Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Russian Facebook (VKontakte) founder is 'Zucking up' Russians, too

Is the moral that filthy rich people who got their money for nothing are all jerks, or just social media barons are jerks?  The debate continues....

45% of Iraq-Afghan vets seek disability pay

The cost of Dubya's wars of choice will keep piling up for generations!

By Marilynn Marchione 
May 27, 2012 | AP

A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related. That is more than double the estimate of 21 percent who filed such claims after the Gulf War in the early 1990s, top government officials told The Associated Press.  [...]

The new veterans have different types of injuries than previous veterans did. That's partly because improvised bombs have been the main weapon and because body armor and improved battlefield care allowed many of them to survive wounds that in past wars proved fatal.

"They're being kept alive at unprecedented rates," said Dr. David Cifu, the VA's medical rehabilitation chief.  More than 95 percent of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have survived.  [...]

All of this adds up to more disability claims, which for years have been coming in faster than the government can handle them. The average wait to get a new one processed grows longer each month and is now about eight months — time that a frustrated, injured veteran might spend with no income.  [...]

More than 560,000 veterans from all wars currently have claims that are backlogged — older than 125 days. [...]

... VA officials agree that the economy is motivating some claims. His group helps veterans file them, and he said that sometimes when veterans come in, "We'll say, 'Is your back worse?' and they'll say, 'No, I just lost my job.'"  [...]

For taxpayers, the ordeal is just beginning. With any war, the cost of caring for veterans rises for several decades and peaks 30 to 40 years later, when diseases of aging are more common, said Harvard economist Linda Bilmes. She estimates the health care and disability costs of the recent wars at $600 billion to $900 billion.

"This is a huge number and there's no money set aside," she said. "Unless we take steps now into some kind of fund that will grow over time, it's very plausible many people will feel we can't afford these benefits we overpromised."

Facebook 'Zucking us up as a species'

Opinion: Facebook threatens to 'Zuck up' the human race
By Andrew Keen
May 30, 2012 | CNN

The news last week was all about Facebook's dodgy IPO.  Investors are filing suit against Facebook about withholding "negative" assessment on its business prospects. This IPO not only "Zucked up" Silicon Valley's supposed tech bubble, but it has created the suspicion that Facebook willfully exploited the innocence of the small investor.

But something even dodgier than a potential stock market fraud is going on. The social network is taking something much more important than money from its nearly one billion members. By sabotaging what it really means to be human, Facebook is stealing the innocence of our inner lives.

It may even be Zucking us up as a species.

Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tells us there's a "shift" from an analog world in which our identities are generated from within, to a digital world in which our sense of self is intimately tied to our social media presence.

But this shift to a Facebook world of incessant "friending," Professor Turkle correctly warns us, is a "seductive fantasy" which is weakening us both as individuals and as a society. The problem, she explains, is that a "capacity for solitude is what nurtures great relationships." But in today's always-on social media world, our solitude has been replaced by incessant online updates, which both weaken our sense of self and our ability to create genuine friendships.

I call this shift from the private to the public self "digital narcissism." Behind the communitarian veil of social media, we have fallen in love with ourselves. But this is a super sad love story. Because the more we self-broadcast, the emptier we become; and the emptier we become, the more we need to self-broadcast.

Facebook isn't alone, of course, in offering this seductive fantasy of a radically transparent digital society in which our self esteem is determined by our updates, tweets and check-ins. And yet with its almost billion members and nearly $100 billion public market valuation, Facebook is shaping the digital narcissism of early 21st century culture more than any other social media company.

Most of all, Facebook is destroying our privacy as discrete individuals. And it's not just our kids who are revealing everything about themselves to their thousands of "friends" on Facebook. As Aisha Sultan and Jon Miller note in a chilling piece, "Facebook parenting" -- our obsession with posting data about our kids - is "destroying our children's privacy."

Sultan, a parenting columnist at the St Louis Post-Dispatch, and Miller, a researcher at the University of Michigan, whose article was based on interviews with 4,000 children, argue that we've created what they call a sense of "normality" about a world where "what's private is public." Kids are growing up, they explain, assuming that it's perfectly normal to reveal everything about ourselves online.

"And our children will never have known a world without this sort of exposure. What does a worldview lacking an expectation of privacy mean for the rest of society?" Sultan and Miller conclude with the eeriest of questions.

What it means, of course, is that we are creating a world in which our sense of identity, of who we actually are, is defined by what others think of us.  Social media's ubiquity means that we are losing that most precious of human things -- our sense of self . Our devices are always on; our "Timeline" (Facebook's product which greedily attempts to capture our entire life narrative) is there for everyone to see; we are living in public on a radically transparent global network that, by 2020, will be fed by 50 billion intelligent devices carried by the majority of people on the planet.

But the situation is actually more dismal than even Sultan and Miller acknowledge. The distinguished psychologists Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan have written about an entire generation of young men who, they say, have been "desensitized to reality" by online gaming and pornography. But what Zimbardo and Duncan forget to add is that much social media is no less addictive that gaming or porn.

Yes, digital narcissism is a narcotic.  But unlike online gaming or pornography, it is desensitizing all of us -- young and old, men and women alike -- to reality.  Imprisoned in our delusional social media bubbles, our Facebook saturated world has become a self-referential stream of real-time updates about what we just ate for breakfast.

Don't worry about whether the Facebook IPO is creating an economic bubble. The real bubble are the billions of delusional social media bubbles which are distorting our real sense of self and weakening genuine social interaction.

So what to do?

The less we publicly announce about ourselves, the more mysterious and thus the more interesting our private selves become. 

It's time to wake up to the truth about social media. Networks like Facebook have turned us into products in which their only economic value is our personal data. Like any other addiction, we need recognize its destructive reality.  Facebook is free because it sells our most intimate data to advertisers.  Forget about last week's dodgy IPO. The fraud is on anyone who has ever used Facebook.

Last year, I quit Facebook. It's a growing movement. I hope you'll consider joining me as a Facebook resistor.  [I quit too! - J]

But the solution goes beyond leaving Facebook. Our addiction to digital narcissism can only be broken by a new regime of strict self-censorship. For many of us, perpetually high on the narcotic of self-broadcast, this won't be any easier than quitting smoking or kicking that online porn or gaming habit. But remember, the less we publicly announce about ourselves, the more mysterious and thus the more interesting our private selves become.

There are political solutions too. We need to support governments in both the E.U. and the U.S. to protect online privacy through "do not track" legislation; force companies like Google to be more transparent with their use of our data and even enshrine, as the EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding is bravely championing, a "law of forgetting" on the Internet.

The market can also play a role. Let's embrace new technology which allows data to degenerate over time so our online data, like real world trash, eventually decomposes.

Let's support Internet start-ups like the strictly private social network EveryMe and the defiantly private search engine DuckDuckGo. And let's recognize, once and for all, that "free" is never really free and that we are much better off paying for apps and services that absolutely guarantee the protection of our private personal data.

At the dawn of our brave new networked 21st century world, we are faced with two options. Either, we succumb to the narcotic of digital narcissism, turn ourselves inside out and let our kids inherit a world in which the quiet mystery of the disciplined private self becomes a historical artifact.  Or we fight our growing addiction to social media so that we are no longer enslaved to the personal update, the tweet or the check-in.

Privacy or publicness? It's not a hard choice. Zuck-up or save the species. I trust you'll know which one to make.

German solar power = 20 nuclear stations!

Yep, those Germans sure are smart.  But there's just no way we in the U.S. could spend a few $ billion subsidizing an infant industry (solar power) that could wean us off foreign oil and not impose negative externalities.  Nope, only those super-efficient Germans can manage that.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Facebook, other social media, won't replace real industries

I've never regretted deleting my FB account.  And I admit I do not wish Zuckerberg or Facebook any commercial success for basically spying on people (albeit with users' permission, but increasingly less so), although, I suppose to his credit, Zuck has created something that millions of people "can't live without"... as long as it's free.  

As you recall, I pointed out that FB's annual revenue per unique user is about $4, pretty much the average for purely social media companies.  Whereas FB's annual profit per unique user in 2011 was only $1.20.

By Ross Douthat
May 26, 2012 | New York Times

THERE were two grand illusions about the American economy in the first decade of the 21st century. One was the idea that housing prices were no longer tethered to normal economic trends, and instead would just keep going up and up. The second was the idea that in the age of Web 2.0, we were well on our way to figuring out how to make lots and lots of money on the Internet.
The first idea collapsed along with housing prices and the stock market in 2007 and 2008. But the Web 2.0 illusion survived long enough to cost credulous investors a small fortune last week, in Facebook's disaster of an initial public offering.

I will confess to taking a certain amount of dyspeptic pleasure from Facebook's hard landing, which had Bloomberg Businessweek declaring the I.P.O. "the biggest flop of the decade" after five days of trading. Of all the major hubs of Internet-era excitement, Mark Zuckerberg's social networking site has always struck me as one of the most noxious, dependent for its success on the darker aspects of online life: the zeal for constant self-fashioning and self-promotion, the pursuit of virtual forms of "community" and "friendship" that bear only a passing resemblance to the genuine article, and the relentless diminution of the private sphere in the quest for advertising dollars.

But even readers who love Facebook, or at least cannot imagine life without it, should see its stock market failure as a sign of the commercial limits of the Internet. As The New Yorker's John Cassidy pointed out in one of the more perceptive prelaunch pieces, the problem is not that Facebook doesn't make money. It's that it doesn't make that much money, and doesn't have an obvious way to make that much more of it, because (like so many online concerns) it hasn't figured out how to effectively monetize its million upon millions of users. The result is a company that's successful, certainly, but whose balance sheet is much less impressive than its ubiquitous online presence would suggest.

This "huge reach, limited profitability" problem is characteristic of the digital economy as a whole. As the George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen wrote in his 2011 e-book, "The Great Stagnation," the Internet is a wonder when it comes to generating "cheap fun." But because "so many of its products are free," and because so much of a typical Web company's work is "performed more or less automatically by the software and the servers," the online world is rather less impressive when it comes to generating job growth.

It's telling, in this regard, that the companies most often cited as digital-era successes, Apple and Amazon, both have business models that are firmly rooted in the production and delivery of nonvirtual goods. Apple's core competency is building better and more beautiful appliances; Amazon's is delivering everything from appliances to DVDs to diapers more swiftly and cheaply to your door.

By contrast, the more purely digital a company's product, the fewer jobs it tends to create and the fewer dollars it can earn per user — a reality that journalists have become all too familiar with these last 10 years, and that Facebook's investors collided with last week. There are exceptions to this rule, but not all that many: even pornography, long one of the Internet's biggest moneymakers, has become steadily less profitable as amateur sites and videos have proliferated and the "professionals" have lost their monopoly on smut.

The German philosopher Josef Pieper wrote a book in 1952 entitled "Leisure: The Basis of Culture." Pieper would no doubt be underwhelmed by the kind of culture that flourishes online, but leisure is clearly the basis of the Internet. From the lowbrow to the highbrow, LOLcats to Wikipedia, vast amounts of Internet content are created by people with no expectation of remuneration. The "new economy," in this sense, isn't always even a commercial economy at all. Instead, as Slate's Matthew Yglesias has suggested, it's a kind of hobbyist's paradise, one that's subsidized by surpluses from the old economy it was supposed to gradually replace.

A glance at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent unemployment numbers bears this reality out. Despite nearly two decades of dot-com enthusiasm, the information sector is still quite small relative to other sectors of the economy; it currently has one of the nation's higher unemployment rates; and it's one of the few sectors where unemployment has actually risen over the last year.

None of this makes the Internet any less revolutionary. But it's created a cultural revolution more than an economic one. Twitter is not the Ford Motor Company; Google is not General Electric. And except when he sells our eyeballs to advertisers for a pittance, we won't all be working for Mark Zuckerberg someday.

Krugman: Ryan, Romney & Christie are 'fiscal phonies'

Maybe Christie didn't want to run for Prez. because he knew New Jersey's budget deficit and bad ratings from S&P and Moody's would come out during the campaign?  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Romney not economically insane enough for GOP?

Romney ought to be worried about further alienating his base.  He can't go around stating obvious facts, such as:

"Well because, if you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5 percent. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I'm not going to do that, of course."  

"If you just cut, if all you're thinking about doing is cutting spending, as you cut spending you'll slow down the economy." 

"I don't want to have us go into a recession in order to balance the budget. I'd like to have us have high rates of growth at the same time we bring down federal spending, on, if you will, a ramp that's affordable, but that does not cause us to enter into a economic decline."

No sir, that kind of talk is only for the reality-based community, not the Republican Party.

By Ryan Grim and Zach Carter
May 25, 2012 | Huffington Post

Friday, May 25, 2012

U.S. defense industry, taxpayers, keep NATO in business

In Chicago, the defense industry's grip on NATO was tighter than ever.  Make way for missile defense
By Alexander Zaitchik
May 24, 2012 | Salon

Britain: Our 'special' friends w/out benefits?

America is kind of like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian: you have to be ready to spend loads of money all over the world with us if you want to be our "special" friends.

Britain could soon be forced to abandon the "special relationship" with the United States because it may not be worth the cost in military spending, the head of the Armed Forces said Wednesday.
By Jon Swaine
May 23, 2012 | Telegraph

CBO: Budget cuts + tax hikes = recession in 2013

Let's not repeat the mistakes of history!

By Lucia Mutikani and Kim Dixon
May 22, 2012 | Reuters

A stalemate over how to tackle a series of fiscal deadlines at year's end would likely push the United States economy into recession in the first half of next year, the Congressional Budget Office warned on Tuesday.

A wave of U.S. tax hikes and automatic spending cuts - dubbed the "fiscal cliff" - are set to take effect in January unless Congress and the White House agree on ways to delay or revise at least some of them.

The CBO, the official budget and economic analyst for lawmakers, said the U.S. economy would contract at an annual rate of 1.3 percent for the first half of 2013 if lawmakers take no action to prevent the looming tax hikes and spending cuts.

"Given the pattern of past recessions ... such a contraction in output in the first half of 2013 would probably be judged to be a recession," the CBO said.

At the same time, CBO said growth would snap back in the second half of the year to 2.3 percent, though it did not offer an explanation.

Historically low tax rates enacted under former President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003, and jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed are both set to expire on Dec. 31, as is a temporary payroll tax cut.

In addition, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board reductions in spending on federal programs would begin to phase in as a result of Congress' failure late last year to find a comprehensive deal to cut the budget deficit.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner rekindled the debate last week over how to handle the pending deadlines when he declared that Republicans would not consider a boost to federal borrowing authority without a greater increase in spending cuts.

While the CBO did not explicitly address the debt-limit issue, it is among the potential decisions lawmakers face at the end of the year.

The CBO said that although taking action to prevent some of the tax hikes and spending cuts could boost growth in the short term, having no long term plan for "fiscal restraint" is not sustainable.

The conventional wisdom has been that lawmakers will take no action on any of these major issues until after the Nov. 6 elections.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned of a sharp fiscal contraction next year that could derail the U.S. economic recovery if lawmakers stalled. It also urged the government to move only gradually to tighten its budget.

"The programmed expiration of tax cuts and emergency unemployment benefits, together with automatic federal spending cuts, would result in a sharp fiscal retrenchment in 2013 that might derail the recovery," the OECD said in its latest economic outlook.

Wall Street economists forecast that fiscal policy could tighten by about $600 billion next year, or about 4 percent of GDP, if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement. Goldman Sachs estimates the "fiscal cliff" could shave nearly 4 percentage points from GDP in the first half of 2013.

Most economists, however, expect lawmakers to find a way to soften the blow.

In its forecasts, the OECD said the U.S. economy should grow 2.4 percent this year and 2.6 percent in 2013. Those projections assume the budget deficit is cut by 1 percent and 1-1/2 percent of GDP, respectively, this year and next.

The United States has run budget deficits topping $1 trillion for three straight years, and it is on course to do so for a fourth.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

School choice 'shell game' -- FOR SHAME!

So this is what school choice means?  Subsidizing kids who already attend private schools, or attracting star athletes?  What a farce.  

This is a silly Plan B after many states' voters have rejected publicly-funded private school vouchers.  These "scholarships" aren't publicly funded, proponents point out; they are a complicated tax-deduction scheme for corporations and tax-credit scheme for families, and a way for corporations to buy influence by helping politicians dole out favors by deciding which students get them.

A report by the Southern Education Foundation on Georgia's version of this "shell game" found that "from 2007, the year before the program was enacted, through 2009, private school enrollment increased by only one-third of one percent in the metropolitan counties that included most of the private schools in the scholarship program."

Here's how the scam works in Georgia:  

After Georgia's scholarship program was adopted, parents of children in private schools began flooding public school offices to officially 'enroll' their children.  Their plan was to fill out the paperwork even though they had no intention of ever sending their children to public schools.  According to the way the law was interpreted, the enrollments would make them eligible for scholarships.

Worst of all, it's Christian schools that are taking advantage of these new state laws: cynically "giving" while fully expecting to "receive" in return.  Not very Christian!

By Stephanie Saul
May 21, 2012 | New York Times

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stiglitz on austerity: 'Willful ignorance of the past is criminal'

This one is still worth reading, from my other favorite bearded liberal Nobel economist.

By Joseph E. Stiglitz
May 7, 2012 | Project Syndicate

This year's annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund made clear that Europe and the international community remain rudderless when it comes to economic policy. 

Financial leaders, from finance ministers to leaders of private financial institutions, reiterated the current mantra: the crisis countries have to get their houses in order, reduce their deficits, bring down their national debts, undertake structural reforms, and promote growth. Confidence, it was repeatedly said, needs to be restored.

It is a little precious to hear such pontifications from those who, at the helm of central banks, finance ministries, and private banks, steered the global financial system to the brink of ruin – and created the ongoing mess. Worse, seldom is it explained how to square the circle. How can confidence be restored as the crisis economies plunge into recession? How can growth be revived when austerity will almost surely mean a further decrease in aggregate demand, sending output and employment even lower?

This we should know by now: markets on their own are not stable. Not only do they repeatedly generate destabilizing asset bubbles, but, when demand weakens, forces that exacerbate the downturn come into play. Unemployment, and fear that it will spread, drives down wages, incomes, and consumption – and thus total demand. Decreased rates of household formation – young Americans, for example, are increasingly moving back in with their parents – depress housing prices, leading to still more foreclosures. States with balanced-budget frameworks are forced to cut spending as tax revenues fall – an automatic destabilizer that Europe seems mindlessly bent on adopting.

There are alternative strategies. Some countries, like Germany, have room for fiscal maneuver. Using it for investment would enhance long-term growth, with positive spillovers to the rest of Europe. A long-recognized principle is that balanced expansion of taxes and spending stimulates the economy; if the program is well designed (taxes at the top, combined with spending on education), the increase in GDP and employment can be significant.

Europe as a whole is not in bad fiscal shape; its debt-to-GDP ratio compares favorably with that of the United States.  If each US state were totally responsible for its own budget, including paying all unemployment benefits, America, too, would be in fiscal crisis. The lesson is obvious:  the whole is more than the sum of its parts. If Europe – particularly the European Central Bank – were to borrow, and re-lend the proceeds, the costs of servicing Europe's debt would fall, creating room for the kinds of expenditure that would promote growth and employment.

There are already institutions within Europe, such as the European Investment Bank, that could help finance needed investments in the cash-starved economies. The EIB should expand its lending. There need to be increased funds available to support small and medium-size enterprises – the main source of job creation in all economies – which is especially important, given that credit contraction by banks hits these enterprises especially hard.

Europe's single-minded focus on austerity is a result of a misdiagnosis of its problems.  Greece overspent, but Spain and Ireland had fiscal surpluses and low debt-to-GDP ratios before the crisis. Giving lectures about fiscal prudence is beside the point. Taking the lectures seriously –  even adopting tight budget frameworks – can be counterproductive. Regardless of whether Europe's problems are temporary or fundamental – the eurozone, for example, is far from an "optimal" currency area, and tax competition in a free-trade and free-migration area can erode a viable state – austerity will make matters worse.

The consequences of Europe's rush to austerity will be long-lasting and possibly severe.  If the euro survives, it will come at the price of high unemployment and enormous suffering, especially in the crisis countries.  And the crisis itself almost surely will spread. Firewalls won't work, if kerosene is simultaneously thrown on the fire, as Europe seems committed to doing: there is no example of a large economy – and Europe is the world's largest – recovering as a result of austerity.

As a result, society's most valuable asset, its human capital, is being wasted and even destroyed. Young people who are long deprived of a decent job – and youth unemployment in some countries is approaching or exceeding 50%, and has been unacceptably high since 2008 – become alienated. When they eventually find work, it will be at a much lower wage.  
Normally, youth is a time when skills get built up; now, it is a time when they atrophy.

So many economies are vulnerable to natural disasters – earthquakes, floods, typhoons, hurricanes, tsunamis – that adding a man-made disaster is all the more tragic. But that is what Europe is doing. Indeed, its leaders' willful ignorance of the lessons of the past is criminal.

The pain that Europe, especially its poor and young, is suffering is unnecessary. Fortunately, there is an alternative. But delay in grasping it will be very costly, and Europe is running out of time.

GOP Rep.: Only a corpse & a vegetable can restart Mideast peace process

When foreigners tell me that they're worried about American hyper-power, I remind them that the most powerful nation the world has ever known is run by guys like Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA).  I don't know if that makes them feel better or worse....

Republican Representative Joe Pitts responds to a constituent with a rather outdated statement
By Michal Shmulovich
May 15, 2012 | Times of Israel

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Stupid is: 'Does [a Christian] God Still Bless the USA?'

Said country singer-songwriter Lee Greenwood in his tee-ball interview with FOX about his new book: "... I decided to ask the question: are we still a Christian nation?  Are we changing so much that we're not being the same people as we used to be?  ... So it [the book] kind of support [sic] the theory that Christianity was born in the nation with our patriots."  Huh?  I always thought Christianity was born with Christ in the first century, but what do I know?

Greenwood continued just as stupidly, responding to the question about what he hoped for his book: "Um, well first of all I hope it brings unity.  I mean, I hope it awakens the patriots of America who, uh, believe that, uh, that we are still a Christian nation.  If you go somewhere in another part of the world, where in Europe or wherever, you're gonna see different faiths.  But when I've [sic] always believed we're a Christian nation from the beginning."  

Yeah, telling at least 24 percent of Americans that they are not patriots, nor can they be, should certainly unite us, you moron.  Secondly, it's just plain stupid and wrong to remark that Europe has more religions than the U.S.!  We're the world's melting pot, for God's sake!  Has Greenwood ever been to New York or Washington, DC?  And speaking of our history, have the Greenwoods of the America really forgotten what was the major religion of some 654,000 odd African slaves forcibly brought to the U.S.?  (Hint: it rhymes with lip balm and psalm.)

Another thing.  The world's three major religions all recognize the same One God, although they differ on the specifics.  Does that mean, in the U.S., that Jews and Muslims can't be patriots?  And I guess Hindus, Sikhs and atheists really have no chance at all.

You can say all this is kind of harmless, silly stuff by a guy who's not polished or ready to be put in front of a mike and hold forth on his views, and maybe so, but I see guys like Greenwood as the softer side of Christo-fascist bigotry that is offered up everyday on FOX and other mainstream outlets and it elicits hardly a whimper of protest.  If we understood what our country was about then this squeaky-voiced twerp's asinine assertions would be challenged loudly, immediately.  He wouldn't be silenced, nevertheless, the majority of polite, informed society, would never give him the time of day.

And oh, for the record: Mitt Romney is not a Christian.  He's a Mormon.  None of the major Christian sects recognize Mormonism as Christian.  (Not that that's gonna stop white Evangelical voters from supporting Romney.  And not that that makes Mormons better or worse than Christians... although some of Mormons' beliefs are really out there....  Religion is basically a club; either you're in or out, that's all.)  So I'm still waiting for Lee Greenwood, Mormon Glenn Beck, and FOXNews's bleach-blonde correspondents to take on that little inconvenient fact.  

May 7, 2012 | FOXNews

Forgotten history: How Britain supported Mideast tyranny

We in the West need to get educated about the history of the Middle East and Africa.  

Before we ask, "Why can't they get their act together?" we must first acknowledge the role our "democratic" societies played in encouraging repression by the state, and in using sectarian and tribal differences to divide and conquer nations.

It has always been about access to oil and other natural resources.  I know Americans especially hate that over-simplification, but really... What other explanation is there?  Because we cared so much about sandy Muslim lands?  And then there are the words of our leaders and diplomats who admitted as much.

Folks, git yerselves edumacated!

Max Blumenthal: Israel's 'fear society' criminalizes facts

The good news is that there are thoughtful, tolerant and informed liberal everywhere, including Israel.

The bad news is that liberal political speech that is dangerous to the powers that be almost everywhere, whether it's in Tel Aviv or Los Angeles, is easily quelled in so-called democratic, free-speech countries.  All police have to do is cite "potential to disturb the peace" to silence peaceful malcontents.  

FYI, the Nakba is the Palestinian name for the ethnic cleansing of formerly Palestinian lands in today's Israel of some 700,000 Palestinians in 1947-48.  So-called democratic Israel passed in 2009 a law banning discussion of the Nakba in its schools.  The Nakba is commemorated on May 15, the day after Israel's independence.  (It reminds me of another mass deportation of a Muslim people that occurred 4 years earlier and is commemorated on May 18....)

And FYI, the journalist behind this story, Max Blumenthal is an American Jew who usually writes very cutting and daring stories about the negative influence of money and religion on U.S. politics.

By Max Blumenthal
May 11, 2012 |

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Taibbi: How Wall St. killed Dodd-Frank after it passed

Concludes Taibbi, sadly:

But money never gets tired.  It never gets frustrated. And it thinks that drilling holes in Dodd-Frank is every bit as interesting as The Book of Mormon or Kate Upton naked. The system has become too complex for flesh-and-blood people, who make the mistake of thinking that passing a new law means the end of the discussion, when it's really just the beginning of a war.

It's bad enough that the banks strangled the Dodd-Frank law. Even worse is the way they did it - with a big assist Congress and the White House.
By Matt Taibbi
May 10, 2012 | Rolling Stone

It's safe to forget about the SAFE Act

I hope there is hope for the SAFE Act to break up the TBTF banks, or at least forbid them from having a "leverage ratio" of more than 10 to 1, but I suspect this bill will be DOA, thanks to the campaign money of Wall Street.

By Simon Johnson
May 10, 2012 | New York Times

'We just can’t find American people to do the work'

Americans don't want to do the work; and the federal government is paranoid about admitting illegals.  What a pickle!

By Sean Cockerham
May 7, 2012 | Idaho Statesman

Scientist: 'This is far from trivial'

Santino says: "Just minding my own mind over here, don't pay any attention to this rock in my hand."

"This comes very close to what is known as 'theory of mind,' which is the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others, and to understand that others have thoughts, desires and... Oww!  Who threw that *&!# rock at me!  Stupid *&*@!  monkey...!" said the smart primatologist.

OK, OK, so this is actually kind of trivial.  But it's interesting.  And I can't help siding with old Santino.  In the wilderness you wouldn't just casually stroll by a thing that could tear your arms off. Santino's just reminding his visitors to keep alert.

Poll: 1 in 6 voters admits they're morons

Hats off to the Public Religion Research Institute for taking this poll.  It's not every day that idiots willingly identify themselves as such.  Now we know that at least 17 percent of U.S. voters are morons, politically.  

The stupidest demographic of all?  White evangelical Protestants: 24 percent think Obama's a Muslim.

By Lauren Markoe
May 10, 2012 | Religion News Service

Michele Bachmann now a Swiss socialist (SERIOUSLY)

[Insert your joke here].

Here's mine: It's OK to be a godless socialistic country as long as you make tasty chocolates for the kiddies!

By Callum Borchers 
May 9, 2012 | Boston Globe

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bloomberg: Dem presidents create twice as many jobs

"...since Democrat John F. Kennedy took office in January 1961, non-government payrolls in the U.S. swelled by almost 42 million jobs under Democrats, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents...."

What more do I need to say?  Well, this: even our America-hating, crypto-Marxist President Obama has created over 3 million private sector jobs since Dubya's Great Recession officially ended in June 2009.  To put that in perspective, compare him to Dubya, who from Feb. 2001 to Jan. 2009 scored a net loss of 643,000 private-sector jobs.  And in an unremarked milestone, in April 2012, Obama finally surpassed the number of jobs he inherited from Dubya in the depths of the Great Recession in Jan. 2009: 111 million non-farm, private-sector jobs.  Slowly, slowly, we are headed in the right direction.

By Bob Drummond
May 8, 2012 | Bloomberg

Monday, May 7, 2012

Krugman: EU voters smarter than EU elites

Krugman aptly points out that austerity in Europe over the past 2 years hasn't worked.  It hasn't encouraged investors to invest or EU consumers to spend; nor has austerity lowered crisis countries' public borrowing costs.  Indeed, Ireland, the champion of European austerity, has higher borrowing costs than Spain and Italy!

Let's compare Europe to the U.S., which is projected to have between 2-3 percent GDP growth this year, depending whom you ask.  Meanwhile the IMF projects that Europe as a whole will grow 0.2 percent this year, and "emerging Europe," the countries less hard-hit by the crisis, will grow only 1.9 percent.  Austerity cases like Italy and Spain have fallen back into recession.

The U.S. has avoided austerity and thus repeat recession; it's growing slowly but steadily.  And yet U.S. conservatives want America to emulate Europe, even now after all the evidence is in.  Why? Why do they want us to copy failure?

By Paul Krugman
May 6, 2012 | New York Times

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday newsflash: France turning Socialist!

But wait, I'm confused.  Was France non-socialistic as of yesterday under Sarko but as of tomorrow it's bad?  Are there degrees of socialism?  Such as,  François Hollande is a 7 on the Socialist Scale of 1-10, with Lenin being a 10, and Sarkozy being a 5 and Obama being a __ ....?

International political economy is so complicated.  I think I'm just going to ignore this election and keep regarding France, and Europe as a whole, as socialistic, because that's so much easier to deal with.  

"Tonight, there are not two Frances. ... There is only one France, only one nation that is united with the same destiny," Hollande said.  Yeah, a socialist destiny.  Go sniff some artisanal cheese while you preside over a national strike for a 10-hour work week, François!

May 6, 2012 | CNN

Obama can't take credit for killing bin Laden?

First, I'll repeat that I am against Obama's giving the order to assassinate bin Laden.  It sent the wrong message.  They could have taken him prisoner.  Michael Moore summed up my feelings on this pretty well.

That said, Obama definitely has the right to take credit for his decision.  And it was his decision.  His SecDef Robert Gates, who was appointed by Dubya, called it the gutsiest decision he's ever seen a President make.

Moreover, Republicans don't have a leg to stand on, ideologically.  With the exception of Ron Paul, the Right has been in favor of targeted killings in the War on Terra.  And Romney, et al, have criticized Obama's conduct in foreign policy.  (Most notably concerning Iran; but stay tuned for another Obama "victory" when Iran agrees to admit international inspectors and give up its nuclear weapons ambitions, ahead of the November elections -- my prediction.)

By Sam Stein
May 6, 2012 | Huffington Post

Yves Smith: PBS whitewashed crisis, bailouts

If this is how the "liberal media" (PBS) takes on America's corrupt bankster-regulator nexus, then the conservative media can relax.  The fix is already in.  History has been re-written by the victors.

By Yves Smith
April 27, 2012 | Naked Capitalism

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bill Black: Geithner dismisses fraud as cause of crisis

Too bad there are no Bill Blacks in today's Treasury or the SEC. 

Tim Geithner is still parroting the lie that "stupdity" mixed with "greed" caused the financial crisis.  Never mind that most of Geithner's alleged "stupids" are still in charge at their Too Bigger To Fail Wall Street banks, and whatever that portends for future crises....  What Black can't fathom is how Obama's regulators dismiss, a priori, the possibility of fraud as a cause of the crisis. 

After the S&L debacle, a much less costly financial crisis for America, Black was partly responsible for referring 1,100 cases of fraud to prosecutors.  800 people ended up in jail.  This time, not one senior executive has even been charged with a crime.  That's a crime in itself.

By Bill Black
May 2, 2012 | Capitalism Without Failure

DC Johnston: SS is not going broke

By David Cay Johnston 
May 4, 2012 | Reuters

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Paul Ryan's guru: Our Medicare plan won't work

The mastermind of Paul Ryan's Medicare reform plan, Henry Aaron, has changed his mind, based on -- gasp! -- evidence that his theories didn't pan out: "The evidence to date is not encouraging," Aaron testified, noting a recent study that isolated the effects of competition on Medicare Advantage costs from government-related influences. "After controlling for all those factors, Medicare Advantage plans are more expensive than is traditional Medicare."

Premium support is key to Ryan's plan.  Ryan has assumed that if free markets are left to work by themselves (health insurance exchanges) then prices will eventually come down; and the gov't. should provide a small subsidy to pay for premiums in the meantime.

But Aaron went on to say, with Rep. Ryan in the audience, that premium support as envisioned in Obamacare should be left to work, to see if his ideas have any merit:

The passage of the Affordable Care Act means we have put in place a key element of the premium support idea for the rest of the population, namely health insurance exchanges.  The Medicare population is vastly more difficult to deal with than the population under the Affordable Care Act. We should prove that the health insurance exchanges work, get them up and running before we take seriously, in my view, calls to put the Medicare population through a similar system.

Aaron also noted that the current "pro-business" Republican Congress won't enact the strict regulation needed to prevent insurance companies gaming the system:  "The regulatory climate has changed.  It is far more hostile to the kinds of regulatory intervention that...I thought were essential."

By Michael McAuliff
May 3, 2012 | Huffington Post

Everything you've been told about the economy (by FOX, Limbaugh, et al) is right

I'm sure all you One Percenters and wannabes will want to rush out and buy this book by Mittens Romney's mega-millionaire buddy from Bain Capital, Edward Conard, and keep it next to your Bible or Book of Mormon.

Here's the best news, according to Conard: rent-seeking behavior doesn't exist!  Economists have got it all wrong.  Attempts by the rich to use politicians to augment their wealth don't happen.  It's not real!  We can all rest easy.  When it comes to investing their $ billions in lobbying and campaign donations, (as opposed to private ventures), they expect nothing in return for their investment but smiles and handshakes.