Monday, August 31, 2015

The Politics of Unreason

H&RBlock lobbied to make our tax preparations more complicated so the poor would be unable to file their own taxes and H&RBlock would get more customers.

MotherJones reports

Rudy Giuliani looked at homeless people as vermin to be eliminated. This approach was tried once in Germany.

From the New York Times

The NRA used to be a responsible organization favoring the strict regulation of killing machines. That changed.

From VOX

One gun maker actually admitted America has a problem with gun violence. They were severely punished for this moment of reason.

Reported by Frontline/PBS

Americans usually equate Republican and Christian values. How did Christianity go from being on the side of the poor and less fortunate to being against them, working on the side of the rich and powerful?

I guess Jesus preferred rich people, loved war, opposed healing the sick and favored universal gun ownership. I must reread my New Testament. Maybe it’s in the Revised Standard Version.

From Salon, an article on the unChristianity of Christians today

The Republican half of our politics has become unhinged––but not like an eccentric neighbor we can tolerate and find amusing. (I’m one of those.) They’ve become the insane neighbor with the vicious dogs and the arsenal of weapons. He sics his dogs on kids who set foot on his grass. It’s the house where we hear shouting and crying late at night. Do we call the police? Now they want to build a ten foot spite wall along the property line. What do you do when your neighbor is insane?

Their actions affect all of us...

Andy Borowitz reports in this insanity

In 1936 only two states voted against FDR. Vermont and Maine. Two years later the Republican governor of Vermont had had it with the Republican Party and said so. The GOP was moderate then compared to now…

Bill Moyers takes a look back

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Friday, August 28, 2015

The Unfair Economy

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been in the news recently for enforcing inhumane work conditions not seen since the days of the Spanish galley slave.

The LATimes has an excellent write up about it.

The 1% tell us how to live and how hard to work. They create the economy the rest of us endure. They evade taxes like billy-o and we get to pay for them, or learn to live without good roads and decent schools.

Gyrations in the stock markets terrify the rest of us, but the 1% go shopping (as the NYTimes reported recently). Market instability that worries us they see as opportunity to buy up bargain shares. They profit from volatility. It is their environment of choice, they create it, it profits them enormously (as Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine has explained) but they don’t have to experience it. Their lives are serene and insulated.

Desirable places to live like London, Paris and New York are the setting for a vast new wave of social cleansing, quietly deporting the poor and inviting the rich in.

Reported in the Guardian.

And in a Guardian opinion piece.

Curbed reports how social cleansing is being carried out in New York.

The New York Daily News reports how, in many cases, the new multimillion dollar pieds a terre are seldom inhabited, so the poor and the working classes are being pushed out just in case some rich people would like to spend a weekend in the city.

Pulitzer Prize winning economics reporter David Cay Johnston has this explanation of how the 1% play the American economy and tax system like a violin.

The rich are not like you and me. Why do we cater to them? Why do we walk in the street so they can enjoy the sidewalk? Why do we vacate our cities for their convenience? Why do we pay their taxes for them? Why do we do what they tell us at work and in the voting booth? Are we their slaves? Possibly. By choice, apparently.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Re Too Much Investment Class Wealth Chasing Too Few Plausible Investments

Paul Krugman writes about it this morning.

Two observations I've been making for a while––and the financial press has been ignoring.

1. You don't have as many plausible investments when workers'/consumers' incomes are flat for 35 years. (This, combined with a concentration of investment wealth = bubble)

2. Now that the Boomers are living on their portfolios they don't want working incomes to rise either.

I wrote about this fragile combination in 2011

I believe Paul Krugman was there before I was.

Question: why has economic orthodoxy moved so far to the right that it cannot see this dynamic and its dangers?

One explanation I’ve been suggesting more recently is that we have allowed our money to think for us. Money is impatient, greedy and has no human factor in its calculations.

(I think letting our money make its own rapid decisions is similar but more dangerous than this new chimera the press is worried about: AI, artificial intelligence, HAL the computer.)

Far from being coldly rational, the money brain is easily panicked, as we’ve seen over the last four days.

When wealth is distributed more broadly with a framework of practical safeguards, the brain in the economy isn’t as skittish or irrational. Look at how it behaved from 1945-1980. But we were too impatient and greedy to tolerate that kind of economy. Or some of us were: The 1% who now make all the financial decisions.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Fact Avoidance as Republican Policy

The people worked up about Planned Parenthood’s policies regarding fetal tissue don’t seem concerned about the fetal tissue that fertility clinics donate to science on a routine basis.

The Washington Post reported on this double standard.

The people worked up about Hillary possibly deleting emails do not get worked up about the 22 million White House emails deleted at the order of Karl Rove...

Pensito Review reported on this double standard.

What makes this difficult for the thinking half of the population is this. These people who are getting selectively worked up are not being intentionally dishonest. They are lying to themselves, you are just in the way.

“…One of the most frustrating things about attempting to engage "a Republican argument" is precisely how often the arguments seem disingenuous. It is not as if rank-and-file activists are actively lying about their motives. It is that they have never questioned them themselves. They have simply heard and regurgitated the talking points so often that they believe their own bullshit and are beyond questioning it. The frustrating thing is not that they are lying to you. It is that in effect (to borrow a Colbert construction), they are lying to themselves at you."

Digby's Blog reported on this interesting and useful gift of self-deception.

Trying to persuade them of the truth is dangerous the way trying to rescue a drowning person will sometimes drown the rescuer. A friend of mine once pointed out that the more you point out the truth to people the less they will believe it.

What are we supposed to do? Wouldn’t you think an advanced society would have mechanisms for revealing and destroying this kind of malicious bullshit? Because it’s all intentional, whether the people know they are being fooled or not.

That corrective mechanism is supposed to be journalism. When Karl Rove explained that the truth about Iraq didn’t really matter because “we create our own reality” it was a journalist who reported that. A lot of us thought the cat was out of the bag, but it wasn’t, because half of America took Mr. Rove at his word about George Bush being able to create new realities. A useful godlike ability, that. Why didn’t that revelation sink the Bush White House?

Journalism Professor Blog discusses the weird reality bending powers of Karl Rove here.

Too often the reporting class just reports, just repeats the bullshit. By reporting the bullshit it becomes news and most people figure news and fact are the same. They have a problem telling bullshit from fact. If it’s reported by a newspaper or a news channel it’s assumed to be fact. Just as Mr. O’Reilly declaring his program is a “no spin zone” means he would never spin a story. Ever. Because he says this with incredible force and conviction makes it even truer. And because Fox viewers are spinning at the same speed as O’Reilly is himself it begins to seem like the spin isn’t spin at all.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Human Misery = Great Profit Opportunities!

A conservative columnist for the Chicago Tribune says Hurricane Katrina was a blessing in disguise. I’ll let that sink in. What does she mean?

Conservatives are pleased when bad things happen to other people. Hurricanes create investment bargains! Human misery = profit opportunity!

Which explains why Rick Santorum drew applause from the conservative base when he said rape could be a blessing in disguise. Bad things happening to other people can be translated into good things happening for you if you are paying attention, if you're right-thinking and sufficiently heartless.

It’s happening in Greece too. Crisis and misery tends to draw vulture capitalists eager for quick profits and easy bargains. If you discover someone is down for the count. Why help them? Why not use them as a stepladder to a better life?

This is the core idea behind Disaster Capitalism. Disaster = Profits

Republicans, conservatives, the 1%, venture capitalists. They all view terrible events happening to other people as great business opportunities for themselves. The Guardian wrote about this bizarre investment class cheerfulness while New Orleans was still underwater.

Because the ups and downs of fortune are just the natural course of events. The downturns may seem awful to those nobodies experiencing it firsthand, but they are too shortsighted to see the bounty being reaped by the blessed few God has put in a safer position. The investment class is wiser and more able to view these ups and downs philosophically. “Let things unfold as nature intended. Let the weak fail. It makes America stronger to weed out the less deserving and the unlucky." That’s a common view among the 1%. Disaster for others represents a windfall for them.

But their opinion changes when the disaster happens to them. (Through no fault of their own, of course.) When they face difficulties help must be sent immediately. Because they hold hostages. We are all hostage to the fortunes of the rich. If they fall they fall on us. Here's a list of the huge corporate bailouts working Americans have paid for, and corporate CEOs have put in their own pockets. Still, it had to be done. The alternative would have been worse.

Timely help in New Orleans might have been a good thing too, but it would only have helped regular people. Most of whom had negligible net worth.

The important thing is to rescue property. And in New Orleans what the money people discovered was letting the poor drown made it possible to scoop up bargains. Property on the cheap. Blocks of soggy historic downmarket houses ready to be cleared out and replaced with warehouses for Walmart and other corporations, or with more attractive apartment blocks suitable for new, more prosperous citizens more likely to be Republicans.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

When is a heavily armed extremist militia not a terrorist group?

When it’s white.

In Ferguson, Missouri, while young black men are being arrested on suspicion of carrying weapons, the police have invited a white militia called the Oath Keepers to help them "keep the peace." They're keeping the peace by toting assault weapons and swanking around in body armor.

The story in The Guardian

The story in the Washington Post, with background on the group.

The Oath Keeper story on NPR.

Reported by Reuters.

Many white Americans hear the word “militia” and think of the Minutemen and the Sons of Liberty. That’s an outdated concept. Militias these days are more like the irregular armies that have destroyed Lebanon and Syria and Iraq, creating millions of refugees and murdering thousands of civilians. The Taliban is a militia. ISIS is a militia. Their beliefs are no more radical and dangerous than these wild west gunmen with their assault weapons and their body armor. If you’re white does the term “terrorist” not apply to you? I guess one difference is ISIS doesn’t have an American news network in their pocket.

Despite the fact that few Americans have read or heard any news about this group, they were reported on by Mother Jones as far back as 2010.

I’ve been worried about the group Oath Keepers for some time. I’ve written letters about them to representatives in Washington and to law enforcement and security agencies. Answer comes there none. No interest might signify greater reason to worry.

How deeply has this group infiltrated our law enforcement agencies?

More concerning: how deeply have these Oath Keepers penetrated our security apparatus? Notably the Secret Service who protect the president the Oath Keepers dislike.

Our nuclear arsenal is controlled from one of the most radicalized right-wing cities in America, Colorado Springs. How deeply has this group, and others like it, infiltrated our nuclear weapons chain of command?

The Oath Keepers seem keen on removing the government. Isn’t this a direct and flagrant violation of the Second Amendment they all hide behind?

Why is a person of color with a Muslim sounding name a terrorist while a secretive white gang bent on overthrowing the government is not?

If Oath Keepers were a group comprised of non-Aryans or non-Christians, don’t you suppose FoxNews would be obsessed with it? And all officialdom would follow their lead. Since FoxNews isn't interested in reporting it our officials say nothing about it.

A close friend of mine made a documentary some years ago about Anwar Sadat. I’m remembering the death of Sadat, murdered by his own troops during an official parade. We’ve heard a great deal over the past six years about persons and groups (and an entire news network) who want to remove President Obama. President Obama is a person of color and has a Muslim-sounding name. I worry about him.

Even though I’ve grown used to the extremist rhetoric and constant inflammatory criticism of Obama and of the government we elected by sizable majorities twice, I worry that there is an apparatus out there who wants to put an abrupt end to it and to our way of life.

And yet nobody talks about it. Nobody responds to stories like this but there is a whole network organized to target the poor and people of color as dangerous.

In Ferguson young black men are being arrested on suspicion of carrying weapons. Properly so. But these same police embrace and welcome the arrival of non-uniformed, heavily-armed white men who are unofficial and avowedly antigovernment. What exactly is up with that? Presumably handguns are the weapons of terrorists but assault weapons are not? Or is it the color of the armed man that matters?

The Oath Keepers have been carefully tracked by RightWingWatch here.

And by the Southern Poverty Law Center here.

And then in magazines like PoliceMag you have the view of the police buffs. Police hobbyists. Police fantasists. They make police work sound like a cult, when it’s an honorable profession. Or, God help us, it should be.

If you or anyone thinks a modern government can’t be overthrown––if you think “it can’t happen here”–– in 1933 it nearly did. A coup organized to overthrow President Roosevelt had the backing of some of the largest corporations in America. It had Wall Street money behind it. Prescott Bush was part of the group. The plan was to mobilize the American Legion, which these same corporations had founded and funded to intimidate the American labor movement. The American Legion at the time outnumbered the U.S. military. The plot was the subject of congressional hearings. The evidence was there. But nobody went to jail. Too big to jail was true then as it is now. The plotters used the money to found the anti FDR Liberty League which devoted itself to derailing the New Deal and opposing American mobilization against the Nazis. These corporations did a profitable business with the Nazis, some of them right through the war.

The Attempt to Overthrow President Roosevelt was the subject of a BBC documentary. The story is hardly known in this country though. Old news?

Another link to an archived version of the White House Coup documentary.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Explained: Why Health Insurance is a Waste of Money

The New York Times published an interesting and alarming story today.

I think what this NYTimes writer is trying to say is people who can’t afford health insurance die more quickly and cheaply than those who have insurance. Problem solved!

Here's a useful mantra rich people learn at their parents’ financial advisor’s knee.

If you pretend other people don’t exist you don’t have to help them.

If you don’t spend money trying to fix a problem there is no problem.

If something doesn’t happen to you it doesn’t happen.

All money spent helping other people is money wasted.

All money paid to other people is money that’s been stolen from you.

If someone dies horribly in a forest and there’s no healthcare there it doesn’t make a sound.

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Saturday, August 01, 2015

A Utopian and a Magical Thinker Walk Into A Bar

A very useful tour of the things Hayek got right and wrong, via John Gray at the New Statesman.

And an interesting vignette of Milton Friedman creating one of the most hated tools of liberal government. From The Conversable Economist.

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