Friday, June 22, 2012

Absurd, terrifying history of counter-insurgencies

This is a fascinating brief history (complete with embedded film clips) of the absurd and terrifying results of Western "counter-insurgency" warfare, from Algiers to Vietnam to Iraq.

Personally I was shocked to learn that Gen. David "Surge" Petraeus found his inspiration in 2006 in none other than French military expert David Galula who advised the RAND Corp. and the U.S. military how to fight the Viet Cong.  Said Galula:

"Revolutionary warfare requires a revolutionary approach on both sides in the struggle.  Whereas in ordinary war the objective is to destroy the enemy and occupy his territory, the guerrilla's aim is to control the population.

"This, therefore, must be the aim of the counter-guerrilla as well."


"One basic difference between insurgency and counterinsurgency is that the insurgent starts out with nothing but a cause and grows to strength, while counterinsurgent often starts with everything but a cause and gradually declines in strength to the point of weakness."

And we all know how well Vietnam went for the U.S.

The point is that counter-insurgency, without any real cultural understanding of the native people, in the end always resorts to indiscriminate torture and killing.  First we westerners train our local "allies" in new, aggressive guerrilla-like tactics; then our "allies" lead us, their "masters," by the nose to wreak havoc on their personal enemies and/or rival sects and tribes, until the violence becomes criminal, absurd, and seemingly indiscriminate.  We kid ourselves into thinking we can sort the good guys from the bad.

By Adam Curtis 
June 16, 2012 | BBC

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Poll: 'Iraq had WMD' correlates with Birtherism

"The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" - Don Rumsfeld

Here is yet more evidence that Republicans are willfully divorced from reality.  Not surprisingly, there is a very strong overlap among Republicans who believe Saddam had WMD, and those who believe Obama was not born in the U.S.  

In both cases, no amount of proof can shake their pre-existing belief.

Such people are not competent to elect our leaders or run our country.  

By Dan Froomkin
June 21, 2012 | Huffington Post

How misinformed are Republicans about world affairs? If presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's assertion that Russia is "without question our number one geopolitical foe" is any indication, then the answer would appear to be very.

The poll, constructed by Dartmouth government professor Benjamin Valentino and conducted by YouGov from April 26 to May 2, found that fully 63 percent of Republican respondents still believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded in 2003. By contrast, 27 percent of independents and 15 percent of Democrats shared that view.

Jim Lobe, chief of the Inter Press Service's Washington bureau, reported the finding in his blog on Wednesday.

The Bush administration's insistence that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and might give them to terrorists was a key selling point in its campaign to take the country to war. It turned out to be untrue.

Debate continues over whether former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and other top officials knew there were no WMD, but intentionally deceived the American people and Congress because they were intent on attacking Iraq for less palatable reasons -- or whether they managed to convince themselves that it was true using cherry-picked intelligence.

There is no reality-based argument that Iraq actually had WMD, after extensive searches found none, but this is hardly the first time many Americans have been certain of something that simply wasn't true.

A Washington Post poll in September 2003 found that nearly 70 percent of all Americans were convinced that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- even though he was not.

Bush, Cheney and others consistently linked al Qaeda to Hussein in speeches they gave in the run-up to war, and the media rarely pushed back. But neither Bush nor Cheney continued to claim that there were actual WMDs in Iraq once the searches came up empty -- although they both continued to insist that Saddam had the "capability" to produce them.

Rather than a failure of the media, therefore, this latest poll result seems to indicate a refusal -- unique to the modern Republican Party -- to acknowledge facts.

According to this poll, an even larger proportion of Republican respondents who said Iraq had WMD -- 64 percent -- said they have either always believed (or have come to believe) that Barack Obama was born in another country, which he was not.

Overall, the poll found Republicans to be considerably more militaristic in their worldview than Democrats and independents.

In a finding that would indicate plenty of GOP support for yet another war in the Middle East, nearly two-thirds of Republicans said it's very likely that if Iran produces a nuclear weapon, it would use it against Israel.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The coming crisis of elderly poverty

It's good that older teabaggers suck at imposing their political views on younger generations; otherwise, we would slash their Socia Security, Medicare and Medicaid and make them spend their golden years in squalor and indignity.

But we're not gonna do that, because our progressive principles are too strong.  Sorry to break it to you, old-timers, but because of you, "Social Security and Medicare are going to have to be more generous, not less, than these programs are today."

By David Callahan
June 19, 2012 | Huffington Post

Most of the coverage last week of the Fed study on household wealth focused on the gigantic financial hit taken by nearly all Americans since 2007. Dig deeper into the report, though, and it makes for even scarier reading, as many of those people losing lots of wealth are older and don't have much time to recover before retiring.

In 2007, near the boom's height, older households (between 55 and 64) had a median net worth of $266,200. That figure included everything -- home equity, savings, 401(k)s, etc. -- and is hardly the kind of money people need to get through their golden years. By 2010, though, the nest eggs of Americans approaching retirement had shrunk dramatically, falling to $179,400 -- a 33 percent drop. The main reason for this, of course, was the collapse of the housing market, with home equity accounting for the lion's share of older Americans' net worth.

Older workers also experienced a drop in earnings, making it harder for them to stash away cash and make up for losses to their net worth. Indeed, barely over half of all families in the 55 to 64 group reported to the Fed that they saved money in 2010. You heard that right: Half of all workers hurtling toward retirement aren't putting away for the future. Yikes.

Another scary finding of the study: Only 60 percent of families, 55 to 64, even have a retirement account where they take advantage of tax breaks for retirement savings. And the median amount of money in such accounts is $100,000.

Of course, that's no surprise to us here at Demos, as we have recently been documenting the many shortcomings of the 401(k) system. Foremost among the faults of 401(k)s is that so many employers don't offer such plans to their workers. Another major problem: most workers don't build up a very big nest egg, even after decades in the labor force thanks to low contribution levels, stock market meltdowns, and loans taken out against their 401(k)s.

Not surprisingly, also, there is a huge disparity in who has access to a 401(k). According to the Fed report, 70 percent of Americans with a college degree have a retirement account -- compared to just 41 percent of those with only a high school diploma. The report shows, moreover, that such coverage for all groups declined somewhat between 2007 and 2010 -- reflecting a broader trend of more employers choosing not to offer 401(k)s.

Beyond the paltry assets of many older Americans, there is also the problem of debt among those in their fifties and early sixties. The Fed report shows that a great many older Americans carry credit card debt -- a worrisome trend that Demos documented a while back in our report, Retiring in the Red. Needless to say, it's not good to be scrambling to pay off your Amex bill when you should be putting away money for retirement.

Again, no big surprises from this data. Just more warning signs that the 401(k) system isn't working and that America is facing an epidemic of elderly poverty in the decades ahead -- a crisis that will make it very difficult to cut the big entitlement programs for seniors, which tends to be the linchpin of most centrist and conservative deficit reduction plans.

Indeed, it's hard to look at the data on how the broke the Baby Boomers are without concluding that Social Security and Medicare are going to have to be more generous, not less, than these programs are today. Strangely, few leaders in Washington seem to be tuned in to this grim reality -- or ready to deal with it.

Medical industry: Obamacare can't be killed

Gee, whaddya know?  The basics of "Obamacare" are here to stay no matter what, say hospitals and private insurance companies!

By Jay Hancock
June 19, 2012 | Kaiser Health News

Baker: What politicians won't say about U.S. economy -- MUST READ!

It's evident that Obama doesn't want to blame the bad economy on G.W. Bush, although he has every right to talk about the s**it sandwich that he was served up by his predecessor: two costly foreign occupations; 7 million jobs lost; and a burst housing bubble that removed $1 trillion a year from the U.S. economy.  I'm not sure most Americans understand the size of the hole we must dig ourselves out of.

Recently Obama got creamed by the media for saying the private sector was doing "fine," but in certain ways, it's doing better than just fine, as Dean Baker points out: corporate profits are at a 50-year high, and corporate taxes being paid are at a post-WWII low.  Gains in U.S. productivity are far outpacing gains in workers' wages.  And we have the best rating among larger countries for the ease of doing business.  Although my man Joe Stiglitz says our economy has hidden structural defects that the housing bubble only covered up, most economists, including my man Paul Krugman, believe the fundamentals of the U.S. economy are sound.  The problem is a gaping hole in aggregate demand.

Thus Romney's recycled Republican campaign mantra of "unleashing the private sector" is especially deceitful.  Where is all the pent-up demand supposed to come from that business investments are going to meet?  In other words, who in the world has the purchasing power to buy all the stuff that "unchained" U.S. companies are ostensibly going to produce once Romney has slashed their taxes and chainsawed their regulators?  

The truth is that we're in for a long, painful recovery that could be made a bit shorter and less painful with more government spending.  The multipliers of that gov't consumption would grow the economy and replace the spending with more tax revenue, rather than continuing to slash, slash, slash government while the economy shrinks in unison.

By Dean Baker
June 19, 2012 | Yahoo! Finance

The economy is certain to occupy center stage in the presidential race this fall. Unfortunately, neither Governor Romney nor President Obama is likely to give us an accurate account of the economic problems we are now facing.

Romney's efforts seem intended to convince the public that President Obama has turned the country into the Soviet Union, with government bureaucrats shoving aside business leaders to take the commanding role in the economy. He will have lots of money to make this case, which he will need since it is so far from reality.

Corporate profits are at their highest share as a percentage of the economy in almost 50 years. The share of profits being paid in taxes is near its post-World War II low. The government's share of the economy has actually shrunk in the Obama years, as has government employment. Perhaps Romney can convince the public that the private sector is being crushed by burdensome regulation and taxes, but that has nothing to do with reality.

A Better Explanation

Unfortunately, President Obama's economic advisors have not been much more straightforward with the American people, never offering a clear explanation of why the economy has taken so long to recover. They have pointed out that economies often take long to recover from the effects of a financial crisis like to the one we experienced in the fall of 2008, but that is not an explanation for why we have not recovered.

The basic story is actually quite simple. The housing bubble had been driving the economy prior to the recession. It created demand through several channels. A near-record pace of housing construction added about 2 percentage points of GDP to annual demand or more than $300 billion in the current economy.

The $8 trillion in ephemeral housing wealth created by the bubble led to a huge surge in consumption. Tens of millions of people borrowed against bubble-generated equity or decided that they didn't need to save for retirement. When house prices were going up 15 percent-20 percent a year, the house was doing the saving. The result was a huge consumption boom on the order of 4 percent of GDP or $600 billion a year.

In addition, there was a bubble in non-residential real estate that followed in the wake of the housing bubble. This raised non-residential construction above its normal levels by close to 1 percent of GDP, or $150 billion a year.

A Bubble Generated

Adding these sources of demand together, the bubble generated well over $1 trillion in annual demand at its peak in 2005-2007. When the bubble burst, this $1 trillion in annual demand vanished as well. That is the central story of the downturn.

To recover we must find some way to replace this demand; however, that is not easy. People will not go back to their old consumption patterns because they know they need to save more. Tens of millions of people have much less wealth than they expected at this point in their lives after they saw the equity in their homes largely vanish. Tens of millions of baby boomers are approaching retirement with almost nothing but their Social Security to support them.

Given the huge loss of wealth from the collapse of the housing bubble, it is not reasonable to expect consumption to rise to fill the demand gap. It doesn't make much more sense to expect investment to do the job. Historically, investment in equipment and software has been close to 8 percent of GDP. It is pretty much back to that level today. To fill the demand gap created by the collapse of the housing bubble, the investment share of GDP would have to nearly double to 14 percent.

This would be almost impossible to imagine at any time, but it is especially far-fetched at a time when much of the economy is operating far below its capacity. Businesses are unlikely to spend a lot of money expanding their facilities when the existing capacity is sitting idle regardless of how nice we are to job creators.

Boosting Demand

Over a longer term we can expect that net exports will fill the demand gap. If we bring our huge trade deficit close to balance by selling more abroad and importing less, it will provide a substantial boost to demand. However, this will require that the dollar fall in value relative to the currencies of our trading partners, making U.S. products more competitive. That is a process that will take time. With many of our trading partners also in severe slumps, we cannot expect any major improvement in our trade balance in the immediate future.

This leaves government as the only remaining source of demand. This is not a question of whether we prefer the government or the private sector. We need the government sector to fill the gap in demand because the private sector will not do it. And that will be true no matter how much we love the private sector and its job creators.

Until we get our trade deficit closer to balance, we will need large government deficits to fill the gap in demand created by the housing bubble. That is the simple reality that neither party seems anxious to tell the people.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Great Latvia Success Story!

"You can be this too!"   LOL

By Mark Fiore
June 13, 2012 | SFGate

Tom Engelhardt: It happens there, not here (Why they hate us)

The Value of American -- and Afghan -- Lives 
By Tom Engelhardt
June 17, 2012 | TomDispatch

It was almost closing time when the siege began at a small Wells Fargo Bank branch in a suburb of San Diego, and it was a nightmare.  The three gunmen entered with the intent to rob, but as they herded the 18 customers and bank employees toward a back room, they were spotted by a pedestrian outside who promptly called 911.  Within minutes, police cars were pulling up, the bank was surrounded, and back-up was being called in from neighboring communities.  The gunmen promptly barricaded themselves inside with their hostages, including women and small children, and refused to let anyone leave.

The police called on the gunmen to surrender, but before negotiations could even begin, shots were fired from within the bank, wounding a police officer.  The events that followed -- now known to everyone, thanks to 24/7 news coverage -- shocked the nation.  Declaring the bank robbers "terrorist suspects," the police requested air support from the Pentagon and, soon after, an F-15 from Vandenberg Air Force Base dropped two GBU-38 bombs on the bank, leaving the building a pile of rubble.

All three gunmen died.  Initially, a Pentagon spokesman, who took over messaging from the local police, insisted that "the incident" had ended "successfully" and that all the dead were "suspected terrorists."  The Pentagon press office issued a statement on other casualties, noting only that, "while conducting a follow-on assessment, the security force discovered two women who had sustained non-life-threatening injuries.  The security force provided medical assistance and transported both women to a local medical facility for treatment."  It added that it was sending an "assessment team" to the site to investigate reports that others had died as well.

Of course, as Americans quickly learned, the dead actually included five women, seven children, and a visiting lawyer from Los Angeles.  The aftermath was covered in staggering detail.  Relatives of the dead besieged city hall, bitterly complaining about the attack and the deaths of their loved ones.  At a news conference the next morning, while scenes of rescuers digging in the rubble were still being flashed across the country, President Obama said: "Such acts are simply unacceptable.  They cannot be tolerated." In response to a question, he added, "Nothing can justify any airstrike which causes harm to the lives and property of civilians." 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey immediately flew to San Diego to meet with family members of the dead and offer apologies.  Heads rolled in the local police department and in the Pentagon.  Congress called for hearings as well as a Justice Department investigation of possible criminality, and quickly passed a bill offering millions of dollars to the grieving relatives as "solace."  San Diego began raising money for a memorial to the group already dubbed the Wells Fargo 18.

One week later, at the exact moment of the bombing, church bells rang throughout the San Diego area and Congress observed a minute of silence in honor of the dead.


Dems, Repubs talk past each other on economy

This is what Obama was supposed to fix in three-odd years in the White House: a loss of 39 percent of Americans' net wealth during the Great Recession, according to the Fed.

In particular, the median value of Americans' stake in their homes fell 42 percent between 2007 and 2010.  That's particularly awful because: 1) most Americans' wealth is in their homes; and 2) construction, the hardest hit sector in this crisis, is usually the sector that brings us out of recession.  

Underwater houses and oversupply of housing are still the biggest obstacles to increased spending (demand) and investment, including in construction, hence hampering our economic recovery. Moreover, of the 8 million jobs lost during Dubya's recession, 2 million were in construction.

Obama should have done so much more, particularly by pushing mortgage modifications with principal reduction.  But instead he concentrated on giving $29 trillion to the Too Big To Fail banks.

But since Republicans don't believe in helping Main Street, they don't criticize Obama for that failure of leadership.  Instead, they argue what's held the economy back are Obama's "job-killing regulations," and not enough drilling, fracking and mining.  It's like they're living in a different country!  Our bipartisan dialog over the past two years has gone something like this:

Democrats:  Americans lost 39 percent of their net wealth during Dubya's Great Recession, mainly from the burst housing bubble.  Nevertheless, Americans are well on their way to reducing their private debts; and the U.S. is the only major Western economy to have decreased its ratio of total debt to GDP since the crisis.

Republicans:  The problem is the national debt!  Slash it now, even if it causes a depression! People who are unemployed and suffering now need to suffer even more so that their (unborn) grandchildren don't have to!

Democrats:  Let's not repeat the mistakes of EU countries that adopted strict austerity measures hoping to appease global bond markets and keep their interest rates low, only to cause zero-negative economic growth that scared away global bond markets and increased their interest rates and national debts.  

Republicans:  Adopt austerity measures now or we'll end up like those socialists in Europe!

Democrats:  636,000 state and local employees (firefighters, policemen, teachers, et al) have lost their jobs since the Great Recession.

Republicans:  States need more flexibility to fire their fireman, policemen and teachers!

Democrats:  China is investing $1.5 trillion in government subsidies for solar PV innovation over the next five years, even though they already control 50 percent of the world's solar market --  a market that has grown more than 5 times since 2007, with long-term growth prospects of 20-30 percent per year -- and export 90 percent.  Meanwhile, Solyndra has been the only U.S. government energy loan guarantee that has soured, 1.3 percent of America's relatively tiny $38 billion portfolio over the past 6 years.

Republicans:  Drill, baby, drill!  

So, as you can see, Republicans claim that they have all the answers, while it is evident that they don't understand the questions.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The morality of liberal & conservative economics

Lakoff and Wehling voice thoughts that I haven't been able to formulate as clearly. Obviously what they write is the truth.

Indeed, I have noticed for a while now how many conservatives seem to take thinly veiled pleasure in contemplating the economic suffering of those who ought to "learn their lesson" from the Great Recession: distressed homeowners; the newly unemployed; students in debt; European "socialists;" and of course poor minorities, always minorities.  Yet their bitter pills are never prescribed to Wall Street.  Why is that?  Lakoff and Wehling have the answer: conservatives see wealth as proof of one's morality.  Or as they put it: "The most moral people are the rich."  People with money can't be wrong; to them it's as simple as that.

By George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling
June 13, 2012 | Huffington Post

In his June 11, 2012 op-ed in the New York Times, Paul Krugman goes beyond economic analysis to bring up the morality and the conceptual framing that determines economic policy. He speaks of "the people the economy is supposed to serve" -- "the unemployed," and "workers"-- and "the mentality that sees economic pain as somehow redeeming."

Krugman is right to bring these matters up. Markets are not provided by nature. They are constructed -- by laws, rules, and institutions. All of these have moral bases of one sort or another.  Hence, all markets are moral, according to someone's sense of morality.  The only question is, Whose morality?  In contemporary America, it is conservative versus progressive morality that governs forms of economic policy. The systems of morality behind economic policies need to be discussed.

Most Democrats, consciously or mostly unconsciously, use a moral view deriving from an idealized notion of nurturant parenting, a morality based on caring about their fellow citizens, and acting responsibly both for themselves and others with what President Obama has called "an ethic of excellence" -- doing one's best not just for oneself, but for one's family, community, and country, and for the world. Government on this view has two moral missions: to protect and empower everyone equally.

The means is The Public, which provides infrastructure, public education, and regulations to maximize health, protection and justice, a sustainable environment, systems for information and transportation, and so forth. The Public is necessary for The Private, especially private enterprise, which relies on all of the above.  The liberal market economy maximizes overall freedom by serving public needs: providing needed products at reasonable prices for reasonable profits, paying workers fairly and treating them well, and serving the communities to which they belong.  In short, "the people the economy is supposed to serve" are ordinary citizens. This has been the basis of American democracy from the beginning.

Conservatives hold a different moral perspective, based on an idealized notion of a strict father family.  In this model, the father is The Decider, Dubya? -- J ] who is in charge, knows right from wrong, and teaches children morality by punishing them painfully when they do wrong, so that they can become disciplined enough to do right and thrive in the market.  If they are not well-off, they are not sufficiently disciplined and so cannot be moral: they deserve their poverty. Applied to conservative politics, this yields a moral hierarchy with the wealthy, morally disciplined citizens deservedly on the top.

Democracy is seen as providing liberty, the freedom to seek one's self interest with minimal responsibility for the interests or well-being of others. It is laissez-faire liberty. Responsibility is personal, not social.  People should be able to be their own strict fathers, Deciders on their own -- the ideal of conservative populists, who are voting their morality not their economic interests.  Those who are needy are assumed to be weak and undisciplined and therefore morally lacking.  The most moral people are the rich. The slogan, "Let the market decide," sees the market itself as The Decider, the ultimate authority, where there should be no government power over it to regulate, tax, protect workers, and to impose fines in tort cases. Those with no money are undisciplined, not moral, and so should be punished.  The poor can earn redemption only by suffering and thus, supposedly, getting an incentive to do better.

If you believe all of this, and if you see the world only from this perspective, then you cannot possibly perceive the deep economic truth that The Public is necessary for The Private, for a decent private life and private enterprise. The denial of this truth, and the desire to eliminate The Public altogether, can unfortunately come naturally and honestly via this moral perspective.

When Krugman speaks of those who have "the mentality that sees economic pain as somehow redeeming," he is speaking of those who have ordinary conservative morality, the more than forty percent who voted for John McCain and who now support Mitt Romney -- and Angela Merkel's call for "austerity" in Germany. It is conservative moral thought that gives the word "austerity" a positive moral connotation.

Just as the authority of a strict father must always be maintained, so the highest value in this conservative moral system is the preservation, extension, and ultimate victory of the conservative moral system itself.  Preaching about the deficit is only a means to an end -- eliminating funding for The Public and bringing us closer to permanent conservative domination. From this perspective, the Paul Ryan budget makes sense -- cut funding for The Public (the antithesis of conservative morality) and reward the rich (who are the best people from a conservative moral perspective). Economic truth is irrelevant here.

Historically, American democracy is premised on the moral principle that citizens care about each other and that a robust Public is the way to act on that care. Who is the market economy for? All of us. Equally. But with the sway of conservative morality, we are moving toward a 1 percent economy -- for the bankers, the wealthy investors, and the super rich like the six members of the family that owns Walmart and has accumulated more wealth than the bottom 30 percent of Americans. Six people!

What is wrong with a 1 percent economy? As Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out in The Price of Inequality, the 1 percent economy eliminates opportunity for over a hundred million Americans. From the Land of Opportunity, we are in danger of becoming the Land of Opportunism.

If there is hope in our present situation, it lies with people who are morally complex, who are progressive on some issues and conservative on others -- often called "moderates," "independents," and "swing voters."  They have both moral systems in their brains: when one is turned on, the other is turned off. The one that is turned on more often gets strongest. Quoting conservative language, even to argue against it, just strengthens conservatism in the brain of people who are morally complex.  It is vital that they hear the progressive values of the traditional American moral system, the truth that The Public is necessary for The Private, the truth that our freedom depends on a robust Public, and that the economy is for all of us.

'Mideast's only democracy' ethnically cleansed Gaza & West Bank for 27 years

Many of those prevented from returning were students or young professionals, working aboard to support their families.
By Akiva Eldar
June 12, 2012 | Haaretz

Nearly half of U.S. is ignorant

So this is what we're up against.  By we, I mean smart people.  A slim majority of Americans has enough brains and education to know that the human race was not born 10,000 years ago, i.e. Adam & Eve didn't actually bury each and every dinosaur and primate, who once lived side by side, in different sedimentary layers after they expired.

And -- surprise, surprise -- creationists are more likely to be Republican: 58 percent of Repubs believe that "God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years."  

If America wasn't so rich and powerful, it'd be the laughing stock of the world....

By Jahnabi Barooah 
June 5, 2012 | Huffington Post

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

MB360: 'Austerity for you, social welfare for the connected'

Right on, MB360!:
By the time people wake up from this slumber there will be no middle class.  The propaganda on the media tries to program people to feel guilty about having affordable quality education, access to healthcare, and the ability to purchase a home without going into hock for the rest of their lives.  Apparently what was once considered staples of the middle class is now washed away in the honor of "global competition" while major financial institutions are protected under the shield of government welfare and major paydays for CEOs.  Austerity for you and social welfare for those who know how to work the system.  As the net worth data highlights, not everyone is hurting from this new austerity world.

How to lose 40 percent of your net worth in 3 years – Americans see their net worth collapse during the recession. Federal Reserve survey highlights a case of austerity for the masses and social welfare for the politically connected.
June 12, 2012 | MyBudget360

'Surge' in U.S. military suicides

Support our troops!

Military Suicide Rate Surges To Nearly One Per Day This Year
By Robert Burns
June 7, 2012 | AP


Hollywood: The good One Percent

An actual restaurant receipt + "tip" left by a literal One-Percenter/banker/asshole

Since Rush Limbaugh started taunting President Obama with the moniker "Barack Hussein Kardashian" I had an epiphany.  True, Limbaugh's criticism is nothing new; he said the same thing about Clinton.  Conservatives have always seethed with jealousy over Democrats' close relationship with Hollywood and the entertainment business... and high culture, and pretty much anybody doing creative work.  And the majority of pro athletes.  (Gee, come to think of it, almost all these beautiful, interesting, smart and creative people are unabashedly liberal for some odd, unknowable reason....)

I admit, I find some of the Hollywood activists like Barbra Streisand, Jane Fonda, Tim Robbbins and Sean Penn annoying, sanctimonious know-it-all's at times.  In fact I get downright furious when they steal the show at protests organized by normal groups of liberals and give the MSM an excuse to label it a "Hollywood" event, thereby dismissing it.

Nevertheless, I have realized something important: Hollywood actors are the One Percent.  Less than that, actually.  They are the hyper-competitive free market on glorious display.  They call it show business for a reason.  These people are filthy rich because we fork over our hard-earned money to see their shows, year in, year out.  Nobody has given them anything.  And Hollywood has never, ever asked taxpayers for $14 trillion in bailouts.

And so, to the extent they are the One Percent, they are the good kind of filthy rich privileged assholes, if there is such a thing.  Indeed, most of them come from humble backgrounds.  Most know what it's like to be desperate and unemployed in their chosen profession, and struggle to pay the bills for years before making it big.  The Screen Actors Guild claims 120,000 members.  Yet how many of them do you see on the Big Screen, making $ millions?  The few dozens of people we associate with Hollywood are more like the One-Tenth of One Percent, in terms of true success.  And even those big stars who try to push their children into the business (as many sadly do) more often than not fail because -- guess what? -- nobody wants to pay to see their ugly, untalented, uninteresting kids on the stage or screen just because of who their mommy or daddy is.  In fact, it's amazing how few hereditary dynasties there are in the entertainment industry, compared to other sectors of the economy.  Talk about a level playing field!

Perhaps because of all that, many stars seem to have a sense of noblesse oblige, if you will, that is lacking among other private-sector elites, who think they are entitled to their easy wealth and may avoid giving any of it back.  ("Hey, my daddy spent $200 K on my Harvard MBA, I deserve my millions!")  To be sure, there always seem to be cameras around when big stars are donating money, but so what?  If Jamie Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein want to build schools in Africa or save Darfur, let them bring their sycophants from CNBC along, no problemo from my side.

Indeed, let's compare the Hollywood One Percent to the Wall Street One Percent.  Both get their money for nothing.  And yet what value do most of these big bankers add to the economy, weighed against the destruction they have waged on the world economy?  Hollywood only destroys the world in make-believe; Wall Street did it for real... and threatens to do it again with their now even Too Bigger to Fail Banks.  Wall Street assholes tell the unemployed to get a job at McDonald's, and take perverse pride in their system of wealth apartheid; whereas Hollywood stars, no matter how rich and famous, are required by their profession to credibly live out the emotional lives of average people.  That's partly why we love them, isn't it?  They don't just tell us they identify with us, they show us.  

By comparison, big bankers don't even try to act like they care.  An air of dismissive arrogance toward average plebes -- even to those lower down in their own companies! (google "Wall Street private elevator arrogant culture") -- is part of the required wardrobe, just like their Hermes ties.

Meanwhile, Wall Street assholes spend their free air time on CNBC, FOXBusiness and at Davos-type events complaining how President Obama doesn't love them enough.  It's not about raising their taxes or regulating them -- Obama doesn't dare do either.  They don't like him because he doesn't bow low enough... even after they destroyed the world financial system.  Being filthy rich, arrogant and powerful isn't enough for them -- they need the President's personal demonstration of respect to feel complete.  What babies!   Even Hollywood elites aren't that emotionally needy!  I mean, if entertainers want Obama's attention, they offer to raise a few million bucks for him, just like anybody in our pay-to-play political system.  

So the next time some conservative or Republican starts criticizing Democrats and Hollywood, you just remind them that Hollywood is the epitome of American free enterprise and free competition; and that they have the constitutional right (thanks, Dubya's SCOTUS!) to give their $ millions to any damn politician they please.  Even better, big stars don't expect anything in return for their donations -- unlike some bailed-out assholes we know all too well -- besides some face time and photo-ops.  If only all filthy rich political donors were so undemanding!  Then we might be able to reform health care, the banking system, you name it, and take our country back from the bad One Percent.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Interactive map: Which celebrity do-gooders 'own' what African countries

Sorry for posting something 2 years old but this is too good.  

I can't decide if this is more funny or infuriating:  "As Madonna's publicist explains, 'She's focusing on Malawi.  South Africa is Oprah's territory.'"

It is kind of interesting how neatly these celebrities have carved out their respective spheres of influence, a la great colonial powers of the past.  Do they talk to each other about it first?  Do they have G-8-type meetings in Hollywood to negotiate who gets to "save" what country?

An interactive map of the celebrity recolonization of Africa.
By Dave Gilson
March/April Issue | Mother Jones