Monday, November 30, 2009

A Brave New America {in progress}

Paul Krugman pulls his punches. He writes in two Times pieces today, one on the op-ed page and the other on his Times blog, of the issues of unemployment, the Obama administration's failure to act and the elite's indifference to the suffering of many now that the Great Recession has officially been declared over.

Looking a year or two forward in his blog, Krugman writes,
[There] will be high unemployment leading into the 2010 elections, and corresponding Democratic losses. These losses will be worse because Obama, by pursuing a uniformly pro-banker policy without even a gesture to popular anger over the bailouts, has ceded populist energy to the right and demoralized the movement that brought him to power.
And from his Times op-ed essay,
You might think, then, that doing something about the employment situation would be a top policy priority. But now that total financial collapse has been averted, all the urgency seems to have vanished from policy discussion, replaced by a strange passivity. There’s a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers.
Not long ago, in an interview with Eliot Spitzer on Bill Maher's show, Krugman sounded far more pessimistic. "Sometimes I wake up and think I'm in a third world country." And "The American dream isn't dead, but it's dying pretty fast." And still more: "If the US was a third world country, the IMF and others would be saying, 'You have to get rid of your oligarchs.'"

Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert are the most critical — and incisive — voices on the Times op-ed page, but the Times still tones them down, I suspect.

The Shape of Things to Come

I've been reading Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood (which for some reason I invariably think of as In the Year of the Flood, perhaps following H. G. Wells's In the Day of the Comet). Atwood's vision of a possible future is sobering — rampant wonder-species spliced by Frankengeneticists, a plastic two-tiered society, packaged everything. Including synthetic meat.

Today, Gizmodo reports on Dutch scientists synthesizing pork — not yet up to lip-smacking goodness, but on the way.

Not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Journey Through Your Blogger's Mind

A rehash of recent comments from Twitter and Facebook, in no particular order or organizing schema.

The White House Bash Crash of 25 November 2009
Network Cameras Followed White House Crashers Why not crash the Prez bash? It's good TV!

Terrorists really haven't got it figured. They just need to make Terrorism into a Reality TV show and they'll have it made.
On Wall Street, Health Insurers and Money Money Money. Just how much wrong-doing can be 'justified' by profit — a question I have yet to hear any banker or insurer answer. But the impression I get is that, given enough money, ANY moral crime can be justified.
Credit, Consumption, Collapse - Environmental Collapse, Financial Collapse, Economic Collapse. Any guesses what all that adds up to?

Does any Wall Street or Health Insurance or Banking Executive ever say "We can't do that because it is just wrong."

Have Karen Ignani, AHIP, Angela Braly, WellPoint, Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs, Nessa Feddis, ABA ever found something too immoral to do?

To the bankers and health insurers: Does a sufficient sum of money trump ANY moral consideration?
More to come....

Lowell Bergman Investigates the Credit House of Cards

Friday, November 13, 2009

America's Constitutional Oligarchy

Outstanding scholar of the credit crisis, Elizabeth Warren, is on NOW on PBS this evening, Friday, 13 November 2009.

Here are some comments I made on the program:

The importance of public airing of the dissenting views of Elizabeth Warren and others like her cannot be overstated.

Obama, Geithner, Bernanke, Summers and the majority of the Harvard-Chicago School of Economics have stopped just short of damn lying. They have done the same thing with the economy of the United States that Bush & Co did with the war in Iraq: "IF you knew what we do, you would agree with us, but we can't tell you." Obama's openness and transparency is that of Orwell's 1984.

Representative Marcy Kaptur and a handful of elected officials, a number of prominent economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, and others across the US have said what is increasingly obvious. The US is no longer a democracy, it is an oligarchy. A constitutional oligarchy. We are locked into the "two-party" system that many clearly think is constitutionally mandated. The effect of this is to render our votes irrelevant. Democratic or Republican, the government will serve the oligarchs at our expense. The housing crisis, the financial crisis, health care, endless war abroad -- on all counts, first consideration (often the only consideration) is given to the demands of the oligarchs.

In an interview with Bill Maher, both Paul Krugman and Eliot Spitzer agreed that the "American dream is dying pretty fast." Krugman noted that, if the US were a third world country or one like Russia, the IMF and others -- especially the US -- would be saying "You have to stop the oligarchs."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Paul Krugman on the Demise of "Commie" as a Term of Abuse

Paul Krugman notes that the right-wing of the US has turned from charging their liberal and progressive opponents with the being "Commies" to being "Nazis".

Of course, opponents of health care reform have regularly been calling single-payer and the public option "socialism". Hasn't had much effect. Maybe too many Americans are just too young to be able to tap into the hysteria that term once provoked. (I myself remember the vile Wyoming senator Alan Simpson leveling the charge of "comsymp" at those who dared suggest that Reagan had committed impeachable offenses in the Iran-Contra scandal.)

By contrast, the image of the Nazis as the greatest evil ever to visit Earth (and even the greatest evil that could visit Earth) is alive and well.

I believe that the charge of "Nazi!" can rightly be leveled in some circumstances — certainly not idly as some on both right and left do. Much of the rhetoric of Reagan, George W. Bush and many on the right extreme is strikingly similar to that of the Nazis. If I remember correctly, for example, former New York Mayor Rudolf Giuliani referred to the notorious Saatchi show at the Brooklyn Museum as "degenerate art".

What language would be too strong to characterize the Ann Coulters, Glenn Becks, Bill O'Reillys, Dick Armeys, and others who tar with one brush the world's entire Muslim population as terrorist. Ann Coulter called for the bombing of Muslims — all of them. The right wing of John Yoo, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney and others has endorsed the bombing of civilians, the torture of any person on the president's say-so, and the effective conversion of the president to a monarch or dictator. What is the appropriate name for this?

Some would say that the term "Nazi" should be reserved exclusively for the members of the National Socialist Party in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. But what then of the term "neo-Nazi"? What of "fascist"?

As for the American right-wing and its casual abuse of the term: I believe the right-wing is undergoing a fully-fledged psychotic break. They are genuinely, deeply divorced from reality. As their connection to reality has become ever more tenuous, they have adopted rhetoric that is similarly divorced from reality.

They are consumed by rage, ignorant of and indifferent to fact, largely incapable of rational or critical thought, and most importantly, incapable of one of the key requirements of the Christian religion many of them formally endorse — compassion for those different from or less fortunate than themselves.

They oppose health care for 300 million in the interest of preserving billions in income for a handful of insurers.

They go ape over something as innocuous as the move of a few words on a coin (as Sarah Palin did over the move of "In God We Trust").

They oppose 1 trillion for the well-being of the American people while supporting unknown trillions for disastrous wars.

They deny climate change and oppose action on such change despite glaring evidence that action is needed.

They persist to this day in trying to foist "creationism" or "intelligent design" on students.

They rave about freedom while supporting the systematic erosion of Constitutional rights.

These are not the behaviors of rational or compassionate people. Granted, the charge of irrationality should not be made lightly, and the charge has been abused (notably by Stalin), but frankly, it is time to admit that the 20% of the US population that constitutes the right-wing hobbling the United States is simply not rational, simply not in touch with reality. That includes, sadly, some of Paul Krugman's colleagues at The New York Times, like David Brooks.

The systematic denial of fact (regarding health care, or the political health of a nation in the face of monstrous disparities in the distribution of wealth, or any of a number of other things) is best explained as an irrational delusion.

The Balance of EVIL (Pure, Not from Concentrate)!

New York City's two tabloids, The Daily News and The New York Post, both splash news of the Fort Hood mass murder across their front pages. "Evil!" the watchword. I'm struck by the American Sense of Evil, particularly that of the American Right Wing, the Arrrrwwww!

Personally, I think there is such a thing as evil. The architects of Nazi mass murder were evil. I would say those who attack a population with every reason to believe that civilians, including children, will be the principle victims are evil. (Here I have in mind the likes of Henry Kissinger, Condoleeza Rice, Benjamin Netanyahu, Dick Cheney, among others.)

So I do not object in principle to the characterization of people or their acts as evil. I just find the Right Wing Sense of Evil strange, disturbing. The 'mainstream' of American thinkers and certainly the right would strongly object to my calling Kissinger or Cheney evil, so who knows, they might say the same of me.

Let's review, beginning with Monday, November 9th's, newspapers:

Also evil, according to the right wing:
  • national healthcare, bringing an end to private health insurance;
  • moving "In God We Trust" to a less central location on American coins;
  • higher taxes of any kind (except sales taxes);
  • any who criticize the United States in any thorough-going way (as opposed to criticizing elements of the US, like liberals or taxes);
  • environmental conservation;
  • anyone who votes against the Republican Party line (witness the response to Rep. Cao's vote for the health care reform bill)
More soon.....

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Civilization Collapse Disorder

Saturday, I saw the documentary Collapse, directed by Chris Smith, on the thinking of Michael Ruppert, Peak Oil and the implications for modern civilization of a systematic collapse in the oil economy of the world. Sobering.


From the Wilderness, Michael Ruppert's website chronicling his views

Bluemark Films, makers of Collapse

Thursday, November 5, 2009

When Reporters Try to Make News

The torrent of hate speech is flooding forth after the mass-murder at Fort Hood in Texas. Never willing to pass up on a chance to foment hatred, Fox News is doing it's best to bait people, lead those it interviews, cast the events in the worst possible light.

Here is my letter to Shepard Smith after he lead the already-happy-to-lynch Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison:
Dear Mr. Smith:

After the murderous rampage at Fort Hood, you asked Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison -- rhetorically, to judge by the sound of it -- "The name tells us a lot, does it not, senator?" Senator Hutchison replied, "It does. It does, Shepard."

Do you think Sen. Hutchison plans to introduce legislation to ban certain names? Or that she might call for the arrest of people with those names?

Perhaps you can clarify for people around the world just what is in a name. What does it tell us, Mr. Smith?

Hugh Sansom

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Maureen Dowd's Apology for a Pathetic President

Maureen Dowd offers one of the weakest apologies I have yet seen for the miserable excuse of a president, Obama. On the occasion of Obama's visit to Dover Air Force Base to salute the fallen returning from Afghanistan, Dowd prates:

It may have been a photo op, another way Obama could show he was not W., the president who started the Iraq war in a haze of fakery and then declined to ever confront the reality of its dead.

Certainly, as Obama tries to figure out how to avoid being a war president when he’s saddled with two wars, he wants as much military cred in the bank as he can get.

But it was also a genuinely poignant moment. It is how we want our presidents to behave, doing the humane thing especially when it’s hard. And Obama, who called it “a sobering reminder” of sacrifices made, signaled to Americans that he will resist blinders as he grapples with the byzantine, seemingly bottomless conflicts he inherited.


President Obama bore witness just as he is deciding whether to accede to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for up to 80,000 more troops in Afghanistan.

He should keep in mind Cyrus Vance’s warning before President Carter decided to send a Delta team to rescue the Iranian hostages (an ill-fated decision that provoked Vance’s resignation as secretary of state). “Generals will rarely tell you they can’t do something,” he said. “This is a complex damn operation, and I haven’t forgotten the old saying from my Pentagon days that in the military, anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Barack Obama, the wunderkind who came out of nowhere to win the presidency, was supposed to push America out of the ditch and into a glittering future. But modernity is elusive when you’re in a time machine to the 14th century called Afghanistan. The tableau of Obama at Dover evoked the last line of “The Great Gatsby:” “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

As Obama comforted families at a tragic moment, he also had to contemplate a tragic dimension of his own presidency: It’s nice to talk about change, but you can’t wipe away yesterday.

Obama wants to be the cosmopolitan president of the world, and social engineer at home to improve the lives of Americans.

But what he had in mind for renovating American society hinged on spending a lot of money on energy, education, the environment and health care. Instead, he has been trapped in the money pits of a recession and two wars.

For now, the man who promised revolution will have to settle for managing adversity.

My response:

"Obama wants to be the cosmopolitan president of the world, and social engineer at home to improve the lives of Americans."


Obama releases photos from Dover and suppresses photos from Abu Ghraib and Gitmo -- photos by Americans of American war crimes. Obama, "social engineer", has carried on most of what Bush had started in bailing out Wall Street and the American Oligarchs, to whom he clearly feels more allegiance than he does to the American People. He has guaranteed the profits of health insurers. He is reneging on commitments to close off vast tracts of wilderness from logging and roads. Obama has advocated Bush-era violations of the civil and Constitutional rights of Americans.

Obama, "cosmopolitan president of the world", threatened Britons' safety in order to suppress facts about American atrocities. He has defended and extended the bombing of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the 'brave' use of pilotless drones. He will not go to Copenhagen and his representatives are likely to be a drag on progress towards solving climate problems. This month we will almost certainly not become the first president to visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Before Israel, after some vague promises, Obama has caved repeatedly, condemning Palestinians to some of the worst conditions confronting any people on Earth.

Obama promised a great deal. He has given every indication that those promises were never anything more than words to win votes. This is the explanation that accounts for his wide-ranging, repeated failures to live up to the promises -- not Maureen Dowd's thin apologia that he has to "manage" diversity.