-provided voter registries. And not just any voters. County by county, the number of voters disappeared was in direct proportion to the nonwhite population.
Swing state Indiana. In this year's primary, ten nuns were turned away from the polls because of the state's new voter ID law. They had drivers' licenses, but being in their 80s and 90s, they'd let their licenses expire.... But what isn't cute is this: 566,000 registered voters in that state don't have the ID required to vote. Most are racial minorities, the very elderly and first-time voters; that is, Obama voters. Twenty-three other states have new, vote-snatching ID requirements.
Swing state Florida. Despite a lawsuit battle waged by the Brennan Center for Justice, the state's Republican apparatchiks are attempting to block the votes of 85,000 new registrants, forcing them to pass through a new "verification" process. Funny thing: verification applies only to those who signed up in voter drives (mostly black), but not to voters registering at motor vehicle offices (mostly white).
The Ugly Secret. Here's an ugly little secret about American democracy: We don't count all the votes. In 2004, based on the data from the US Elections Assistance Commission, 3,006,080 votes were not counted: "spoiled," unreadable and blank ballots; "provisional" ballots rejected; mail-in ballots disqualified.
The long and the short of it is that the United States has a deeply corrupt electoral process, jury-rigged repeatedly to serve political ends, especially, after years of conservative government, Republican ends.

Digg!

Bring In Your Dead!

And clone them! Scientists in Japan have cloned mice dead and frozen for sixteen years. Coming up: the Wooly Mammoth, stuff trapped in amber, Walt Disney. The New Scientist has the story, excerpted here [emphasis mine]:
Healthy mice have been cloned from cells from dead mice that had been frozen for 16 years, raising the possibility that endangered species could be cloned from old carcasses that have been tossed in freezers, rather than from living cells frozen using elaborate techniques.

The finding also raises hopes of one day being able to resurrect extinct animals frozen in permafrost, such as the woolly mammoth, . . .

. . .

Despite the excitement surrounding the technique, more research will be needed before it can be used on endangered species, . . . .

What's more, most conservationists agree that cloning should be considered only as a last resort for species such as the northern white rhino, where all other attempts at conservation have failed, says Paul Bartels, manager of BioBankSA at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa in Pretoria. Nonetheless, he says, he will be asking biologists to start freezing the bodies of endangered species that have died.

"We intend to bring this [finding] to the attention of as many biologists working on endangered species as possible, through circulars, e-mail, newsletters, and talks," he says. . . .

Resurrecting extinct animals would be far trickier. Woolly mammoth carcasses would most likely have frozen and thawed several times over the aeons, which would cause far more damage to the nucleus than a one-off freezing.

Potentially easier would be cloning cryogenically frozen humans, though the consensus among cloning experts is that it would be unethical and dangerous to clone a human. In any case, people who sign up to be cryogenically preserved usually hope to be resuscitated rather than cloned.

Whom to clone, whom to clone (please note grammar). . . . Here's a preliminary list:
Lenin. Hey, these days this guy would be a maverick.
John McCain. Don't you think he's kind of frozen. Maybe his clone would have another chance. Maybe his clone would be a Democrat!
Walt Disney. D'Oh! Turns out he wasn't frozen.
Coming Soon
  • Have Your Say: Vote for Candidate Clonees. And . . .
  • Whom do we freeze for future cloning? And . . .
  • Would you want to be cloned?
Links
The New Scientist | BBC | The Guardian