Friday, July 03, 2015

Are We Like Greece?

There’s also this view of Greece. From the Daily Beast, a review of a new book about the Greek dilemma.

Is it a nation of tax dodgers? A place where nobody wants to pay the cost of public necessities?

What does this sound like? Sounds like America.

Sounds more than a bit like those Americans who bank in the Caribbean to avoid the taxes that would pave the roads––and employ construction workers. This 2013 article in the Economist estimates rich Americans have hidden $20 Trillion offshore.

Sounds a lot like the very profitable American corporations who pay no taxes and instead get corporate welfare paid to them. GE? Boeing? Verizon? Citigroup? Bank of America? FedEx? Senator Bernie Sanders compiled a list.

The grim austerity Greece is experiencing now sounds like Kansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin and a handful of other Republican-run states where austerity policies have taken a severe toll. They’ve lowered taxes on the wealthy and paid for it with deep cuts to public sector needs like schools and healthcare. Sounds a lot like what Germany is forcing on Greece, where the wealthy Greeks still evade taxes but teachers and doctors and nurses go unpaid.

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Greece Explained

An excellent video from VOX. No more oversimplified than the final demand letters Greece is getting from Angela Merkel.

I keep going back to the meme I invented a couple of years ago: Kiss Up, Kick Down. Is this crisis just an international version of junior high bullying? The powerful preying on the powerless? Noam Chomsky writes about this.

Vox has discovered that NSA wiretaps reveal Angela Merkel's cynical calculations prior to the Greek bailout. Why did Merkel and Germany send Greece so much money knowing the debt would be unsustainable? Maybe the potential profit caused them to ignore the risks. No intention of fixing a problem, just a strong impulse to milk that problem for profit. The payday loan model again.

Europe isn’t a family. Families don’t starve the child that does poorly in school. Families don’t think how they can profit from a family member’s failure.

I realize it gets complicated in families too. But nations and organizations of nations need to lean toward the helpful model rather than the exploitive one. Think St. Francis not some mob kingpin. Keynes not Friedman. The Marshall Plan, not the Versailles Treaty.

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Greece is the Word

When a nation is in a financial crisis it’s not always best to think like a banker. A banker cares more about his money than about the people involved. (It's easier that way.) There are certainly hard truths we need to face about the Greek crisis, and difficult problems that need to be fixed. But is a crisis the best time for a banker to extract his late fees and penalties? Does it matter if Greece recovers from this? For many of the financial experts discussing it, the money is less abstract than the people.

In the Guardian, Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz returns us to a more rational discussion of what is involved and what will restore Greece’s financial health.

Even the conservative Daily Telegraph has a negative view of how Europe’s bankers have handled this. This writer says the Euro bankers set Greece up to fail.

Europe is a far different place than it was in the era of Keynes. We took Keynes' advice after WW2. By then we knew from grim experience not to treat a fallen nation the way Europe treated Germany in 1920.

I have an idea: look at how Germany was helped by the Marshall Plan after WW2. Maybe Greece would be treated better now if they'd invaded Europe instead of joining it.

From the Economist

From the London School of Economics

From TruthOut

German bankers think Greece has already been helped enough. The point is, after WW2 Germany was helped until they recovered. There should be mechanisms put in place that help repair the problems that caused the Greek crisis. Instead the European bankers, apparently, prefer to create a profitable lender-borrower relationship, and profitable relationships are meant to last, creating longterm profits for the lender. Did the European banks base their rescue plan on the model of payday lenders? (From the Guardian)

The Greek finance minister takes a very dim view of austerity.

The austerity model fails wherever it is tried. Why? Because it doesn't allow recovery. Instead it extracts the pound of flesh from the corpse of the debtor. Only money exists in the world of these bankers. No people, no communities, no societies, no nations, just money.

Economist Lars Syll on the failed austerity model

In Europe as in the U.S., it’s a case of Kiss Up, Kick Down. Pay the rich, gouge the poor. In any failed transaction the fault always lies with the poorer party. He always pays the penalty. (From the Washington Post)

Here are some key views from the bankers’ table via the New York Times

If Europe were a federal system like the U.S., the crisis in one state would matter to everyone. This idea gets a fuller airing at VOX.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Confederate Flaggery

People so want the Civil War not to be about slavery. They so want that old plantation way of life to be some kind of jolly role playing, instead of the brutal ownership of human beings of color by human beings of no color. It says something that people are still asking stupid questions like “Didn’t the slaves actually have it pretty good back then?” Uh…no.

This story from VOX tells about the stupid questions the tour guides get at Mount Vernon.

As FoxNews sees it, removing the flag of the traitors who fought a bloody war against the United States to preserve slavery… is a kind of fascism.

There’s such pervasive certainty about this across the South people get confused.

From Salon: This Confederate-flag-wearing woman of color thinks slavery was a choice. Like on a menu. Uh huh.

It’s what they are taught.

This article from Salon describes some of the ways school districts try to pretty up the old South and slavery.

And it doesn’t only happen in the South. Here's an instance from a grade school in suburban Boston.

100 years ago you could be considered progressive and still be a deep dyed racist. Woodrow Wilson, a progressive by most standards, purged black workers from the federal government. Hell, 75 years ago The New Deal was created by FDR––but only with the help of similar racists from the South. Which is why the New Deal didn’t help people of color.

Republicans might not know this: 40 years ago President Nixon had the idea of inviting all the white supremacists and racists and segregationists to come and join his party. Which is why now the Party of Lincoln is the one most associated with the Confederate Flag. Nixon’s Southern Strategy is (to borrow an old line from Edmund Wilson) “...the worst thing that has happened to Lincoln since Booth shot him.” (Wilson was referring to Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln biography.)

The New Yorker's John Cassidy on the racist strain in the Republican Party today.

This is how our best satirists have commented on the Confederate flag issue.

From the Daily Show this past week.

Bloomberg has an article about Stephen Colbert's war on the Confederate flag.

The best piece of patriotic performance art was this woman’s heroic climb. From Mother Jones.

By the way, the first casualty in the Civil War was a Union officer who was shot dead while trying to remove a Confederate flag from the roof of a hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. I remember this story from my grade school book of the Civil War. I remember the story well. It was illustrated with the same painting Smithsonian includes in their story here. Hard to believe we still see people proudly flying the flag of a treasonous army the U.S. defeated 150 years ago this year.

On a more self-aggrandizing note, media critic Jim Romenesko ran my short piece about the group that kidnapped the New York Times url (or a very convincing counterfeit of it) to prank people. It is getting harder to tell news from satire these days, especially when the stories are about Republicans. But it doesn’t help us when the joke makes people cynical.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Differing Takes On The Shooting In Charleston

"I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist. And I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit. Yeah. That’s us.

And that’s the part that blows my mind. I don’t want to get into the political argument of the guns and things. But what blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think people that are foreign are going to kill us, and us killing ourselves.

If this had been what we thought was Islamic terrorism, it would fit into our — we invaded two countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives and now fly unmanned death machines over five or six different countries, all to keep Americans safe. We got to do whatever we can. We’ll torture people. We gotta do whatever we can to keep Americans safe.

Nine people shot in a church. What about that? “Hey, what are you gonna do? Crazy is as crazy is, right?” That’s the part that I cannot, for the life of me, wrap my head around, and you know it. You know that it’s going to go down the same path. “This is a terrible tragedy.” They’re already using the nuanced language of lack of effort for this. This is a terrorist attack. This is a violent attack on the Emanuel Church in South Carolina, which is a symbol for the black community. It has stood in that part of Charleston for 100 and some years and has been attacked viciously many times, as many black churches have.

I heard someone on the news say “Tragedy has visited this church.” This wasn’t a tornado. This was a racist. This was a guy with a Rhodesia badge on his sweater. You know, so the idea that — you know, I hate to even use this pun, but this one is black and white. There’s no nuance here.

And we’re going to keep pretending like, “I don’t get it. What happened? This one guy lost his mind.” But we are steeped in that culture in this country and we refuse to recognize it, and I cannot believe how hard people are working to discount it. In South Carolina, the roads that black people drive on are named for Confederate generals who fought to keep black people from being able to drive freely on that road. That’s insanity. That’s racial wallpaper. That’s — that’s — you can’t allow that, you know.

Nine people were shot in a black church by a white guy who hated them, who wanted to start some kind of civil war. The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy’s the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him. We’re bringing it on ourselves. And that’s the thing. Al-Qaeda, all those guys, ISIS, they’re not s— compared to the damage that we can apparently do to ourselves on a regular basis."

~Jon Stewart, The Daily Show

“I find it extraordinary that people would call this a hate crime.”

~Steve Doocy, Fox-N-Friends

“Wait for the facts, don’t jump to conclusions ... most people jump to conclusions about race… There does seem to be a rising hostily towards Christians across this country because of our biblical views… [The shooter] didn’t choose a bar, he didn’t choose a basketball court [i.e. places where “black people” are usually found]… He chose a church. I would urge pastors and men in these churches to prepare to defend ourselves. We’ve got to arm ourselves... when women and children are attacked.”

~E.W. Jackson, a pastor and the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 2013, speaking Thursday morning on Fox-N-Friends

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Unequal Justice

First off, a brilliant accusatory letter to Antonin Scalia from the Miami Herald's Leonard Pitts Jr., which I will insert in full. Emile Zola couldn't have done it better.

To the Honorable Antonin G. Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States:

Dear Sir:

Twenty-one years ago, your then-colleague, the late Justice Harry Blackmun, wrote what became a famous dissent to a Supreme Court decision not to review a Texas death-penalty conviction. In it, Blackmun declared that he had become convinced “the death penalty experiment has failed” and said he considered capital punishment irretrievably unconstitutional.

The death penalty, he wrote, “remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination...and mistake...From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”

You mocked him for this stance in an opinion concurring with the majority, invoking as justification for capital punishment the horrific 1983 case of an 11-year-old girl who was raped then killed by having her panties stuffed down her throat. “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection,” you wrote, “compared with that!”

A few months later, the very case you had referenced came before the court. Henry Lee McCollum, a mentally disabled man who was on death row in North Carolina after having been convicted of that rape and murder, applied to the court for a review of his case. You were part of the majority that rejected the request without comment.

The demagoguery of your response to Justice Blackmun is pretty standard for proponents of state-sanctioned death. Rather than contend with the many logical and irrefutable arguments against capital punishment, they use a brute-force appeal to emotion.

Certain crimes, they say, are so awful, heinous and vile that they cry out for the ultimate sanction. For you, Sabrina Buie’s rape and murder was one of those, a symbol of why we need the death penalty.

As you have doubtless heard, it now turns out McCollum was innocent of that crime. Last year, he and his also mentally disabled half-brother Leon Brown (who had been serving a life sentence) were exonerated by DNA evidence and set free.

A few days ago, McCollum was pardoned by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.

The case against him was never what you’d call ironclad. No physical evidence tied him to the crime. The centerpiece of the prosecution’s case was a confession McCollum, then a 19-year-old said to have the mentality of a child 10 years younger, gave with no lawyer present after five hours of questioning.

“I had never been under this much pressure,” he told the News & Observer newspaper in a videotaped death row interview, “with a person hollering at me and threatening me...I just made up a false story so they could let me go home.”

But he didn’t go home for over 30 years. You and your colleagues had a chance to intervene in that injustice and chose not to. Not incidentally, the real culprit avoided accountability all that time.

The argument against the death penalty will never have the visceral, immediate emotionalism of the argument in favor. It does not satisfy that instinctive human need to make somebody pay — now! — when something bad has been done. Rather, it turns on quieter concerns, issues of inherent racial, class, geographic and gender bias, issues of corner-cutting cops and ineffective counsel, and issues of irrevocability, the fact that, once imposed, death cannot be undone.

Those issues were easy for you to ignore in mocking Blackmun. They are always easy to ignore, right up until the moment they are not.

This is one of those moments, sir, and it raises a simple and obvious question to which one would hope you feel honor-bound to respond. In 1994, you used this case as a symbol of why we need the death penalty.

What do you think it symbolizes now?

Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald

The problem we have in this country is too many public duties are handled in a "businesslike" way, as cheaply and superficially as possible. But complex matters like criminal justice shouldn't be managed the same way we manage a fast food restaurant.

There's also this story, from Texas Monthly. A prosecutor loses his job after a man spends 18 years on death row only to be exonerated.

And meanwhile (in case you didn’t think our justice system kicks down and kisses up) there are these stories:

From TIME, a story about a rich kid getting off after using the excuse that he suffers from being rich.

From Alternet, a perp walks free and an innocent goes to prison.

It gets hard to tell satire from reality.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Planned Ignorance

There is a well-funded effort in this country to hide, suppress, distort and outright kill the truth––to kill the truth about a lot of things––about climate science, about the economy, about the ways concentrated wealth distorts our democracy and our justice system. Mostly they are determined to suppress the truth about their dangerous power. They have the power to hide the truth, to distort the public conversation, to suppress the public’s right to know things. They benefit from our ignorance and confusion.

Truth and honesty and understanding are inconvenient for certain powerful people and groups. The Founders of this country believed and never hesitated to say that the full and honest truth is a public good. It’s a conversation, a process, not a fixed truth but something we are constantly working out. This is why the public conversation cannot be a private one carried on in board rooms. But some very superior people hate the notion that the public has a right to anything. They believe nothing is deserved, that no one is entitled to anything unless they have the money to buy it. They believe this knowing that they have a growing monopoly on wealth.

Of course those with infinite wealth think it's appropriate (and safest for them) to keep information from the public: nobody is entitled to the truth. They own it and can dole it out as they like. They think nothing is deserved–––except the wealth they inherited, their dividend checks, their annual bonus. Owning for a living entitles a person to everything; working for a living entitles you to nothing. The democrats who founded this country invented our system of government to guard against this idea of narrow privilege. But that history is also being suppressed and distorted.

(The Chronicle of Higher Education has published an essay about this suppression and withholding of information from the public.)

Realizing that knowledge is dangerous to them, the fossil fuel billionaires have leveraged their influence to blackmail universities and professors and scientists. “If you publish your findings you will lose your professorship. You will lose the funding for your research. Your university won’t get the grants it needs in other areas. You will be targeted by our news organizations. We will question your integrity. We will investigate your private life. We will target your family.” Al Gore gave his film a perfect title: the overwhelming science on climate change was an Inconvenient Truth. He became inconvenient. They succeeded in making him disappear.

(From the Guardian: 125 million dollars have been spent hiding, disputing and distorting key climate science the public is entitled to know.)

Luckily there is some pushback… But what this does is promote the idea that climate scientists aren’t sure about what is happening. And the media owned by the fossil fuel billionaires will broadcast “the controversy” which doesn’t really exist.

(From VOX: luckily there is money being spent to get the climate science out there.)

I mentioned that concentrated wealth has also distorted the measuring and regulation of our economy. It’s a fundamental conundrum: is cash value the only measure of validity? Actually, the answer is Yes and No. Those with the most money can, in the words of Karl Rove, “create their own reality.”

(An excellent article from Bloomberg about the illogic and biased nature of modern economics and finance.)

But bad math and bad economics will have consequences somewhere. Great wealth insulates the wealthy from consequences. Great wealth has even been able to persuade the millions who suffer from the the wrongdoing of the billionaire class that these consequences were properly paid out and to applaud the vulgar excess of the billionaire class the way the poor used to applaud kings and queens. It’s all very different from what Franklin and Jefferson and Paine and Washington planned. Of course Franklin warned about this very thing.

Here's some further reading:

A new book about the problem of Willful Blindness.

What is the Dunning Kruger Effect?

What is Illusory Superiority?

What is Hanlon's Razor?

Why do some people believe knowledge is a curse?

(Now that we have a full Republican Clown Car) what is the Imposter Syndrome?

What is the ultimate insult you can throw at a foolish pundit?

Meanwhile, Red States across America are rewarding their citizens by dismantling their education systems.

(The Nation reporting on the dismantling of higher ed in North Carolina)

(Salon reports on college dropout Scott Walker's defunding of the university system in Wisconsin.)

Adam Smith was the father of capitalism. Today's capitalists worship him. But (as reported in MinnPost) even Adam Smith knew the immense value of a liberal education.

(Rolling Stone looks at the dystopia that will remain after the oligarchs are done with our public education system.)

And even if the public is able to think clearly, Congress doesn’t care. Why? Money. Concentrated wealth and power has completely corrupted our democratic system.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Two Vocabulary Questions

1. Why has the word “militant” only been used to describe workers and unions and never to describe employers, even when they've used armed force against unarmed workers?

2. Why is the word “conservative” used to describe right wing groups seeking to break down long-established and necessary institutions?

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