Friday, August 27, 2010

This American Dream

James Kwak and Simon Johnson have parallel essays commenting on Ariana Huffington's new book, Third World America.

The title alone reminds me of what used to be said of the United Kingdom — that it was the world's wealthiest Third World country. (I remember this from the 1980s, but I don't know when it began or whether people still speak of the UK so.) Paul Krugman, speaking with Eliot Spitzer and Bill Maher on HBO in September, 2009, effectively said the US is going the way of a Third World country:
Sometimes I wake up and think I'm in a Third World country.... The American Dream is not totally dead, but it's dying pretty fast."
In his essay, James Kwak notes a couple of nice quotations Huffington pulls from Tocqueville's Democracy in America, including what struck him as "the general equality of condition among the people."

Of course, Tocqueville was missing one group — the slaves. Hardly a minor oversight. Neither was he particularly concerned with the denial to women of the vote or the right to own property. But these can be "controlled for" in a comparison of American ages.

It would be interesting to gauge at what time in American history wealth was most unequally (and at what time most equally) distributed.

If you just confine yourselves to people who were allowed to own property and allowed to vote (that is, people treated substantially equally in law), then at what time were people most unequal.

The disparities in distribution today, if not the greatest ever, must be pretty close — and getting closer. I think the following position can reasonably (and forcefully) be made:

For thirty years, since the Reagan administration, formal and substantive democracy have been under attack in the United States. Protections for the individual, especially the less advantaged "commoner" (for want of better expression) have been deliberately worn down. The government, especially the executive branch, has steadily and successfully sought more power. Obama has not departed from the pattern from Reagan through to Bush in the slightest. Indeed, government intrusions into the lives of Americans have accelerated under Obama. Far from having a tax and social policy aimed at promoting greater equality, we have seen seen the US government repeatedly act to redistribute wealth from the middle class up to the wealthiest Americans. We have an increasingly wealthy Congress. Those members who do not start among the wealthiest do whatever they can to join — witness Charlie Rangel's crimes.

Above all, the culture of separation is being institutionalized. Wealthy versus The Rest of Us. And government and corporate leaders show almost no concern about this at all. Indeed, they appear, in large measure, to be endorsing the two-state America.

The question may now be: Just how un-democratic will the US become?

Coddling Conservatives

Dean Baker speculates about the obviously different treatment of op-ed essayists at The New York Times, namely the welcome for the often-wrong David Brooks versus Paul Krugman or Bob Herbert. Baker's points can be generalized to the mainstream media and politics.

The obvious question is: When do 'mistakes' rise to something more serious? On a host of issues, Brooks has been corrected again and again, by people like me and by people with infinitely more public presence. Yet he has frequently gone on to repeat [i]exactly[/i] that on which he was corrected. So is he just lying for propaganda purposes?

Brooks does this on international issues, economics, politics — you name it. Unlike a Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann, Brooks is more decorous in his misrepresentations (lies) — as is the New York Times generally.

Dean Baker is quite right, but he poses his case rhetorically, neither raising nor answering another obvious question: Given that liberals would indeed be treated as he describes and given that conservatives get just the opposite treatment, why is this the case? (There's a perfectly good reason for Baker to write so — we all know the answers!)

There is a parallel case with Barack Obama. Obama has coddled conservatives like Alan Simpson. He has packed his team with the likes of Geithner, Bernanke, Summers. He has systematically excluded liberals from discussions on labor, financial reform, education and health care. Currently, he is hunting for an excuse to [i]not[/i] nominate Elizabeth Warren.

The most simple — and plausible — explanation is both cases is that the executives [i]agree[/i] with their conservatives. Times editors agree with Brooks or Douthat (the far dimmer Brooks clone). Obama agrees with Summers, Geithner, Bernanke, Rubin — despite his vague and infrequent gestures in the direction of liberals and progressives.

What concrete evidence we do have confirms this. The Times has pretty clearly joined the Clinton-style 'moderates' against social security. It has been dragged into a tiny handful of stories revealing Israeli crimes, but largely continues to ignore them. It has repeatedly misrepresented issues of housing, banking, etc. Former reporters like Chris Hedges, John Hess, Sydney Schanberg have provided first-hand accounts.

And a handful of inside-reports on Obama — from people who have been in touch recently (e.g., Rashid Khalidi) and in the past (e.g., Penn professor Adolf Reed, Jr.) — confirm the same with the administration of President Zero.

The process of critics of the Times or Obama can be treated as a scientific one. We have a set of observations of consistent behavior. What explains it? What explains the near-total absence of Palestinians from the op-ed pages of the Times or the Post but the regular and frequent appearance of Israelis and their supporters? What explains the total absence of single-payer advocates from Obama discussions on health care reform? What explains the continued employment of Timothy Geithner or Alan Simpson but the quick abandonment of Charles Freeman? One or two isolated cases would allow endless speculation. The uninterrupted pattern of the Obama administration or The New York Times leaves far less room for interpretation.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Democracy's End

Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss has some comments on a current Ethan Bronner story in The New York Times. Weiss notes Bronner's effective recognition of the death of the Two State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If I read Weiss correctly, he thinks it may portend the end of the Jewish State. I think it may mark an alternative, depending on how wedded Israelis and their American champions are to Democracy. Israelis and Americans are facing, largely independently, a parallel choice between preserving two increasingly incompatible Articles of National Faith. In Israel's case, they are the notions of Democracy and Jewish Statehood (which were arguably incompatible from the start, emphasis on arguably — not necessarily in my view). In the case of the US, the two are Democracy and (unlimited acquisition of) Wealth (termed free enterprise, private property — it has several names).

If the US and Israel are not already at a Moment of Truth (drumroll), they soon will be. The Jewish State may be finished, or — if Americans and Israelis choose to junk some other cherished notion — it may continue in radically altered form.

The obvious alternative to be junked is democracy. My view is that it will be the democracy that is dumped — not explicitly, but in substance and with a widespread, unstated recognition that this is what is happening.

There are calls in the Knesset for a more systematic denial of rights to Palestinians, but this has been true for some time. Likewise, there is a systematic denial of equal rights to non-Jews in Israel. The vast majority of non-Jews are Palestinian, so that systematic denial does the work, not just of latent racism, but of preserving the "Jewish character" of the Jewish state.

A further emphasis on protecting "Jewish character" to resolve the tension between a Two State Solution and Jewish Statehood will also bring denials of democracy to Jews in Israel. This, too, is happening with the grossly disproportionate power of the religious right. Israel is also seeing some evidence of liberal-intellectual flight.

How is the de-democratization of Israel to be managed in The World's Greatest Democracy? A good deal of Orwellian linguistic construction aided by the non-quite-coincidental de-democratization of the United States. Economists, first on the left and now increasingly among liberals, are noting this. And progressives generally have been warning of this since the Reagan years, when the "Danger of Too Much Democracy" was first attacked with malice aforethought.

In an interview with Bill Maher, Paul Krugman said, "The American Dream isn't dead, but it's dying pretty fast." Dean Baker has an essay on the service Congress renders to Wall Street and corporate America — not to us. Essential to Democracy are social mobility and some ideal of socio-economic equality serving as a goal. Both are near-dead in the US. Our politicians are becoming a political class. They become wealthier, use their elected positions to ensure or promote their own wealth and, if they leave office, go to work for precisely the companies they regulated (or didn't) through legislation. Their children take office after they leave. If we haven't already, when will we see a third-generation Kennedy take office — or a Murkowsi, Paul, Cuomo, Bush . . . ?

Elections are becoming near-irrelevant in the US. The great beacon of Change and Hope — Obama — has proved to be anything but, indeed almost the opposite. Who could imagine that Obama would not just fail to address Bush crimes, but actually further some of Bush's worst?

The decline of democracy in the US — coupled crucially with Orwellian language to perpetuate the Myth of Democracy — will make it easier for Israel-idealogues in the US to maintain the pretense that Israel is a democracy.

The irony in Israel's case is that a profound change in Judaism itself may be a consequence. If Judaism is identified with the Jewish State (as it is, above all by conservatives), then as Israel becomes more right-wing, less democratic and more discriminatory, Judaism will, sadly and possibly tragically, be also so identified. Liberal Jews will seek religious solace elsewhere, some abandoning Judaism, others seeking to create a true, liberal Jewish faith. Judaism will evolve in a way exactly counter to, and as a consequence of, what conservatives intend.

What will happen in the US is anybody's guess. Legal institution of oligarchy? Perhaps that is already happening with the formal protections granted Wall Street and corporate profiteering.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Violent Fence-Sitters and Villains
in the Field of American Racism

Salon has a nice, but not quite complete, essay by Alex Pareene on the Heroes and Villains of the ill-named (but very deliberately named, with malice aforethought) "Ground Zero Mosque" furore.

I have my own take on the villains especially. Pareene rightly names as heroes Jerrold Nadler, Michael Bloomberg, Al Franken, Russ Feingold, Sherrod Brown, Joe Sestak, Ted Olson, Grover Norquist. At least three people there with whom I almost never agree, but on this, they are great. People of Principle.

Barack Obama leads the pack of violent fence-sitters — prominent individuals with neither the decency nor courage to do what justice and morality demand. Also in this pack are Kirsten Gillibrand, David Paterson, Howard Dean, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and on and on. They are the silent or near-silent go-along-to-get-along types who in some ways do more damage than the unalloyed bigots like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Pamela Geller and Abe Foxman. The violent fence-sitters are the ones who enable huge numbers to also sit on the sidelines or, worse, to edge toward a bigoted stance that in some part they know is wrong.

As for Anthony Weiner and Charles Schumer, they are long-standing, pseudo-respectable crypto-racists. Their violent support for Israel has forced their intellectual machinery into a hatred of Arabs and Muslims they would otherwise reject wholeheartedly.

They are examples of the peculiar elasticity of the Web of Belief (as philosopher Willard van Orman Quine called it). That is, if a person is sufficiently devoted to one point, he or she is quite capable of adjusting whatever else needs adjusting to accommodate that point.

Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, Pamela Geller, Joseph Lieberman — They are true racists to the core. Gingrich, Palin and Giuliani believe in the innate supremacy of white Christians; Geller and Lieberman believe the same of Jews. Their mental machinery is the same in form as that of the Nazis circa 1937. (And I mean that quite seriously, with all that it implies. They are people who would commit genocide if they thought the world would tolerate it today.)

By contrast, Schumer and Wiener are Adjusted Bigots. Their bigotry is the illogical, irrational consequence of a desperate need to maintain the Sanctity of Israel over all other things. Unlike the Gingriches or Gellers, they do not begin with a racist premise; they arrive at racist conclusion.

The web of belief need not be so elastic. Jerrold Nadler is an ardent supporter of Israel. Unlike Schumer or Wiener, he is also a defender of the Rights of American Muslims. Likewise, Michael Bloomberg, whom I usually loathe. He has been outstanding on this.

All that said, Salon should add to the list of Heroes both Charlie Rangel, who may be trying to recover some moral high ground, and Al Franken, who has repeatedly surprised me as one of the most intelligent people in Congress in recent decades.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Letter to Ross Douthat

Sent Wednesday, 18 August, after I suffered through the idiocy of Ross Douthat on PBS's NewsHour, hosted by the even more racist Jim Lehrer:
Mr. Douthat:

You're a master of the New York Times art of sounding reasonable while advocating bigotry.

Where is your condemnation of Pamela Geller, who profits by the most unambiguously racist diatribes? Where is your condemnation of the Israeli desecration of a Muslim cemetery (Mamilla) in Jerusalem, ostensibly for purposes of building a "Museum of Tolerance"?

You need to confront some realities about yourself. You're a racist.


Hugh Sansom

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ross Douthat — Just Another New York Times Racist

Ross Douthat, like Thomas Friedman or David Brooks, is a New York Times artist — a master of dressing viciousness, bigotry and just raw stupidity in 'delicate' language. The test of a Douthat (or Brooks or Friedman) essay is to replace the targeted ethnic group with the name of another. As yourself then how you react to his "reasonable" blanket assertions.

Today, Douthat weighs in — with pathetic predictability — on the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy. How a person names the proposed development is the first indicator of where he or she falls in the spectrum of American bigotry. Douthat is marginally less awful than the loudest bigots on the Islamic cultural center. He's roughly in the Abe Foxman/ADL camp. Also predictable for Douthat, who spends a good deal of time trying such up to perceived power.

We could call this Harvard-Times Bigotry. It is the kind of bigotry that will lead a Harvard president (Larry Summers) to condemn as anti-Semitic calls for divestment from Israel but remain silent (Drew Gilpin Faust) on a Israeli professor's (Martin Kramer's) explicit call for genocide against the Palestinians. It is what allows the Times to equivocate on an Islamic cultural center while supporting Israeli atrocities in Gaza.

Harvard-Times Bigotry takes a specific form. It begins with a token 'recognition' of the weaknesses of the privileged oppressor. So Israeli suffers from an "excessive" (but "understandable") obsession with self-defense. Americans enjoy the "wonderful tradition" of democracy and tolerance mixed with the "social norms" of Anglo-Saxons.

Douthat can't even get his history right — cultural or even simple, basic factual.

"... where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims." Really?! I thought the Constitution expressly stipulates a birth requirement for the American presidency.

That's just one example of the shallow apologies Ross Douthat offers for American racism and bigotry. By doing so, he betrays himself as one of those bigots.

Douthat is the second person I've seen refer to American "nativism". (See also Robert Schlesinger in US News & World Report." We can translate "nativism" to what it really means in 2010 America — racism. Racism. And Ross Douthat is unambiguously (though he tries to mask it) defending — indeed, advocating, racism.

Douthat differs from Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich only by toning down sweeping, unfounded assertions about Islam and Muslims.

We know — conclusively — how the Times would respond of such sweeping claims were made about Jews and Judaism. Such claims are made with regard to Israel's war crimes in Occupied Palestine, something Douthat has never and will never critique or criticize, when some condemn all Jews for the crimes of one state.

Likewise, the Times would condemn – probably bar — blanket condemnation of Christians and Christianity, a condemnation many might find quite reasonable given the past 1000 years of intolerance and war in most Christian nations.

So why is Douthat allowed to commit exactly the vile wrongs that would rightly be damned if committed against any group other than Muslims and Islam?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Young Friedmanstein

Glenn Greenwald has a piece in Salon and Jonathan Schwarz in A Tiny Revolution on Jeffrey Goldberg's newest entry in the bid for More War — War with Iran.

Jeffrey Goldberg is a young Thomas Friedman, with shades of Judy Miller (shades shared by Friedman 30 years ago, when he was coming up).

Simmering out of sight is plenty of plausibility-evidence to undermine Goldberg's claims (not that any such evidence will make any difference to the mainstream). For one thing, Iran is not suicidal. They know how an attack on Israel would go — massive Israeli (and almost certainly American) retaliation, truly massive, as in Dresden-Hiroshima massive.

Second, if American and Israeli government and mainstream claims are to be believed (a very big "if"), then Iran is doing perfectly well needling Israel via Hamas and Hezbollah. Why go overt when you can stay covert and maintain 'plausible deniability'?

Ultimately, the question regarding Goldbergs (and Netanyahus, Cheneys, etc.) is, Why? Do they really think Iran is a threat? My guess is that they do. They are so bigoted, such thoroughly violent true believers, that they really do believe that even purely verbal criticism constitutes a physical attack on Israel.

That raises the question: After Iran, then what? Do Goldberg and Company believe that, with the Iranians gone, the Palestinians will just disappear? Or that Israel will then be able to annex southern Lebanon with all its water resources? Or take the east bank of the Jordan River? Or retake the Sinai?

Israel and its 'allies' seem to proceed with on the premise that any and every war is just a natural prelude to the next war. (Obama shows no sign of thinking all that differently.)

So after Iraq, ramp up Afghanistan. Then Iran. Then . . . ? Is the monster unstoppable?

Monday, August 9, 2010

American Workers — Screwed.

I posted the following comments on the website of NPR's Takeaway:

If I remember correctly, Lachman Achuthan now believes that the US is now bound to see a double-dip recession. There's no way around it.

The temp workforce has steadily grown for at least 20 years. Temps enjoy _no_ safety net. When they lose their jobs, they go straight for welfare, food pantries, etc. They do not qualify for unemployment compensation.

I'm not strictly a temp — I'm a freelancer, and I've been one for twenty years. Freelancers are effectively specialized temps. Both temps and freelancers fall under the general category of contractual workerse. Editors in a variety of media, designers, creatives of many kinds, are often temps. Their industries are seasonal; work is project-based and thus highly variable. Moreover, many companies have laid off people and then just brought those very people back as freelancers or temps.

Wages in the freelance industries have been going down for ten years. They peaked in the late 90s and 2000. In New York after 9/11, things just fell apart and have never fully recovered.

Now with the prolonged, severe downturn, I'm seeing pay decline to where it was 20 years ago. I know _extremely_ experienced people — award-winning editors, designers, animators — take jobs at levels they haven't accepted since they were in the 20s. (These are people in the 40s.)

So, consider any measure of the quality and quantity of work in the 'standard' on-staff work environments, and you can be confident things are _worse_ for freelance and temp workers.

Legal protections for temps and freelancers are often non-existent. Discrimination (especially on the basis of age) is rampant.

A growing problem centers on the unpaid or very low paid "internship." Companies seeking to cut costs turn a paid position into an unpaid internship. The federal and a few state governments (including New York's) are beginning to pay attention to this, but again, there is remarkably little protection for contractual workers.

If/when jobs pick up for temps, it will still be in the context of a prolonged decline in conditions for American workers that began in the Reagan years. Americans worker longer and for fewer benefits than any others in the G8 (with the likely exception of Russia — hardly an encouraging benchmark). Social mobility in the US is the lowest of any leading industrial economy — much much lower than in the countries of Western Europe. There is growing talk in the Obama administration and in Congress of raising the retirement age to 70. (It was already raised to 67. By contrast, France recently angered citizens by raising its retirement age . . . from 60 to 62.)

In the 1950s, economists were concerned about a future workforce facing too much time on its hands, once retirement was lowered to 55, or less, and work weeks were shorter. Exactly the opposite has occurred. Americans are more productive, more hardworking, and we are rewarded ever less.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

New York Times Reports on Anti-Muslim Bigotry
With NO Mention of Bigotry

Laurie Goodstein reports in today's New York Times (Sunday, 8 August 2010) of opposition to mosques anywhere and everywhere across the US. The story is amazing for the total absence of keywords like "bigotry," "discrimination," "intolerance," "racism," etc.

As the character of Cromwell says in A Man for All Seasons, "This silence speaks." Why does the Times studiously avoid use of certain words with regard to Muslims — words it would absolutely use in any other comparable instance involving any other ethnic group?

My email to Laurie Goodstein this morning:
Dear Ms. Goodstein:

How is it that a story on what certainly seems to be widespread American bigotry and intolerance includes not one use of any of the words that would normally be used: bigotry, intolerance, racism, discrimination, etc.

The closest your story comes is "anti-immigrant". But is transparently obvious that the hostility to mosques _anywhere_ is not about immigrants. The lower Manhattan center is being advocated by Americans, not immigrants.

Do you think a story on hostility or outright (often violent) opposition to a synagogue _could_ be written without raising the issue of anti-Semitism?


Hugh Sansom

And my letter to Arthur Brisbane, the new Times "Public Editor."
Dear Mr. Brisbane:

I wonder what goes on in the heads of Times editors, especially on hot-button topics where the Times engages in linguistic contortionism to do ... something. The use of the word "torture" to describe American war crimes (note my use of words) is a good example.

Today's Times provides another example — one for textbooks — Laurie Goodstein's report on opposition to mosques across the US.

In New York City, there have been threats of violence, including _bombing_, against mosque projects — not just the project near the World Trade Center, but at ones on Staten Island (killed by opponents) and another in Brooklyn (see NYT, June 10: "Heated Opposition to Proposed Mosque" )

Remarkably, Laurie Goodstein makes no mention at all of threats of physical violence — ones that would be called terrorism were they al Qaeda threats against Americans (or Arab threats of any kinds against any Westerner).

Equally remarkably, Laurie Goodstein makes no mention whatsoever of bigotry, discrimination, racism, intolerance....

Can you imagine a story on repeated, often threatening opposition to synagogues that would _not_ raise the issue of anti-Semitism?


Hugh Sansom

Saturday, August 7, 2010

College Degrees Evaporate in the US

Bob Herbert writes to lament the decline of the US on the world stage of higher education. The decline is just a part of a larger anti-intellectualism in the US.

If there is no good example of learning and inquiry in the halls of power and prestige (on Wall Street, in Washington, in the idolized entertainment fields), is it any surprise that the US is in freefall on higher education?

The US has a government and a news-media system that actively opposes open-mindedness, healthy criticism and skepticism, inquiry — all while publicly endorsing all of these, especially while annihilating whole countries "for their own good." Look at the widespread condemnation of Wikileaks, which found a niche precisely because the US news media has not been doing what it claims.

Obama — supposed champion of change — appoints only Harvard and Yale grads, hardly institutions worthy of admiration after twenty years of deplorable economic analysis, criminal graduates fomenting wars, etc. Obama is more conservative than Bush on whistleblowers. He was dragged kicking and screaming into releasing documents that he had previously promised to make public.

Where is the diversity of intellectual analysis, inquiry, challenge? It is utterly utterly absent from the American public arena. Progressives are systematically excluded from the mainstream media with only a tiny and fairly tame representation at MSNBC and a couple of others. PBS killed NOW and has offered no replacement for Bill Moyers, who was absolutely the most incisive of regular analysts of current events and any major media outlet.

A college degree is valuable in the US only for purposes of getting a job. On any other count, Americans — beginning at the *top* — oppose the values higher education is supposed to foster.

What "On" the Media Really Means

New York's WNYC runs a news analysis program, On the Media, at the obscure hour of 7 in the morning . . . on Saturday — bound to get a lot of listeners then.

This morning, August 7th, On the Media had Shane Harris of The Washingtonian to prate about Wikileaks, whistleblowing and Obama's Bushian hostility to openness, transparency, democracy, rights, etc. — all the things that he endorsed during his 2008 campaign.

Below, my criticism, directly delivered to On the Media.

Pretty sad excuse for analysis on Obama and leaks, On the Media.

You utterly fail to raise key points:

1. Wikileaks says, with evidence, that it DID approach the Obama administration and Obama dismissed them.

2. No mention that there has been a steady attack on FOIA for 20 years and that Obama has joined Bush in attacking FOIA.

3. You failed to mention that by both liberal and libertarian thinking (i.e., excepting only so-called moderates and conservatives), the prevailing view is that information held by OUR government is OUR information. Pure right.

4. You clearly, but tacitly, buy into the mainstream media is right dogma. There would have been no _market_ for Wikileaks if not for the glaring, repeated, and gross failures of the New York Times, NPR, CNN and others. The Times, for example, has repeatedly buried stories until it was too late for them to have any relevant and _preventive_ effect. NPR is _worse_ -- by a long margin. And CNN -- under the 'exalted' Walter Isaacson _allowed_ the Pentagon to place what in effect were propagandists in its newsroom.

Outrageous that On the Media had not the courage or even the decency to dig any further than the shallow pandering Shane Harris.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Consistent Delusions, Necessary Illusions

Philip Weiss, of the blog Mondoweiss, comments on the near-total absence of reporting or commentary on the Israeli murder of 19-year-old American-Turk Furkan Dogan on the Gaza flotilla in May. The memory-holing of Furkan Dogan by American mythologists at The New York Times, CNN, NPR and others is another in a long line of deliberately forgotten Israeli attacks on Americans.

The murder of Rachel Corrie received little but dismissal — or even contempt — until the play My Name is Rachel Corrie, first, proved to be excellent and moving, and, second, bigots in New York City and elsewhere tried to get the play effectively banned. Then some of the fence-sitting variety of bigots raised some concerns about censorship.

The treatment of — or indifference to — Furkan Dogan is a predictable consequence of the same ‘thinking’ that ‘justifies’ giving 10 times as much coverage to Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks as to Palestinian victims of Israeli attacks.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR ‘ombudsman’ (read, “Defender of the Faith”), exemplified American bigotry when he expressly defended NPR’s grossly skewed coverage on the grounds that Israeli deaths are “more newsworthy”. More astonishingly yet, he stated explicitly that he felt that NPR and American media treated Palestinians more favorably than Israelis. One has to be genuinely delusional to believe that US mainstream coverage is skewed in favor of the Palestinians. There is absolutely no measure on which that could be rationally concluded.

It is for reasons like this that Chomsky and others have noted that the US steadfastly refuses to offer a formal definition of “terrorism”. Any reasonable, plausible definition would undoubtedly sweep up Israeli and American crimes. That leaves glaringly unbalanced accounts like that of Michael Isikoff of Newsweek who offered an account on which American Christians and Jews, strictly as a matter of language, could not be terrorists.

Dogma must be circular. By its very nature it lacks sufficient rational or factual support. Thus it must rely on some internal framework to justify itself. And that framework must justify dismissal of inconvenient facts. From the delusional perspective of editors at CNN or The New York Times or NPR, it really is perfectly reasonable to ignore Furkan Dogan or Rachel Corrie or Emily Henochowicz or any of the other westerners injured or murdered by Israeli terrorists.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Power of Movies, Even Crappy Ones

Salon has an essay, or slideshow, summarizing some filmmakers' memorable moments at the movies, in the audience. At first I was stumped.

I'm sad to say that this essay chronicles a really sorry set of movie experiences. The letter writers in this comments section are better and more moving. Dances with Wolves??? Bill and Ted? (Actually, I know I'm wrong on this . . .)

Surely, to be a moving movie experience, the movie itself must have some semblance of quality — of some kind . . . any kind. All with moments, The Moments, that say, "Remember this. . . ."

I saw Lawrence of Arabia on a 75mm screen in Boston -- jaw dropping, and I had already seen the film several times, but never appreciated the monumental cinematography until I saw it on a big screen.

Star Wars — saw it at age 12 and knowing from the first commercial that I saw (with R2D2 zapped and falling forward) that it was going to be great, something the studio was too stupid and money-grubbing to know. We had to travel 20 miles to see it because it was expected to fail at the box office.

Alien. The first film that truly terrified me.

Terms of Endearment. Not a great film, so maybe my opening claim is just wrong. I was with a girl I liked a lot. When the nurse wakes Jeff Daniels to say "She's gone" I was shocked: "What?" — as Tsar Nicholas supposedly on hearing that he and his family were to be executed.

Au Revoir les Enfants, Celebration (Festen), Wild Strawberries, The Searchers, Unforgiven, Crimes and Misdemeanor, Full Metal Jacket, Spartacus — my list is long. Each with the moments, The Moment, that says, "Now. . . . Remember this . . . ."
          Till the Spinner of the Years
          Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.
This is the moment.
The power of movies.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


The Shape of Things to Come — some expressions just have overwhelming force (for me, anyway), and this one from H.G. Wells has moved me since I was a kid. Some writers have a gift for this, not always matched in the body of the work that follows. You see the same thing in music. Compare how Beethoven follows up the Da Da Da Duhhhh at the start of his Fifth Symphony with the music most widely known for its use in Kubrick's movie 2001 — Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra. Beethoven sustains it, Strauss doesn't.

Same thing in politics. Reagan, regardless of our opinions of him (I despise him — the conspiring with the Iranians to undermine Carter was treason) . . . Reagan sustained it. Obama has failed utterly, and not because of the appalling situation he inherited (and he inherited the worst situation of any president since FDR — worse for Obama, with two wars). Obama hasn't even shown an inclination to try to sustain what he generated during the campaign.

And that, in no obvious way at all, brings me (and probably only me) back to what is to come — The Shape of Things to Come. . . . Beats me. I have no idea. But I'm a pessimist, a radical pessimist. Some observations on our current state that leave me feeling bleak about our future:
  1. Republicans are willing to torpedo the economy for mere political gain.

  2. The only thing setting the Democrats apart is that they are incapable of action

  3. Obama failed utterly at Copenhagen to advance any environmental agenda, even the half-hearted one he tentatively advocated.

  4. American politicians are unwilling or unable to do what politicians might be able to do to improve the economy but

  5. These same politicians are both willing and able to advance the cause of the wealthiest Americans (among whose number these politicians increasingly count themselves).

  6. The vast majority of the very wealthy show, not only indifference to the well-being of the far less fortunate majority, but outright hostility to it.

  7. The US has 'progressed' from (a) an ethos that embraced some (a very little some) redistribution of wealth from the richest to the poorer to (b) the Reagan era dogma of criminalizing poverty and allowing the rich to benefit without limit must benefit the poorer to (c) Bush era faith that the poorer just don't matter at all to (d) the current credo of criminalizing lack of wealth and redistributing wealth from the lower classes to the rich.
  8. In other words, the US is rapidly embracing a neo-Aristocratic model — plutarchy.
  9. After years of the US pressing Europe to stop providing a model of social and civic awareness that undermines American dogma, right-wing European governments are capitalizing on fiscal woes to destroy decades-old social programs.
  10. The world as a whole is making little if any progress on environmental issues.
  11. News on environmental issues continues to get worse. To put it another way, projections on many environmental issues, like global warming, have repeatedly proved to be too optimistic.
More soon.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Interns — The New Indentured Servants

The New York Times has a good essay on the problems facing college students seeking summer internships. Good as it is, the piece only addresses part of the problem.

There is another dimension to the internship problem — non-student workers who are taking internships, often entirely unpaid, because they cannot find any paid work. I have seen jobs listed as \"internships\" that _require_ extensive experience, 40 hours per week (or more), on-site, with not even a stipend for lunch. Unscrupulous, unethical employers are using the term \"intern\" to justify what is effectively indentured servitude. At least a couple of specialty job listing sites I know have stopped accepting listings for internships because of employer abuse.

All this takes places in a terrible labor market after years of growing employer dependence on contractual or temporary workers who receive no benefits or job security.

Without organized intervention (by government or organized labor) at least some of these trends will persist even once the economy improves (if it does).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Survivor Oil Spill!

Coming Soon . . .
Survivor Oil Spill!
Hot Hip Young Things Oil Up for the Environment and Big Money!
Get Slick!

Meaning and Identity [in progress]

I'm beginning this without looking at any of the philosophy books I studied poorly when I was a sad excuse for a grad student in philosophy. We understand intuitively that our outlook on things, our "world view" (Weltanschauung — I remember that much, poorly), affects how we receive the world. Philosophers, as far as I know, still struggle with how our perception of things is related to the things themselves (if they even take those things to exist).

We don't need to get that involved. My interest is political disagreement, the bitter kind. I'm prompted now by what I take to be Israeli war crimes in their attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. My guess is that there are several kinds of apologist for or supporter of the Israeli action:
  1. Those largely ignorant of the facts, for any number of reasons and regardless of what philosophers my worry about with the term "fact".
  2. Those who are well-informed, and consciously, aggressively pro-Israel. I include in this number people like Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman — people who I think are racist war criminals. A related but different set that is much like this from a moral standpoint includes those well-informed on the facts but too self-serving or politically craven to stand up for principle.
  3. And those who are reasonably well-informed and genuinely dumbfounded by the worldwide anger over Israel's actions.
From the standpoint of political action and especially prosecution, group 2 is important. With the related set of self-serving creatures I describe, this set accounts for most politicians and corporate executives. These are the people who place self-interest over all concerns of decency or morality. These are the people who also are well-aware of environmental issues, the risks of smoking, the details of bad policy, but who pursue that bad policy because they make money that way or because they get a kick out of it or because they're sociopaths (like Avigdor Lieberman).

Group 2 consists in ol'-fashioned criminals, of varying degrees of culpability. We have a pretty good idea of how to deal with this lot, when (emphasis on when) we (The People) have the power and means to deal with them. So we dealt, largely, with the architects of Nazi war crimes. The Germans lost, making it possible to prosecute (but note the treatment of some of the rocket geniuses to realize how self-interest intervenes).

Group 3 is interesting. Group 3 consists in the people with whom — if we could overcome our respective biases and barriers — we could probably talk very reasonably and fruitfully (note the diplomat-speak). Group 3 might be termed, somewhat glibly or disparagingly, the True Believers. Most people (I hope) are True Believers in something.

[more soon, Tuesday, 1 June 2010]

Saturday, May 8, 2010

In Obama We Trust

Glenn Greenwald comments on the prevailing democratic liberal stance as we near Obama's nomination to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court: "Obama's choice [is] a good one by virtue of the fact that it's Obama choice."

This is a perfect summation of what remains the prevailing attitude regarding Obama. It was also the attitude toward Bill Clinton, welcomed by Party Liberals after Reagan and Bush 1. (I was excoriated by liberal friends for criticizing Clinton in the 90s. Friends were often enraged that I dare charge Clinton with doing some of the very things Bush and Reagan had.)

Glenn Greenwald points out, first, the obvious absurdity in this, second, the double standard of Democrats, and, third, the lack of thought, which is what should concern us the most — the sheer unwillingness to think that characterizes mainstream and conservative ideology in the US today.

That mainstream and right-wing (and plenty of the left) are devoured by a Cult of Personality shouldn't surprise us. The United States is today an Oligarchy with Cults of Personality at the core of a Religion of Obedience. Americans idolize actors, sports stars and select billionaires (currently a little out of favor with the Wall Street debacle). The growth in actors (Franken, Reagan, Schwarzenegger), sports stars (less common, but Bunning comes to mind), and billionaires (Bloomberg, Frist, Whitman, Fiorina) is a symptom of the relation between power, money and fame.

ll of this obliterates the need of voters, the public, to examine, reflect, think — which is precisely what is desired by those in power. We are expected to obey, and more than any other industrial democracy, we Americans do.

This is further reflected in so-called institutions of higher learning, most notably Harvard, where we are expected to accept so and so's diktats for absolutely no other reason than the fact that he or she is at Harvard or Yale or Stanford. Conservatives are not upset so much by the mindless obedience to academic authority as they are to what they perceive (mistakenly) as the liberal leaning of that authority.

Edward Said captured this all beautifully with his essay on the countervailing role of the true intellectual (Chomsky, Baldwin, de Beauvoir, Galbraith, Malcolm X and, I will add, Greenwald) — Representations of the Intellectual.

Why is the problem so severe in the US (and to a lesser extent Britain)? The US is in an essentially defensive posture today. It has seen its peak, its best of times. Those benefiting from the best of times now seek primarily to defend against decline. It's an old story.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Economics by Analogy

Simon Johnson of MIT and The Baseline Scenario draws attention to recent claptrap from Larry Summers (who seems capable of little more):

“Most Observers” Do Not Agree With Larry Summers On Banking

By Simon Johnson

What is the basis for major policy decisions in the United States? Is it years of careful study, using the concentration of knowledge and expertise for which this country is known and respected around the world? Or is it some unfounded assertions, backed by no data at all?

At least in terms of the White House policy towards megabanks, it is currently “no discussion of data or facts, please”.

Speaking on the Lehrer NewsHour last week, Larry Summers said, with regard to the Brown-Kaufman SAFE banking act – which would restrict the size of our largest banks (putting them back to where they were a decade or so ago):

“Most observers who study this believe that to try to break banks up into a lot of little pieces would hurt our ability to serve large companies, and hurt the competitiveness of the United States.”

“But that’s not the important issue, they believe that it would actually make us less stable. Because the individual banks would be less diversified, and therefore at greater risk of failing because they wouldn’t have profits in one area to turn to when a different area got in trouble.

“And most observers believe that dealing with the simultaneous failure of many small institutions would actually generate more need for bailouts and reliance on taxpayers than the current economic environment.”

I’ve looked into these claims carefully and really cannot find any hard evidence supporting Summers’s position – and therefore US policy. To be sure, there have been assertions made along these lines by a few people.

My thoughts:

“…they believe that it would actually make us less stable. Because the individual banks would be less diversified….”

Summers statements like these make it painfully clear that he is making stuff up as he goes along to serve his pre-determined conclusion. It is trivially false that mere size provides a stabilizing buffer. For example, so and so can have one million shares in one company or one million shares in one million companies. Mere size has nothing to do with it.

I would guess that Summers, like many economists, is fond of analogies, since the mathematics of economics is actually quite weak. (First, real economic systems, as should by now be all too clear, are radically non-linear, which is why major players like Goldman Sachs jealously guard their masters of computational methods. Second, the simplifications economists routinely champion are, in the real world, gross over-simplifications, throwing the baby out with the bath water.)

The analogy Summers tacitly relies upon is that with greater size, there is greater inertia. But then the analogy is a little too apt. Greater size results in less innovation, less agility, less flexibility to respond to change or the unexpected.

(How’s that paragraph for mixing metaphors?!)

The thing is, Summers (and Geithner, Bernanke, Paulson, Congress and Obama) like big banks. Big Is Beautiful! Having big financial institutions in the economic world is like having big guns, big bombs, big ships in the military. We can make others cower. Never mind that, again pursuing an analogy, there are a great many examples from history of the smaller, more agile foe, outdoing the bigger. Of course, Summers & Co. are hoping for an economic blitzkrieg — large and lightning fast.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Oligarchs and the New Feudalism

With the notion that taking on the big banks is taking on the 'heartland' (does that include the northeast and California ... or Nebraska?), Dodd and Corker have gone from "What's good for General Motors is good for America" to "Wall Street is America." Whether they believe that or not, they and many other members of Congress certainly know that Wall Street campaign dollars are good for them.

This fits with my own view that the US is not just becoming an all-but-constitutionally-enshrined oligarchy, but is in fact moving toward a new Feudalism. How many members of Congress 'inherited' seats from family — the number is growing. They serve Wall Street and a handful of other massive corporate interests (health insurers, big pharma, agrichem — industries that do, comparatively, remain markedly American, as opposed to, say, auto manufacturers).

The only group that has little or no say is that constitutionally given a say — the People.

The Oligarchs are further served by institutions of opinion and thought manipulation — chiefly the 'news' organizations and universities.

We the People lose what little grip we had on a decent standard of living under the constant aegis of a new security state emboldened by laws ostensibly designed for terrorism but largely used for purely domestic purposes.

Far-fetched? Watch and wonder.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Obama and Israel

In March, Vice President Biden was 'humiliated' by Israel announcements of new colonies. Now George Mitchell has gone to Israel. As he arrived, Netanyahu made a point of asserting that Israel categorically rejecting Obama's call for a curb on colonies in east Jerusalem. No hullabaloo about 'snubs' this time. Obama has been whipped into line. (Of course, the only real objection in March was to the timing, not to the colonies themselves.)

Some thoughts:

1. It’s an election year, and Obama the Opportunist is going to do what he does best (which, in the past year, is not saying much) — court voters. The pro-Israel zealots have vastly more voting clout, and more dollars to donate, in the US than the pro-Palestinian advocates. This remains true despite shifting attitudes in the US and volumes of bad press on Israeli atrocities (which have trickled through to the US public despite major efforts by the US press and the Israel lobby to prevent it).

2. My view on Obama for a while has been that he is the worst kind of politician, one who knows and believes in what is right (in this case, full rights and statehood for Palestinians), but sacrifices that for what is politically expedient. Bush, by contrast, was a delusional idiot, a true believer in stupid religiosity. Above all, Bush was a hard-core racist, which (I believe) Obama is not, though the Big O has surrounded himself with plenty of racists, like Rahm Emanuel and Dennis Ross.

3. Things are changing in Israel and Palestine. I think that for many years, Israel thought it could just win the war by attrition. Steadily force Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria. Make life so utterly miserable for Palestinians that birth rates would be suppressed — a move expressly endorsed recently by Harvard luminary Martin Kramer, but one which I think Israel has been implementing for decades. Now, however, it has becoming clear (has been for some time) to the delusional racists in Israel’s government that the Palestinian ‘population problem’ isn’t going away. And, sadly for the likes of Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Dennis Potter, the rest of the world is too alert in this internet age. It is for this reason that the Israelis are so determined that the Palestinians endorse categorically the status of Israel as “The Jewish State”.

4. We shouldn’t kid ourselves (if any on this site might be inclined to do so) that either the Israeli or the US governments are moved by moral considerations. Obama has refused to prosecute, or even investigate, Bush war crimes. He has effectively endorsed Bush I, Clinton and Bush W policies in Iraq that killed well over one million civilians. He has embarked on a similar, albeit smaller, campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Similarly and very sadly, most Israelis seem to feel no moral qualms at all about the atrocities in Gaza or, earlier, in Lebanon. (Obama endorsed Israel’s Operation Cast Lead during his campaign.) Israel has demonstrated just as much resistance to honesty about its brutality as any Western war state — Britain, France and above all the United States. If Israel can hit on a strategy for mass ‘ethnic cleansing’ (or worse) that will actually fly under the radar of the world community, it would implement it, and the US would raise nothing but token objections.

Dennis Ross is just an indicator of the patterns of force in the Obama administration. The hope for change comes in the accelerated decline of American power. The catch is that countries like the US (and on a much smaller scale, Israel) are prone to irrational outbursts — desperate lashing out to protect ‘Old Glory.'

One last thing: Can we now dump the "Obama hasn't had enough time yet" defense?

Is Nick Clegg Britain's You-Know-Who?

Britons are excited about some dude named Nick Clegg. Name gets points all by itself (except for one minor detail, see below). Shit. Britons are Obama-excited about Nick Clegg. Frequent trips to the bathroom excited. My two bits? I like Britons. I'm practically British myself. For the sake of the British and all of the EU, but especially northern Wales, I really really hope that Nick Clegg is not Britain's Barack Obama.
Richard Adams, of Britain's Guardian newspaper (infinitely superior to any US mainstream paper, including The Might New York Times (say amen)), has an essay entitled "Ten reasons why Nick Clegg is Britain's Barack Obama." I feel compelled to dissent:
Ten Reasons Nick Clegg is Not Barack Obama (And Thank the Powers that Made Us!)
10. Obama doesn't believe in the 'special relationship'

9. Obama speaks 1 language only, like all god-fearin' red-blooded Amerhcn patriots, by gum! (Gotta practice saying that, my British friends.)

8. Nobody in UK is gonna have a shitfit over Clegg's birth certificate.

7. Nobody in UK is gonna have a shitfit over Clegg's middle name.

"William Peter" is Nick Clegg's middle name? WTF?! (Isn't that doubley thing royal?)

6. Nobody in UK is gonna have a shitfit over Clegg's religion. (Uh, Clegg isn't Muslim, right?)

5. Clegg actually did community a punishment for torching some prof's cacti. Again, WTF?!

6. Clegg actually understands there are countries outside his own. (Do any Americans get this?)

3. Nick Clegg is younger than me.

2. That red, blue and tan postery treatment...Clegg is totally unrecognizable.

1. UK doesn't have a sickfuckcrazy rightwing bunch of self-serving freaks called Republicans (or Democrats).
I have been challenged on this last point. The Conservatives, I have been informed, are sickfuckcrazy rightwing self-serving freaks. But are they really as sickfuckcrazy self-serving as Republicans? Can anybody match Mitch McConnell, Tom Coburn, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin? Come on! Michele Bachmann. Sarah Palin.... We got the whole world beat by a country mile for sickfuckcrazy rightwing self-serving.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Homo sapiens? Really? Man with Wisdom?

Bill Moyers interviewed James Kwak and Simon Johnson, both of Baseline Scenario, on the prospects for financial reform. Kwak noted that nothing has changed. He could not have summarized the entire state of American economics and politics more succinctly.

Obama and the current Congress have changed nothing -- in any arena of American activity. He is about to nominate someone for the Supreme Court who will be significantly more conservative than John Paul Stevens. (Only two of the names the prospective nominees list are liberal in the sense of Stevens, and they are both long shots.)

All of the conservative Clinton-Bush foreign and military policies (which are substantively one and the same in the case of the US) continue, with a token nod to the issues of Guantanamo.

Copenhagen was a failure and predictably so given that the US government refuses to make any demands of consumers or corporations.

The Big Picture is utterly bleak. Economy, environment, education, infrastructure, and on and on -- all in dismal shape.

James Kwak commented that the big banks bet against the American dream, reminding me of a comment Paul Krugman made in an interview with Bill Maher: "The American dream isn't dead, but it's dying pretty fast." The sad fact is that Kwak and Krugman are probably speaking too optimistically. The big banks are arguably betting against humanity on the assumption that somehow, in their brave new world, the rich will be entirely immune to consequences visited upon Other 99.9% of humanity.

The US now has the lowest degree of social mobility in the industrialized world, with the possible exception of Britain (which, thanks to Thatcher and Blair, has been even more American than the Americans, taking many Reaganite policies even further than Reagan).

The American Dream is dead. Much more is also. If (big if) we are lucky, Homo sapiens may survive. Interview some biologists. You may be surprised by how widespread this view is.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Time Found in a Bottle

We are half a century shy of the two-hundredth anniversary of the American Civil War. Most people 30 years old and younger will live to see it and a great many older, too. Yet, a significant percentage of this country's population continue to act, and re-enact, as if we were closer to the war itself than to its anniversary. Confederate flags. Endless battle re-enactments. And of course, racism and hatred. All alive and well in the United States of 2010.

The latest incarnation of the beast? Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who proclaimed "Confederate History Month" with no mention at all of slavery, which most people would say was the essential point of conflict for the entire horror. McDonnell has been forced to step back from his idiocy. But not so the vast majority of his kind. Members of Congress, prominent 'pundits' — loud mouths — nationwide eagerly use racist language as a matter of course. The chief victims of American hatred these days are Arabs. But with China rising on the world stage, the US is gearing for an Official Change of Enemy.

For the time being, however, with Obama as president and with Israel carrying on its rampage across Occupied Palestine, American merchants of hatred have plenty to keep them occupied.

Interestingly, there is no speculation about what might be pathological to the American creed that makes the US such a happy host for such hatred. There is much speculation among moderates and conservatives of the endemic evils of Islam — nothing of the sort with regard to the US. And any suggestion that the US should mind itself is met with condemnations of "anti-Americanism" (strategically being positioned to be on a par with "anti-Semitism").

So time is trapped. We are evidently in an infinite loop. Hatred breeds hatred and Americans are happily procreating.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mondoweiss Notes Suicide-Terror Expert Robert Pape's Restricted Mandate

The following from Mondoweiss:
‘NYT’ should get suicide-terror expert Pape to talk about ‘Palestinian resistance’
by Philip Weiss, April 1, 2010

Two days ago, Robert Pape (author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism) was on the Times op-ed page explaining the Chechnya-driven suicide bombings in Russia:

As we have discovered in our research on Lebanon, the West Bank, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, suicide terrorist campaigns are almost always a last resort against foreign military occupation. Chechnya is a powerful demonstration of this phenomenon at work.

A good thing that Pape and co-authors Lindsey O’Rourke and Jenna McDermit mentioned the West Bank. But given the centrality of the Palestinian suicide bomber in western demonology–Thomas Friedman (and numerous other friends of Israel) justified the Iraq war on that basis–Pape’s point surely deserves elaboration. If you look through Bob Pape’s website at the University of Chicago, you will find numerous articles that describe suicide terrorism by Palestinians as a response to occupation. Here, for instance, is Pape in Turkey’s newspaper, Zaman, saying that the first Palestinian suicide terrorists followed 20 years of occupation.

The Times has had Pape write often in the last few years, including this important piece in ‘03, saying suicide terror is not about Islam, the Tamil Tigers have used it more than anyone. But the Times has never had him directly address the issue of the Israeli occupation and what he routinely terms "Palestinian resistance versus Israel." Why not? Its readers deserve that insight.

My thoughts regarding this:

The Times and others (US government, CNN, NPR … take your pick) don’t want any explanations that will undermine the pre-determined mission. Facts are irrelevant once the Hive Mind of American Oligarchy is made up. Once Bush & Co. and other Arab-haters (Thomas Friedman, Michael Walzer, Michael Ignatieff — it’s a helluva long list) had decided that the US was absolutely going to ‘liberate’ Iraq, no fact or combination of fact was going to sway them.

Likewise, it is an Article of Faith in the United States that Israel is Right, no matter what. So the worst that any fact can do is raise questions about Israel’s tactics, efficiency, thoroughness, attentiveness, etc. — details. Anything that would raise questions of regarding pathological racism among Israelis or regarding the infestation of Israeli government by war criminals must be excluded from the conversation. That is why a conference sponsored by the “Lawfare Project” (or any other of the many recent conferences on the Goldstone Report) must exclude any and all who could raise inconvenient truths. Similar examples are legion and span the US, Europe and Israel.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Israel Attacks Iran — the Sim!

David Sanger offers a laughably inadequate 'observation' of an even more laughably simplistic 'simulation' at the Brookings Institution's rabidly pro-Israel Saban Center. A raft of pro-Israel 'thinkers' — headed by pro-Iraq success-story Ken Pollack — were rounded up to make an Israeli attack on Iran look like a cake-walk. Of course, the US government (and I'm sure many others) have been simulating (translation: guessing) an attack on Iran for years. I'd be astonished if any of the government's simulations are as rosy as Saban's.

Sanger's blather about the Saban sim is more interesting for what it omits — most notably, no mention at all of Iranian civilian losses, which would likely be very high.

Here is my 'simulation' of the aftermath of Israeli airstrikes to destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities.
0. Israel strikes Iranian facilities, ostensibly to shut down potential Iranian nuclear weapons production.

1. Thousands of Iranians killed. Not clear whether Israel even struck all of Iran's facilities (Iran claims not).

2. Iran calls for international condemnation of Israel and US. US claims Israel attacked without advance notice to US, but the world recognizes this as nonsense, especially since the US would have immediate satellite info on Israeli attacks and the US has total air cover of Persian Gulf, Kuwait and Iraq. That is, Israeli air forces absolutely must get clearance from US for fly-overs, even over the Gulf.

3. Iran shows surprising deftness in driving wedges between US, Israel, Europe and Arab and Muslim worlds.

4. World condemns Israeli attacks, especially as Iranian civilian casualties mount and photographs and video are aired globally. US media downplays this, but bloggers provide access, resulting in a cacophany of condemnation of tepid US response to Israel.

5. Russia and China show surprising unity in categorically condemning Israel and lead the world in demanding that the US stop Israel's onslaught, especially as it becomes clear Israel is preparing for a second round of attacks to get what it missed first time round.

6. China sees an opportunity to assert the kind of leadership the US hasn't shown in decades. As it does so, anti-Chinese fear-mongering in the US raises its ugly head. China raises the possibility of sanctions on Israel and the US. Many in Europe and elsewhere agree, shocking the Americans.

7. For the first time ever, the US appears likely to be the target of a serious sanctions regime. Some in US Congress and executive branch suggest this is an act of war. A handful of US military figures cause a media furor when they suggest that the US must break with Israel, not just for US security but for the world's.

8. Iran does not attack neighbors or US forces in Iraq. It does halt oil production. Several other oil states drastically slow production. As oil prices soar, US is forced to ramp up military presence in Gulf and in states bordering Iran, especially Afghanistan.

9. Stock markets in the US and worldwide collapse. US government declares a market holiday, but this only inflames fears. There is growing public condemnation of Israel in the US. Habitually pro-Israeli news organizations like The New York Times and NPR are increasingly unsuccessful at trying to mask their pro-Israel bias. After holding out, the Times runs photos of Iranian children killed in Israeli attacks.

10. Iran deploys news depleted uranium (DU) munitions against Israeli and US aircraft in Iranian airspace. Shockingly, several aircraft are shot down. Crews are captured. The presence of US aircraft in Iranian air brings further charges from around the world that the US has secretly colluded with Israel in the attacks.

11. US and Israel condemn Iranian use of DU munitions, claiming that this proves that Iran did indeed have a nuclear weapons program (though DU munitions are not nuclear weapons). The world is astonished at the American and Israeli hypocrisy, noting that both use the very same munitions.

12. Oil hits $200 per barrel. World markets crisis becomes a general economic crisis. Fuel prices are so high, that transport of basic necessities worldwide suffers. In the northeast US, there are shortages of some food products as fuel prices hurt transport of food.

13. Insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan launch daring attacks on US forces. Though largely ineffective, the attacks make necessary more US forces and prove to be huge PR coups against the US and Israel in media worldwide. There are uprisings in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. For the first time in years, there are series of bloody attacks within Israel itself.

14. Russia and China announce they are formally recognizing the State of Palestine in the pre-1967 borders. Numerous other nations follow suit, including several in Europe and then, astonishingly, Canada.

15. US orders Israel to cease all hostilities or it will also recognize Palestine. In the meantime, it terminates all sharing of satellite and other intelligence info with Israel. The president makes vague noises about seizing Israeli financial assets abroad. Joe Lieberman enrages most when he condemns the President as anti-Semitic in a speech before the Senate.

16. All hell breaks loose in the Middle East.
A wild speculation, you say? I can only respond that it is a lot more likely than the Saban garbage.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Features of Democracy's Fall

In Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria writes:
Meanwhile, the central problem persists: Israel rules more than 3 million Palestinians who will never become citizens of Israel and yet do not have their own state. As they multiply, Israel’s status as a democracy becomes more and more complex; the country looks more and more like an island of rich Israelis set in a sea of Palestinian serfs.
Zakaria almost nails it . . . . Israel’s status as a democracy doesn’t “become more and more complex.” It becomes more and more a pure fiction.

People should check what Ariel Atias (Minister of Housing and Construction and behind the “fuck you” to Biden and Obama) has said. He advocates radical apartheid, not just separating Palestinians but also orthodox from non-orthodox Jews. Israel has descended into a state where — even if every Palestinian were expelled from the area west of the Jordan River (in the biggest case of ethnic cleansing since the Second World War) — Israeli Jews would soon be at war with one another.

Whatever moral sense lived in Israel has been crushed by successive waves of right-wing, religious fanaticism. Israel now depends on the Palestinians to play the role of collective enemy of the Jews (much, I am sad to say, as Jews played a comparable, though by no means identical, role in Nazi Germany). The United States, too, is headed this way with the right-wing and moderates depending on a vilified, demonized Islam — a monolithic, terrorist enemy — to galvanize public support for, or at least apathy toward, every growing state power.

Fanatics, having won whatever battle gave their petty existences meaning, must turn on each other, like a pack of half-starved wild dogs.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Tempest in the Dust Storm

or Tempest in a Teapot Dome

Moderates, neo-cons and right-wingers all are wringing their hands over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "Fuck You!" to President Obama and Vice Toad Biden. There was Biden making all nice nice at the feet of Bibi and the Big B takes a well-beshat shoe to Biden's forehead. Now everyone's in a tizzy. The right-wing zealots who cum every time IDF forces obliterate Palestinians are the most put-out. Obama and Biden have actually used something resembling harsh language. That's something of a shift from the normally obsequious American grovelling.

Frankly, I don't think there's much in this. Obama will do some saber-rattling, try to save face, but he's proved pretty well that he has no spine. And if, as all past American action suggests, the US has no real objection to Israeli settlement construction (except to call it "not helpful"), then what does it matter that the Israelis announce today or tomorrow? Even if the Israelis were working to heed US 'language', Obama's a master of the mixed message. One minute, he and Biden sound like they're green-lighting Israeli construction, next minute they having a fit. If you think the colonization of the West Bank is okay (I don't), then second-guessing the Americans comes second.

But, for reasons I don't really understand, this tempest has blown up into a storm. Politicians certainly have egos. Obama has a massive one, with a tiny bit of justification. Biden has an even more massive one, with no justification at all. And my guess is that this is also related in the minds of the Israel-idolaters to the Goldstone Report. The Israel Lobby has been attacking the report on all fronts. Now comes another blow to their facade of moral superiority.

John Podhoretz has raised the spectre of a Jewish revolt in Democratic ranks. I think Podhoretz is a little behind the times. Most Americans are ill-informed, maybe most American Jews . . . who knows? (It would be interesting to do a thorough study comparing how people self-identify, how they stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how well-informed they actually are.)

One way or another, fewer than normal can have entirely missed Israel's blitzkrieg in Gaza last year and not wondered what the hell the Israelis were doing and why — and that despite the "Go for it!" from Obama, The New York Times and most American 'leaders'.

Moreover, Americans have a habit of proving themselves wise to the Great Leaders' bullshit. We may be short on the facts, thanks to the 'reporting' of CNN, The New York Times and NPR, but we see the big picture better than our Masters would like. We saw what was really happening with the bailout and now with health care reform. As Marx would have said, we feel the sense of alienation — dissatisfaction, anger, rage — without being fully able to identify the cause. In a nation conditioned for fanatical adoration of Capitalism or Religion, many misidentify the cause.

But when thousands of Israeli troops, aircraft and artillery rain hell upon 1.5 million people, caus and effect are fairly obvious. It's pretty easy to see that it's Israeli fighter-bombers, tanks and heavy artillery leveling Palestinian villages — not the other way round, despite the best propaganda efforts of the Israel government and the US news media and politicians. (New York's Mayor Bloomberg just happened to pick the month of Operation Cast Lead to head over to Israel.)

Nevertheless, Podhoretz might have some kind of point. I'm just not sure what point.
It’s no secret that a wildly disproportionate part of the Democratic donor base is Jewish. While Jews are almost certain to continue to vote lopsidedly for Democrats, that doesn’t mean Jewish donors are going to open their checkbooks as widely as they have in the past three election cycles. A diminution in Jewish enthusiasm for Obama and the Democrats is a problem for them. This is not a good moment to be picking fights on an issue of major emotional concern to a key Democratic constituency, even if you know that many of its members are not disposed to support the building program.

Is Podhoretz saying that a disproportionate number of donors to Democrats is Jewish or a disproportionate percentage of donors is Jewish? Those are two different claims. Or is Podhoretz saying that a disproportionately large percentage of the dollars donated are donated by Jews? That’s still another claim.

The largest donors in lump dollar amounts were institutions like Goldman Sachs, Harvard, etc. But as some point out, a huge percentage of donors and donor dollars to Obama were little folks, like us, here. And Obama has done squat to appease us. No public option, kowtowing to health insurers and big pharma, a huge bailout to billionaires at our expense, huge sums to the military at our expense, a thorough “fuck you” to labor, . . .

So if the Big O is concerned about donors bailing on him, he’d be trying some new tactics to appeal to US. But he ain’t. He’s waving his hands behind the curtain, get the Great and Powerful O to try to convince us he’s comin’ down hard on Big Health, Big Pharma, Big Banks. But we don’t even need little Toto to pull that curtain aside. We are Wise to the Ruse, Oh Mighty O. Worry about us and US.

If hardcore pro-Israel wingnuts want to bail for the Republicans, let ‘em go. The GOP will drive us and Israel into the ground so deep, even the best IDF bulldozer won’t be able to dig us out.

Rational people, however clueless on the nitty gritty details, aren't blind. Israel has overplayed its hand, and to mix metaphors, bitten the hand that feeds it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Israel's Humiliation of Normally Docile American 'Leaders' Backfires, But Only a Little

Israel's toying with the morons who pass for 'leaders' in the United States is nothing new. The difference is that Obama is of above average intelligence and, most important, has something resembling a conscience. George W. Bush was profoundly stupid and a true believer, a true racist, a true advocate of a Crusade to defeat Islam.

Obama genuinely believes that Arabs, including Palestinians, have rights. That puts him in a bind never faced by Republicans or most Democrats. Like all but five or six Democrats, Obama's main mission is the balancing act of pleasing the most powerful people as much of the time as possible — Wall Street, health insurers, military contractors, etc. — the American Oligarchs. But because he has something like a conscience, he actually believes in something like democracy — and (rare among Americans) not just for Americans and other members of the Judeo-Christian Western tradition.

What to do then when Israel must be appeased to appease powerful interests in the US but justice actually requires saying no to the Middle East's leading war criminal state? What to do when Israel is doing exactly what it has been doing for over 40 years and has promised to continue doing?

Answer: Orwellify! Send two messages designed to sound like one (or maybe I mean one message designed to sound like two). Have Biden prate about the 'demographic threat' to Israel while uttering the word "Palestine" (a word that the New York Times still can't print, that Israelis still choke on). Have Hillary issue "strong language". Behind closed doors — in Israel, at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, in speeches to AIPAC, etc. — promise that Israel will always enjoy the full backing of the US.

The Orwellian game is complicated these days by the growing delusion in Israel that Israel has a divine right to whatever the hell it demands. There's always been a minority that believed this, but that minority may now be a majority. Bad timing. The nation that enabled Israel's national psychosis is weakened worldwide by almost twenty years of war crimes in Iraq, absurd military expenditures, a steady economic decline and its own national psychoses.
An aside: Israel propagandist Martin Indyk has a piece on the Brookings website about Netanyahu's political calculus behind humiliating the pathetic Biden.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bloomberg Building Bull

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg fought the EPA designation of Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal as a Superfund site. Bloomberg claimed that he could bring his business genius to bear and get the cleanup done faster for less money. So let's review the Mayor's great successes in development across the city:
  • 2012 Olympics
  • West side stadium
  • Atlantic Railyards
  • Greenpoint 50-year oil spill
  • Kingsbridge Armory Mall in the Bronx
  • Numerous worker accidents, including deaths, that Bloomberg brushed off with "accidents happen."
And the very finest example of Mike Bloomberg's masterful shepherding of development in the city:
  • World Trade Center reconstruction, barely begun nine years after the attacks. By contrast, the Empire State Building was constructed (under Democrats) in less than 1 year and a half.
What the mayor really wants is the freedom to ignore safety, ignore environmental laws and make more of the sweetheart deals for his wealthy friends — the only thing he has really proved adept at in his years as mayor. If Mike Bloomberg had any more crap coming out of his mouth, he'd be a Superfund site.

Real Issues of Security for Average Americans

Some 15 million Americans are unemployed under the narrow terms popularly used. Under other terms used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the real unemployment rate is more like 17 percent, over 25 million people. So it's near certain that at least 40 million households, or over 150 million people, face dire income issues -- little to no regular income, or income that just barely meets living expenses. If there is any cushion against this, it is the fact that most households now have more than one income-earner (but many of those really need two income-earners).

One way or another, it is more than reasonable to conclude that on the order of one half of the US population feels financially insecure. Add to that the fact that most Americans know that they have unstable access to health care, given that most health insurers enthusiastically embrace yanking care away when it is needed. Add also the government fiscal crises, so education, infrastructure and other essentials are threatened. We sustained this instability for years with the credit bubble. (The bubble was 'load-bearing.') Now that has collapsed and will likely stay collapsed, despite Obama efforts to re-inflate the bubble.

What do most Americans have reason to feel safe about? In a country where the general population was less apathetic and less indoctrinated in acceptance of and obedience to authority, government and private elites might well be worrying about social upheaval.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Wizard of Speed and Time!

Great! No more need be said.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

NPR's Scott Simon Speaks Glowingly of an Amercan Idol

This morning, Saturday, February 13th, NPR has done one of those things that the media regularly does -- provided us with a case for comparison.

One of the US's better known idolaters of war, former Senator Charlie Wilson, died on February 10th. Scott Simon eulogized him very personally on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday. It was a fawning string of inanities from an NPR host who has worked for years to perfect a breathless, simpering delivery.

Absent from Simon's treatment was anything even remotely resembling the slander attack of David Horowitz on Howard Zinn provided via Allison Keyes.

My suspicion (indeed, certainty) is that a thorough review of politically charged obits would reveal this kind of 'fair and balanced' treatment by NPR and most other so-called news organizations in America. Of course, in the eyes of NPR and Scott Simon, Charlie Wilson was _not_ a politically charged figure. He was adored by Democrats and Republicans alike -- which accounts for all of the political spectrum in NPR's field of vision.

Another illuminating comparison (albeit, not of two obits) is that of Yasser Arafat, who was gently villified (to put it as best I can) on his death and Ariel Sharon, who was lionized when he became comatose though he is every bit -- and far far more -- the war criminal Arafat was. Indeed, Simon himself offered another of his utterly hollow accounts on the occasion of Arafat's death. Simon recounted being held by Palestinian captors briefly. His captors pointedly asked whether Simon was Jewish. (It probably goes without saying that Simon has never noted virulent anti-Arab racism in Israel.) The point is that Simon felt no need to offer mealy-mouthed accolades for Arafat. Moreover, he made 'relevant' an irrelevant detail that had nothing to do with Arafat, but did serve Simon's purpose of demonizing, en masse, the entire Palestinian people -- just as the inclusion of Horowitz's slander served NPR's purpose of diminishing Zinn.

There are a great many critics of Zinn, some conservative, some liberal, some left-wing, who could have added some texture to any recollection, though it is plainly clear that the NPR and general US media standard is to offer near-unalloyed praise -- unless there is a 'need' to take the person down a few notches, or flaws so glaring that they must be at least acknowledged. Thus, in the case of Sharon, the briefest mention is made of Sabra and Shatila. Likewise, in the case of Reagan, the treasonable and impeachable crimes of Iran-Contra are mentioned -- but only in passing.

It is for the American Left that the special case arises, where it is necessary to slander the dead, lest their views be too popular.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The American Prospect

Below is my response to "Time Is Running Out," Bob Herbert's February 6 essay in The New York Times:

For most Americans, the economy Bob Herbert fears may develop has been an established fact for some time. The Reagan years marked the start of a steady decline in prospects. Younger Americans and many in middle age have little if any expectation of living better than their parents. The servile grovelling of Obama and Congress at the feet of Wall Street and the Health Insurers are really only a reminder that the US has institutionalized oligarchy in every sense but the constitutional one.

Worse, the uninterrupted militarism of the past 60 years is actually escalating under Obama, hard as that may be to believe. At least medicare and social security unambiguously help Americans, if (perhaps) somewhat inefficiently (certainly no more inefficiently than private insurers do). The obscene military budgets have been blown on needless wars evidently calculated to inflame hatred of the US around the world.

Frankly, the lives of people in Germany look pretty good. They have health care, five weeks of vacation for all, and need not fear a life of abject poverty after retirement. They still value science, engineering and art. And they are aware that it is necessary to live with the rest of the people of the Earth -- a fact most Americans flatly deny.

Below, the section of Herbert's essay that I respond to:

Speaking at a conference here on Wednesday, Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania said that if we don’t act quickly in developing long-term solutions to these and other problems, the United States will be a second-rate economic power by the end of this decade. A failure to act boldly, he said, will result in the U.S. becoming “a cooked goose.”

Neither the politicians nor much of the mainstream media are spelling out the severity of these enormous structural problems or the sense of urgency needed to address them. Living standards are sinking in the United States, and there is no coherent vision or plan for reversing that ominous trend over the long term.

The conference was titled, “The Next American Economy: Transforming Energy and Infrastructure Investment.” It was put together by the Brookings Institution and Lazard, the investment banking advisory firm.

When Governor Rendell addressed the conference on Wednesday, he used words like “stunning” and “unbelievable” to describe what has happened to the nation’s infrastructure. His words echoed the warnings we’ve been hearing for years from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which tells us: “The broken water mains, gridlocked streets, crumbling dams and levees, and delayed flights that come from failing infrastructure have a negative impact on the checkbook and on the quality of life of each and every American.”

The conference was sparked by a sense of dismay over what has happened to the U.S. economy over the past several years and a feeling that constructive ideas about solutions were being smothered by an obsessive focus on the short-term in this society, and by the chronic dysfunction and hyperpartisanship in much of the government.

I was struck by the absence of grousing and finger-pointing at the conference and the emphasis on trying to develop new ways to establish an economy that is not based on financial flimflammery, that enhances America’s competitive position in the world, and that relieves us of the terrible burden of reliance on foreign energy sources.

I was also struck by the pervasive sense that if we don’t get our act together then the glory days of the go-go American economic empire will fade like the triumphs of an aging Hollywood star. One of the participants raised the very real possibility of Americans having to get used to living in an economy “that won’t be number one,” an economy that perhaps is more like Germany’s.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Newest Mandarins [in progress]

George Packer, Michael O'Hanlon, David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Kenneth Pollack,....

These are among the Yes-Men in the realm between actual policy-makers and the public. They rarely if ever offer original thinking. They instead practice the art of balancing, positioning, triangulating to ensure their greatest possible acceptability to the mainstream — the received wisdom.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Lexicon of Childhood

Here's an ongoing dictionary of the great expressions kids come up with. No particular order, not very long, and depends on whatever they come up with.

nastarola (adj.) generically, mildy nasty.

lasterday (n.) similar to yesterday, but specifically referring to the day of an event. (e.g., "Lasterday, when we went to the zoo, we got cotton candy." Thus, not the immediately preceding day, but the probably recent day when the zoo was last visited.)

the first beginning (n.) As adults, we think of a book beginning on the first page of the story or text, perhaps on the title page. But "the first beginning" is the first page of the book, literally — perhaps a flyleaf or an endpaper.

baby in a bird's nest (n.) A Christmas tree ornament of the infant Jesus in a cradle of straw.

Jesus Crisis (expletive) Corruption of Jesus Christ.

damage (expletive) Corruption of "damn it"

baby Zeus (proper name) Greek American child's answer to "Do you know what Christmas is about?"

"Fix the law." Anything that is broken can be fixed. So in response to "They broke the law," the response might be "Can you fix it?"

chocolate (adj.) Anything that tastes about as good as a thing can taste. Vanilla soy milk is 'chocolate'; Peach smoothie is 'chocolate'.

ganges (n.) Corruption of "gadgets," of the kind that Batman frequently uses.

stupidhead (n.) Means exactly what it sounds like. "Head" can be appended to many derogatory adjectives to produce an unflattering noun.

babyhead (n.) Much the same meaning as "stupidhead". Often said by an older sibling.

na-nana-poo-poo (?) Usually precedes "you can't catch me!" Meaning obscure.

ballgum (n.) Corruption of "gumball".

Elmo Juice (proper name) More generally N juice, where N is the commercial pop-figure used to get kids to buy the product, in this case juice.

Hot tub powers (n.) The special category of superpowers acquired after a first childhood experience of a hot tub.

"If you shoot the moon, it will make fireworks."

Clark Klent (proper name, Tue. April 7, 2009) Alterego or alternative identity of Superman.

The Clue (proper name, Sat. June 13, 2009) Confusion of the name "Riddler" from Batman.

Turning wheel (n.) a doorknob

more to come . . .

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Supreme Injustice Alito Performs for Millions

Some are asking whether Supreme Court Injustice Samuel Alito damaged the Court's credibility with his mouthing of "not true" during President Obama's State of the Union Address. But the Court had precious little credibility anyway. The Supreme Court (or, more accurately, the right-wing injustices) threw away the court's credibility with Bush v Gore. Whether it is hopelessly lost remains to be seen.

Individual injustices — namely Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas — have discarded credibility repeatedly with their predictable support of big business over individuals, the rich over the poor and conservative government over the rights of the people.

So the Supreme Injustices are predictable, reliable in some twisted way but certainly not remotely honorable.

As for Alito's performance during the State of the Union, he should count himself lucky Obama didn't dress him down more. The president used the most mild language. He could easily and rightly characterized the ruling of the Fallen Five as one of the worst decisions in American history.

The Supreme Injustices, the conservatives, are accustomed to being able to humiliate those appearing before the court. They are accustomed to asserting their opinions with the servile accolades of a captive audience. So it must have been tough for Injustice Alito to have to sit still while Obama treated his crimes so mildly.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It's Not Just Global Warming

In the public arena, environmental issues have been reduced to global warming. Big mistake. Here are a handful of headlines from the past month or so (and this is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg):

Common chemical found in everything from sofas, carpets to pots, pans linked to increased risk of thyroid disease.

A common household chemical found in everything from sofas and carpets to pots and pans has been linked to an increased risk of thyroid disease, in the first major study carried out on its effect upon health.

The substance, used to make nonstick cookware, stain-resistant furnishings and greaseproof wrappers, is believed to get into the body through contaminated food or household dust. Once in the body it accumulates in organs and other tissues.

People with high levels of the chemical in their blood were found to be twice as likely to have thyroid problems as those with the lowest levels, according to a survey of medical records of nearly 4,000 otherwise healthy US adults. The study is published in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.

Scientists said they cannot be certain the chemical is directly responsible for the rise in thyroid disease but called for a full investigation to assess its safety.

Studies in animals have found that the chemical, PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), and a sister substance called PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), can cause thyroid problems and a variety of other medical conditions, including hormone imbalances, liver disease and cancer.

"It's been thought that because they're inert they don't cause any health problems, but we're starting to see some evidence that is suggesting that's not true," said Tamara Galloway, professor of ecotoxicology at Exeter University. "Because these chemicals are inert they are persistent and they build up in the environment and also in human and animal tissues."

We all have trace levels of PFOA in our bodies that we pick up from the environment. The substance is so stable that it persists for years. It has been detected in people around the world and in wildlife as diverse as birds, fish and polar bears.

From Bill Moyers Journal:

Chemicals In Our Food

May 23, 2008

There may be a potentially dangerous chemical leaching into our food from the containers that we use every day. BILL MOYERS JOURNAL and EXPOSÉ: AMERICA'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS examine why, even though studies show that the chemical Bisphenol A can cause cancer and other health problems in lab animals, the manufacturers, their lobbyists, and U.S. regulators say it's safe.

In a watchdog series for the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, a trio of reporters focused on Bisphenol A, a chemical contained in many plastics that is also found in 93% of human beings. The problem at issue? Congress ordered the federal government in 1996 to begin testing and regulating certain chemicals suspected of causing cancer and a host of developmental problems. Eleven years later, not a single compound has been put to that test.

You can read the full series "Chemical Fallout" online, plus ongoing coverage of the fate of Bisphenol A. On May 15, 2008, the SENTINEL reported on some new Congressional hearings:

Members of a Senate consumer affairs subcommittee faulted federal agencies for reacting too slowly to concerns that children are exposed to bisphenol A through leaching from common items such as water bottles, baby bottles and the linings of food and baby-formula cans.
More study and more debate is anticipated.