Friday, August 31, 2012

Paul Ryan is not a Catholic and he said so

Remember when the Right said that Obama had to repudiate Jeremiah Wright if he wanted to be President?  Remember how they doubt Obama's confessed Christianity, even to this day?

Why then is Paul Ryan, a self-proclaimed Catholic whose own parish priest has come out against him, and who is opposed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, getting a free pass by the media on his love for the atheistic philosopher of self-interest, Ayn Rand?  Imagine if the Mormon Church came out and said that Mitt Romney did not represent their beliefs!

Here's what Ryan said about his hero Rand in a 2005 interview:

The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.... I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are.  It's inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns.

Note that he didn't mention the Bible, Jesus, Catholic catechism, or anything religious at all.  Ryan said his value system was formed by a dead atheist who hated religion more than Karl Marx.  

Now that Ryan is a VP nominee he's trying to back-track, saying he rejects Rand's philosophy; he just likes her economic ideas.  But not so fast.  Rand's economic ideas are based entirely on a morality of strict self-interest that is in direct conflict with Catholic-Christian teaching.

So, I'm going on the record to say I don't believe Paul Ryan is a Catholic or a Christian.  Nowadays we don't have to take a politician's word for it -- the Right taught us that with Obama.  So I don't buy Paul's recent coming to Jesus.  He was a grown man and an elected Congressman with a wife and children when he said that in 2005, and it's not like he's changed since then.  He's simply telling us now what he thinks we want to hear.  Remind you of anybody?

August 29, 2012 | The Colbert Report

Dave Barry's generic GOP convention speech

Liking Dave Barry is yet one more regrettable aspect of my teenage years.  Once I even wrote him a fan letter... in the voice of Beavis and Butthead.  To his credit, he responded in kind.  All that embarrassment aside, this time Dave really nailed it. Check out his All-Purpose Republican Convention Speech:

"Good evening. I stand before you tonight as the lieutenant governor of a critical swing state as well as a member of a minority group and CEO of the nation's third-largest manufacturer of curtain rods.

"Yes, I am living the American dream. But let me tell you about my childhood. My family was dirt poor. In fact we didn't even have enough dirt to go around. We all had to share one small dirt clod. At bath time, you would smear the clod onto yourself and sit in the bathtub; then, when you were done, you would smear the clod onto the next family member. The dirt didn't get washed away, because we also had no water. For that matter, we didn't have a real bathtub. We had to sit in an imaginary bathtub. And not a fancy imaginary bathtub, either: It was a nasty old used imaginary bathtub.

'But we did not complain. We did not ask the government for a handout. And do you know why? Because we also could not afford vocal cords.

"No, seriously, we did not complain because we believed in hard work. Everyone pitched in with the family business, even us kids. My father woke us up every morning before dawn and put us to work. It wasn't easy: You try selling curtain rods door-to-door at 4:30 a.m. People would throw rocks at us. We collected these and ground them up to make dirt.

"So it was a struggle, but we did not give up, and you know why? Because we believed in America, and freedom, and opportunity. Those are not just words, my fellow delegates: Those are key convention buzzwords, along with "leadership" and "jobs," that will be repeated 19 million times before we finally get out of Tampa.

"And that is why I am proud to support Mitt Romney for president of the United States, pause here for applause. Thank you. Mitt Romney will bring us the leadership that we need to create jobs through freedom and opportunity and the creation of jobs in an America that is free and has leadership resulting in opportunity and jobs out the wazoo. In closing, God bless America, and we also do custom installations."

Uh, huh-huh-huh... He said "wazoo."  Throwing rocks is cool.  Huh-huh-huh...

If you think like Beavis and Butthead then you don't need a caption for this pic.

The work of science continues...

Damnit!  I thought we were so close this time!  

One day, one day scientific advancement will allow us to live in a world where adorable monkeys never die.  Until then, the work continues....

By Molly Docherty
August 31, 2012 | New Scientist

'There's an app for that'...unless it's the truth

By Taylor Berman
August 30, 2012 | Gawker 

What's good for a business is not necessarily good for Business, or for Us

Since the 1980s, business schools have taught future executives that shareholder value maximization (SVM) is the best way to structure the operations of a firm and measure its performance.  Yet a few years ago, precipitated by the financial crisis, something changed.  Even Businessweek, one of the biggest cheerleaders of b-school since its ratings and admissions info is a cottage industry for the publication, acknowledged it in 2010: "How Business Schools Lost Their Way."  

No less than former GE CEO Jack Welch, the hero of many a business school case study, has seen the light and fallen from his high horse, calling SVM "the dumbest idea in the world."  Perhaps that's because GE lost 60 percent of its market value since Welch left in 2001?  Is GE that much worse now, or was it overvalued then?

Explaining what Welch meant, Forbes' Steve Denning argued that in practice, SVM is not so much about executives' maximizing the firm's value, but rather managing (or manipulating) investors' expectations of the firm's value.  Citing the example of GE, he concluded that Welch & Co. were clearly managing the firm's earnings with uncanny precision.  Denning argues for regulatory changes that could thwart the influence of managed earnings and managed expectations, and get business back to the previous dogma of management guru Peter Drucker that, "There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer."  

Using other words, celebrated business leader Steve Jobs echoed Drucker's classic sentiment to biographer Walter Isaacson.

Meanwhile, alternative theories like the Triple Bottom Line and Porter's Shared Value have started to gain credence.  More companies are at least paying lip service to it, and the related concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  Personally, I believe CSR is bunk.*  Expecting firms to focus on something other than their bottom line is misguided and naive, no matter what they state on their websites and annual reports.  It's not what they're made to do.  What are the internal incentives for firm employees to promote CSR?  Few or none.  Meanwhile, CSR gives irresponsible firms PR cover for their misdeeds.

(*When CSR really works is when consumer watchdogs, labor unions, environmentalists and other organizations shine the light of public scrutiny on the firm's lofty stated aspirations.  Yet this is just public regulation by other means -- and arguably not the most efficient means -- not the result of public altruism by the firm. And crucially, these public critics are often not even the firm's customers, shareholders or employees, but rather "stakeholders" in the most amorphous sense of CSR, meaning they may have no direct economic stake in the firm's performance.)

But I want to talk about the public arena.

Tragically, the theory of SVM has been accepted by many policy-makers and academics as the best model not only for individual firms, but also the model around which to structure our economy.  In effect, these public-sector cheerleaders of SVM gave up their prerogative and obligation to engage in precisely the kind of long-term planning for the common good that firm-level SVM is a incapable of doing.  What is good for the firm is the firm's decision; what is good for society is not.  It's ours, the people's.  

Yet too many have swallowed the Kool-Aid that the "invisible hand," i.e. the mystical, untraceable aggregate of millions of individual business decisions, leads to the best outcomes in all respects for society.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this misguided belief compels policy-makers and regulators not to meddle at all; they should get out of business's way and let the magical accounting of economic debits and credits do its thing.  Because better outcomes for society simply aren't achievable.  Nay, a committed group of human beings with a singular purpose has no purpose, in their view, outside the confines of the firm.  

(The one exception to this rule of human endeavor, conservatives tell us, is private charity, which they believe should replace publicly-funded safety nets.  Yet a simple look at poverty statistics pre- and post-LBJ show us that charity never was, and never can be, nearly adequate to "mop up" the Dickensian poor among us.  Indeed, the key failing of private charity -- with its high overhead, wasteful duplication, lack of scale, and most importantly, non-reporting on performance -- is that it is at its weakest when it's needed most: during economic downturns.)

Certainly, we must strive for a delicate balance between impeding business and giving it free dominion over society.  Unfortunately, today we hear many thinkers and politicians on the Right calling for chainsawing regulations and giving polluting industries and exploitative labor practices free reign over our economy -- all in the name of creating jobs.  Indeed, I have no doubt that gutting regulations would boost those firms' bottom lines in the short and even medium term, and even create jobs.  What worries me is the long term.  When our productivity suffers from lack of skills and capital that have been exported, never to return.  When unaccounted-for pollution creates enormous health costs which nevertheless exist in the real economy yet are absent in polluters' financial statements.  When we have privatized every government service and public asset until we are at the mercy of executives whose primary motivation is this year's bonus, and next year's "golden parachute."  

To whom then do we appeal for amelioration, when there is nobody to appeal to but impersonal market forces?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Obama: Made in the USA

As American as the 4th of July, mom's apple pie and Chevrolet!  (And Chevrolet still exists thanks to him.)  Order your buttons now!

(I hope this gives Birthers conniption fits.)
Team Obama Selling Anti Birther Made in the USA Campaign Buttons for $5

Taibbi: Romney's wealth came from debt

Taibbi pointed out: 

What most voters don't know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality that has somehow eluded America's top political journalists for two consecutive presidential campaigns: Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth.

And who financed Romney's leveraged buyouts?  Wall Street investment banks.  So don't hold your breath waiting for Romney to regulate the TBTF banks.  Romney gives two thumbs up to the financialization of the U.S. economy.

During the GOP primaries, Gov. Rick Perry called Romney a "vulture capitalist."  Taibbi gives an example of what Perry meant: KB Toys in Massachusetts. Bain bought it with just $18 million of its own cash and $302 million in borrowed money, and then induced KB to pay $120 million in dividends to Bain and its investors, and forced KB to take out $60 million in bank loans to finance it.  Plus KB had to pay for the debt that Bain took on to buy the company!  

Bain did the same thing to Dunkin' Donuts.  Taibbi noted that DD must sell 2.5 million cups of coffee every month just to service Bain's debt.  

Romney and Bain Capital were not in the business of "turning around" ailing companies or employing U.S. workers.  Romeny was about making a big, fast return for Bain and its investors by any means necessary.

So why does this matter?  Because Romney's job as POTUS would be the opposite of his job at Bain Capital: not to create a profit for a small in-group by loading up firms with debt and cutting jobs, but rather to create jobs and wealth for the most U.S. citizens possible and cutting the national debt.  Romney does not know how to do that.  Romney's business experience, his vast wealth, came from doing the exact opposite of what America needs today.

By Amy Goodman
August 30, 2012 | Democracy Now

Lysistrata-style 'sex strike' for gay rights?

Here's a brilliant idea:  U.S. gays fighting for their rights should follow the example of women in Togo and Colombia and refuse to have sex with their closeted-gay, publicly anti-gay lovers and johns from the GOP until the Republican Party amends its platform.

To achieve real results would take a few weeks, max.  

UPDATE: It took only 3 months for a prominent HuffPost blogger to come up with the same grand idea.  As far as I know I was the first... and I'm not even gay!  Damn, I'm good.

By Frida Ghitis
August 29, 2012 | CNN

Post-racial America...Yeah, right

Republicans yearn for an America where people are judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin...

... Unless those people are black, then Republicans throw peanuts and call them "animals."

Even FOX busts Ryan's big speech (sort of)

It's pretty bad when a Republican lies so much that even FOXNews has to bust him.

But let's not give FOX credit for coming to Jesus all on its own. Other news outlets were quick to point out Ryan's obvious mischaracterizations.  See herehereherehere and here.

Plus FOX let an op-ed contributor do the fact-checking, which makes it seem like one person's partisan view instead of the simple truth.

By Sally Kohn

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

DOS 'whistleblower': Nation-building FAIL

More than a few State Dept. officers disagree with Van Buren, and personally distrust his motivations (write a provocative book at/near retirement and get rich and famous) instead of blowing the whistle internally and trying to change the system from within.

Myself, I have a problem with his "greedy contractors"/"corrupt bureaucrats" line.  First, contractors don't write the contracts, the government does.  They just bid on the work and then implement it.  Secondly, Van Buren presents no evidence of U.S. government corruption.  

If Van Buren meant corruption within the Iraqi and Afghan governments, then, well, duh.  We never should have expected to funnel $ billions through these nascent institutions and trust all the money to be well-spent or even accounted for.  But in fact, trying to spend a lot of money fast -- and this was a hell of a lot to spend on development, more than any nation had ever tried to spend before in such a short time -- no matter who was managing it, was bound to lead to waste, poor accounting, missed and moving targets, sloppy work, etc.  

Those disagreements aside, Van Buren's central points are true and bear repeating: 1) using development aid as a counter-insurgency tactic almost never works; and 2) in our arrogance and cultural blindness we have failed to understand that they don't want to be like us, they don't even want most of our stuff.  This is especially true in Afghanistan.

Why has the US spent so much money and time "so disastrously trying to rebuild occupied nations abroad"?
By Peter Van Buren
August 28, 2012 | Al Jazeera

Mooners and Birthers and Truthers, oh my!

See, the flag is blowing. See? Because on holographic alien moons, there is no wind! BUSTED!

I didn't know that some Moon Landing Truthers (or just Mooners, as I like to call them) don't simply believe Armstrong's moon landing was faked, they believe the entire Moon was faked.  It's an alien hologram, you see?  

Some even believe that Armstrong didn't die of natural causes, he was silenced by Them, because after all these decades he was finally ready to blow the lid off the whole thing.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you Birthers, 9/11 Truthers, and One World Government nuts know that you're in very good company.  I think the Internet was invented especially for you: your little islands of nuttiness are now an archipelago.  If Obama is re-elected, they'll form a small continent.

(RIP, Neil Armstrong.  We know you meant to come clean in the end about aliens conspiring with the Knights Templar to direct world history.)

MB360: Commercial bank deposits hit $9 trillion...

... so why aren't banks lending to businesses and consumers?  And how is the Fed's continued zero-interest rate policy supposed to change things if, combined with the bailouts, it hasn't already?  

Says MB360:  "Banks have the means and ability to lend if they only had the desire to do so.  In spite of the US public bailing out the entire banking edifice, they have little faith in the American public."

Texas puts education first

Yep, America (especially Texas) certainly has its priorities in order.  ... Criminy!

A panaramic view of the press box and home side seating of the nearly completed Allen Eagle Stadium. The stadium features a sunken-bowl design, video scoreboard, multi-level press box, weight room, wrestling room, and an indoor golf facility.

What links Texas-Georgia Army plots?

Nope, there is definitely nothing about a Democratic POTUS that drives redneck Republicans batshit insane.  This is just normal.  It could happen to any president.  I'm sure that crazy white militia guys will be lining up to overthrow and/or assassinate Romney if he wins.  

(The "F.E.A.R." group's ringleader worked as a lowly page at the 2008 Republican National Convention.  You've come a long way, baby!)

Seriously though, after one Army soldier who was Muslim went nuts at Fort Hood some conservatives were saying we have Muslim jihad inside the U.S. Military.  Now that at least five white soldiers in Georgia were plotting genuine treason and mass murder of American civilians, and murdered their own friends to keep it a secret, what will those same anti-Muslim conservatives say, I wonder?  

Anyhow, I doubt these conservative jihad-mongers could be in deeper denial than the Army spokesman who stated: "Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield does not have a gang or militia problem."  I wonder what does qualify as a "problem" in their book?

And what will gun control opponents say to the fact that these soldiers legally purchased $87,00 worth of semi-automatic assault rifles, other guns, and bomb-making components in preparation to execute their plot?  That it was their God-given right to accumulate all those instruments of death?  Why am I asking these stupid rhetorical questions when I know all the answers?  

Here's the underlying connection between Hassan-Fort Hood and these guys: legal, accessible and deadly firearms.  Our inability to "infringe" on the the right of these citizens -- who had no criminal record -- to buy whatever kind of guns, clips and ammo they wanted, thanks to the 2nd Amendment, is outdated and absurd.  There is no good reason for anybody to buy them.

By Russ Bynum 
August 27, 2012 | Associated Press

Monday, August 27, 2012

GOP's 10 psychological defense mechanisms

"Oww... I can't admit I've been wrong all these years and wasted my life!..."

Republicans, know thyself!  

Here's a list of psychological terms for what your brains invent (with examples) to defend your fragile egos when you are presented with incontrovertible facts and arguments from the likes of moi:  

According to experts, the only known cure for these forms of cognitive dissonance is to buy a Chevy Volt and vote for Obama. 

By Paul Rosenberg
August 26, 2012 | Al Jazeera

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Crowdwire: Brand Obama vs. brand Romney

If presidential elections are a contest between brands, then Obama's seems to be doing better than Romney's.  Obama is also more talked about in social media than the iPhone.  (But how can people make 6.1 million social media comments about a stupid phone?!)

August 21, 2012 | The Crowdwire

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reagan judge: Deregulating banks was 'fundamental mistake'

Said Judge Richard Posner:

I was an advocate of the deregulation movement and I made -- along with a lot of other smart people -- a fundamental mistake, which is that deregulation works fine in industries which do not pervade the economy. The financial industry undergirded the entire economy and if it is made riskier by deregulation and collapses in widespread bankruptcies as what happened in 2008, the entire economy freezes because it runs on credit.

I just want to remind you what Mitt Romney proposes to do on bank regulation: "Repeal Dodd-Frank and replace with streamlined, modern regulatory framework."  In fact he's been reticent to discuss exactly what that means.  But it is telling that Romney's advised lawmakers "not to rush" to pass new legislation after bailed-out mega-bank JPMorgan lost at least $2 billion on risky gambling.

Friday, August 24, 2012

GOP gold bugs, rejoice

Gold: It's gonna work this time, trust us!

I'm sure this addition to the GOP platform has absolutely nothing to do with convincing Ron Paul's delegates not to wreak havoc from the floor of the Republican convention in Tampa. Nope, no siree.

August 23, 2012 | Reuters


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ames: Did banksters murder key whistleblower?

This "suicide" of a whistleblower on the day she was supposed to show up in court doesn't just smell fishy, it smells like a dried-out sea of dead fish.

Why Sandra Fluke is bad for Democrats

Is the highly-educated, elite liberal activist Sandra Fluke really the woman Obamacare was made for?

This might sound illiberal and sexist, but I oppose Sandra Fluke's headlining for the Democratic Party at this year's convention, or anywhere else.  

Her main political credential: publicly complaining, and then testifying before Congress, that her student health insurance at Georgetown law school did not cover her $1,000 annual tab for birth control.  (And, to be fair, her friends' birth control.) Then Rush Limbaugh wrongly called her a "slut," saying she wanted to be paid to have sex, making her a media martyr for her cause célèbre. 

Yet I look at her from a different perspective: that of your everyday, full-time working woman, whose median gross income was $37 K in 2010. 

Tuition alone at Georgetown Law is over $50 K a year.  Before Georgetown, Ms. Fluke graduated from Ivy League school Cornell University, where annual tuition is currently $41 K for non-residents and $25 K for residents. Altogether, the cost of Fluke's top-flight education was upwards of $250,000, or at least $36 K per year. Ms. Fluke's annual birth control expense was under 3 percent of that -- even less, if you add in books, fees, etc. Furthermore, Ms. Fluke's opportunity cost of choosing not to work was about double (probably much more) the median female earner's annual income.

I understand that every little expense matters and it all adds up... especially when one makes the voluntary choice to pursue graduate school instead of working full time, and at a very expensive school in an expensive city, at that.  Maybe she won scholarships, grants or other financial aid, I don't know; but the true cost of her education remains the same, regardless of whether she paid for it.

Added to that basic cost, Ms. Fluke said she deserved birth control, paid for by the university's health plan, or the government.  (I suppose she was indifferent from whom, as long as she got it.)  Although she cited her friend's ovarian cyst as justification for female students' needing affordable birth control, Ms. Fluke did not claim any such medical condition for herself.  

Currently, a 36-pack of Trojan-ENZ ARMOR Spermicidal Lubricated Condoms costs about $22, or 61 cents a condom.  Even if Ms. Fluke chose to have sex three times a day, 365 days a year, her annual birth control cost would total $670... if she made condoms her method of birth control.  Male condoms are 82-98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control, (they're more effective when used properly, just like any contraceptive method).  In addition, latex condoms are "highly effective" at preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs. Whereas The Pill and many other forms of birth control are zero percent effective at preventing STDs.

So on cost, and on science, condoms beat most other methods of sexual protection. But they're inconvenient.  I know.  That's what this is really about for many of the 11 million U.S. women taking oral contraceptives: their, and their male partners', convenience.  

So Rush Limbaugh was wrong: Ms. Fluke did not want to be paid to have sex.  She wanted to be subsidized for her choice of study over work; and she wanted her pleasure and convenience subsidized.

Here's a little-known fact as an aside: Ms. Fluke chose to attend Catholic Georgetown Law knowing full well its medical coverage policy. According to The Washington Post:

She researched the Jesuit college's health plans for students before enrolling, and found that birth control was not included. "I decided I was absolutely not willing to compromise the quality of my education in exchange for my health care," says Fluke, who has spent the past three years lobbying the administration to change its policy on the issue. 

Let's compare Ms. Fluke's plight to that of most other U.S. women.  In 2010, an estimated 18.7 million women had no health insurance -- not even a basic university medical plan like Ms. Fluke's -- and another 16.7 million women did have insurance, but with such large out-of-pocket costs that they were effectively underinsured.  

Look, I understand that access to affordable birth control is essential for many working women to take control of their reproductive lives and remain in the workforce.  Thanks to Obamacare, starting this month, all private insurance plans must cover female contraception.  However, there is a good chance that Obamacare will be repealed, all or in part, after the November elections.  That would be a tragedy for working women.

In this context, I don't agree that privileged women who choose expensive graduate education over work should be trotted out as spokeswomen for reproductive rights, working-class women, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.  

So it's not so much the content of Ms. Fluke's complaint that matters, but the personal context:  hers, versus the millions of uninsured and underinsured women who take any job they can get, whether it provides health insurance or not, and would not even dare to complain to their at-will employer or dream of testifying before Congress that they need contraceptive coverage.  

Was Ms. Fluke brave for standing up for herself and her classmates, knowing that she had little to lose, and certainly lots to gain... like becoming a prominent national activist?  Are most working-class women meek for not following suit?  Certainly not. Ms. Fluke didn't pretend to speak for them.  That's good, because she can't.  She cannot possibly be their articulate spokeswoman on this issue, because she cannot understand the fear and the desperation of working-class Americans chained to bad jobs just to keep their health insurance, or worse, working at any jobs they can find, even without health insurance.  

Once again, Democrats have decided to make a highly-educated, articulate white woman their chosen spokesperson on "women's issues," instead of a real working woman.  The media and other highly-educated white liberal women applaud Ms. Fluke's bravery.  Meanwhile, the plight of real working women, including women of color, is ignored.  

Real women, real everyday people, have to sacrifice things they need all the time. They don't expect to get it all, they pray for enough to get by.

Putting the media spotlight on such real women at the Democratic convention -- and how Obamacare will benefit them -- could actually help Democrats win in November, and thus make sure that law is protected.  Instead, Democrats have chosen to hoist up a polarizing figure who exudes white liberal entitlement and Ivory-Tower detachment.  

Bad strategy.  Hurts the party.  Puts Obamacare at risk.

The social compact, and the morality of gov't. budgets

Most conservatives don't believe anymore in the idea of the commonwealth.  They believe "freedom" means the freedom to do whatever they want, free from responsibility to help their fellow citizens.

Recently I was discussing the economic crisis in the EU with a Frenchman.  He said it's basically OK there, because people still believe in The Social Contract of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who was an inspiration to America's Founding Fathers.  Here's what old Jack wrote in 1762:

Finally, each man, in giving himself to all, gives himself to nobody; and as there is no associate over whom he does not acquire the same right as he yields others over himself, he gains an equivalent for everything he loses, and an increase of force for the preservation of what he has.

If then we discard from the social compact what is not of its essence, we shall find that it reduces itself to the following terms:

"Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole."

I agree completely with Lakoff that a budget is, among other things, a moral document.  It is not just revenues and outlays.  Conservatives are very concerned with personal morality and behavior; but they overlook or downplay the moral role of the State -- not in its directing individuals' personal behavior, but in upholding the common good, preventing abject poverty, defending the weak and infirm, and applying the law equally.  

By George Lakoff and Glenn W. Smith
August 22, 2012 | Huffington Post

Texas judge preparing for post-Obama uprising

Stop teasing us and just do it. Please!
It really is the 90s all over again.  I mean, there is not even a whiff of Obama making some move toward the UN, yet the same crazy conspiracy theories are rising up again.  

These people are ridiculous hicks and paranoid freaks.  The problem is that there are too many of them.  So Romney is joining in, encouraging the hysteria.  Once again, he's saying anything to win.  

By Nick Wing
August 22, 2012 | Huffington Post

Western hypocrisy on Pussy Riot

Indeed, hypocrisy can be pretty hypocritical sometimes.  Britain has no constitution therefore no constitutional protection of free speech.  And even in the U.S., accredited journalists are arrested with impunity simply for doing their job.  Check it out here.

By the way, the punk performance in an Orthodox Church during services was not the first time one of the Pussy Riot girls, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, engaged in some shocking political theater in an unexpected and inappropriate place, as The Exiled reminds us.

Well, at least it was in a biology museum, not a church.

By Simon Jenkins
August 21, 2012 | Guardian

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

'Romney does not get that this stuff is weird'

"I pay all the taxes that are legally required, not a dollar more," Mitt Romney said in his own defense.  Not quite.  This is not a matter of Mitt Romney  sitting down with H&R Block and itemizing his deductions.  Romney has access to expensive tax shelters and private tax opinions that in themselves cost $ millions.  They are not available to just anybody.  

Even worse, as Vanity Fair revealed, Romney is offshoring untold $ millions of his U.S.-earned wealth in Bermuda, the Caymans, Panama, Switzerland, etc.  Moreover, Romney's personal lawyer and trustee of his blind trust is also the president of Romney's Bermuda-based company.  That same trustee just happened to invest $10 million in Mitt's son's company because, you know, the fundamentals were sound.  It was nothing personal.  Mm-hm, right.

Even most millionaires don't have tax shelters this complex.  This is financial black ops exclusively for the Top Tenth Of One Percent.  Certainly most millionaires don't have $3 million in a Swiss bank account one year (2010) that is is gone the next (2011), arguably to bet against the U.S. dollar.  Nice credential for somebody who wants to be POTUS!  Even Newt Gingrich remarked, "I don't know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account."   

And how in the world does Mitt have $130 million in a tax-deferred IRA (!!!) from Bain Capital, when the maximum annual contribution by law was $30,000?  That's pretty damn incredible, if not illegal.  

Worst of all, Bain Capital was bad for the U.S. economy.  It pushed leverage and gave its owners big payouts while killing companies -- and employees -- that it acquired.  Bain were leeches and barbarians.  

Myself, I like my Presidents onshore, firmly rooted in the US of A.

By Nicholas Shaxson
August 2012 | Vanity Fair

Dean Baker: The $1.2 trillion healthcare tax

We Americans overpay $1.2 trillion a year for our medical care.  Whether it's paid to a private insurer or paid to the IRS for Medicare/Medicaid, it's still overspending.  

By Dean Baker
August 21, 2012 | Al Jazeera

Economists tend not to be very good at economics, which is one of the main reasons that the world is facing such a prolonged downturn. Few economists were able to recognise the enormous imbalances created by housing bubbles in the United States and elsewhere, or to understand that the collapse of these bubbles would lead to a prolonged period of stagnation in the absence of a vigorous response by governments.

Economists' grasp of economics has not improved since the start of the downturn. There is little agreement within the profession on the appropriate way to bring the economy back to its potential level of output. Nor is there even agreement as to whether this is possible.

Instead, many economists are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, yelling that we have to do something about budget deficits. This concern is bizarre since it is easy to show that the current deficit in the United States is almost entirely due to the collapse of the housing bubble. The loss of revenue from this collapse, coupled with the measures taken to offset the impact of the downturn, explain almost all of the rise in the deficit since 2007, when it was just 1.2 per cent of GDP.

The financial markets presumably recognise this fact, which is why the interest rate in 10-year Treasury bonds remains near a 70-year low. The more serious among the deficit hawks will acknowledge that current deficits don't pose a problem, but then point to scary projections of large deficits 10 years and further down the road.

While some of these projections can look scary these projections are driven almost entirely by projections of exploding health care costs. If the United States paid the same amount per capita for its health care as people in Canada, Germany or any other wealthy country we would be looking at long-term budget surpluses, not deficits.       

This is where the response of the deficit hawks is truly bizarre and shows their poor grasp of economics. They invariably complain that health care costs are hard to control, so instead we must rely on cutbacks to public sector health care programmes, like Medicare and Medicaid.

The reason why this response is bizarre is that a bloated health care sector has pretty much the same impact on the economy whether or not the government pays for it. The bloated payments for health care have pretty much the same impact regardless of who pays the bill.

To be concrete, imagine that because of their ability to use licensing restrictions to limit the supply of doctors, physicians in the United States can charge twice as much as their counterparts in Germany or Canada (that's pretty close to the reality). These excess fees have roughly the same impact on the economy as if doctors got German or Canadian salaries and the government imposed a tax of $100,000 a year on each physician. In both cases, patients would have an excessive amount of money drained from their pockets to pay for their doctors' services.

It would be the same story with an insurance industry that adds $200 billion a year or more to the cost of health care in the United States. From the standpoint of the economy, there is little difference between a situation in which insurers drive up the cost of care by $200 billion and a situation in which we have a more efficient system of health care delivery and the government imposes a tax on health care of $200 billion.

The same can be said of all the other areas where the enormous inefficiency of the US health care system drives up costs: drugs, medical equipment and supplies, and hospital services. In total, the difference between the cost of care in the United States and the cost in countries with comparable care, like Germany or Canada, comes to more than $1.2 trillion dollars a year.  According to the OECD's health care data, this would be the annual savings to the United States if its per person health care costs were equal to those in either of these countries.

You would think that economists would be upset over a $1.2 trillion annual tax due to the inefficiency of our health care system. This is at least an order of magnitude larger than most issues that economists spend their time worrying over. Yet there are few economists who make this obvious point when debates over the budget come up. Instead, they typically chime in with the choir saying that we need to cut the budget, not fix health care.

The cynical among us might point out that fixing the budget mostly means beating up on older people getting Social Security and Medicare benefits. Fixing health care means going after powerful lobbies like the insurers, the drug industry, and doctors. But whatever their motive, the facts are clear. The vast majority of economists in the United States are not especially concerned about a $1.2 trillion annual health care tax; they have much less important matters to take up their time. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Obama fights injunction against NDAA to keep unlimited detention

I admit I haven't been following this case or the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  It looks sinister.  The plaintiff said she voted for Obama.  

Certainly I don't demand this much security from my government, if this is how they choose to "defend" us from terrorists.

For his part Mitt Romney said during a GOP primary debate on FOX that he would also sign NDAA.  (Ron Paul, not surprisingly, is against NDAA.)  So on yet another issue, voters this November are presented with no real alternative.

By Tangerine Bolen
August 10, 2012 | Guardian

Voting should be preceded by an obstacle course

Hey, Democrat-district voters: your polling station is on the other side. 

"By and large, election officials, it's our job to make it easier for people to vote, not harder," said a Greene County election official in Dayton, OH.

Au contraire!  The ordeal of voting is a test of one's economic station and democratic mettle.  You should be willing to risk losing your minimum-wage job, and even swim across a moat full of man-eating alligators if you really want to get to your local polling station.  (Ideally, they'd have to pass through the Game like Kurt Thomas in Gymkata, but that would be too expensive to organize, unfortunately....)

Naturally, if you're fortunate enough to have a salaried position and your home county has excess funds to pay for early and extended voting, well... that's just one of the benefits that accrue to upstanding Americans who work hard, live right, and live in the right place.

To make sure that only the right people vote (wink-wink), we should make voting downright inconvenient and during work hours, when wage-earning commoners are least likely to go to the polls.  Because if they do vote, they'll just choose the candidates promising more government benefits that we property-owning lords of the manor must pay for.  And I say, harumph-harumph and tut-tut to that!  

By Dan Froomkin
August 18, 2012 | Huffington Post

Zogby: U.S. is a work in progress - NO WAY, JOSE!

Apparently, prominent pollster James Zogby is a fellow card-carrying member of the Blame America First crowd.  He wrote:  

America is, we are told, the exceptional nation: the greatest democracy, the greatest producer of wealth, the model nation that is envied by the world, a people destined to lead the world. In the language of those on the right, America becomes an idol, infused by the Creator with blessings and qualities so self-evident, that to question this article of faith is akin to heresy.   

I wonder why we are so insecure that we need to engage in endless self-praise. And I can't help but wonder what the rest of the world thinks of all this in the face of policies and behaviors that make such a wildly different statement.

He actually cares what the rest of the world thinks about us!...  That's a dead giveaway he feels guilty about American power and secretly despises its providential responsibility to lead the world, just like all liberals do.

Nevertheless, Zogby maintains that "America does have a good story to tell," which consists of U.S. liberals and progressives fighting and winning all the good fights: ending segregation; defending civil rights; establishing gender equality; the peace movement; consumer and environmental protections, etc.

"The American story is not one about a country that was born great. It is the story of a country that is struggling to become better," concludes Zogby.  Well, that just can't be squared with our Founding Myths.  If we were always great -- if indeed we were at our greatest at the time of our Founding Fathers -- then there is no getting better, only decline as we abandon their first principles.  Therefore, even though I still Blame America First, I must reject Zogby's hypothesis. 

Love it or leave it! ... Unless you hate America's gays, atheists, Muslims, minorities, labor unions, public education, Hollywood, intellectuals, NOW, the ACLU, the IRS... then you can stay.

By James Zogby
August 18, 2012 | Huffington Post

Sunday, August 19, 2012

An oldie but a baddie: Restricting the franchise

Ay-ay-ay.  In uncertain economic times even 18th century junk ideas get dusted off and put up for re-sale to credulous political consumers.  

I'm ashamed but not surprised that this Bill Flax person is from Cincinnati, one of the most reactionary cities on Earth.  Correction: the mostly white area surrounding the City of Cincinnati.  

By Bill Flax
August 4, 2012 | Forbes

The 'Swift Boating' of Obama underway

Probably these bogus charges will hurt Obama, no matter what.  After all, similar dirty tactics worked well against Sen. John Kerry, retroactively turning a decorated Vietnam war hero into some kind of pompous show-off.  

Anyway what the Romney campaign is doing is Hardball 101: turn your opponent's greatest strength -- in this case, Obama's lonely decision to assassinate bin Laden -- into a liability.  There's a good chance it'll work again.  

By Peter Bergen
August 19, 2012 | CNN

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Wall St. spent $4.2 billion lobbying since '06

More precisely, the entire Finance Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector spent that money lobbying, of which $879 million went directly to politicians' campaigns. That comes to $1,331 per minute spent influencing our elected leaders.  

How do you think your influence stacks up against theirs?  And remember, these titans of finance are the greediest and supposedly the smartest guys in America; if they spend that much money it means they think they'll get a good return on their investment.

You can use this Legislative Scorecard from Elect Democracy to see how much your Congressmen took from FIRE, and how loyal they were to FIRE in voting.  I can see, for example, that Rep. Geoff Davis [R-KY] took $1.6 million from FIRE and has a loyalty rating of 86 percent.  And KY Sen. Rand Paul [R-KY], who hasn't been in office long and has taken only $66,000, nevertheless has a 100 percent loyalty rating.  But nobody tops Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who took $6.2 million from FIRE since 2006... and of course displayed 100 percent loyalty.  

Actually, that's not entirely true: President Barack Obama received $44 million from FIRE since 2006.  Gee, I wonder where his loyalty is?

Taibbi: AG's Goldman catch & release shows Obama has no balls

"But what about Fast & Furious, wah-wah-wah!...".  Enough.  That's a deliberate distraction, a media fabrication meant to pull the wool over your eyes while the real crooks make their getaway.

Let's admit that Attorney General Eric Holder has a job and he's not doing it because Obama told him not to, because Obama's Wall Street donors told him not to. That's the real Eric Holder scandal. But don't hold your breath waiting for WSJ, FOX, GB, Rush, et al to talk about it, because letting the banksters off scott free is just what they want.

By Matt Taibbi
August 15, 2012 | Rolling Stone

Friday, August 17, 2012

U.S. under attack by terrorists

Folks, we're under attack.  It's the Enemy Within.  We have to do something.  They have infiltrated our government; Congress should investigate.  Time to start profiling, requiring loyalty oaths, and demanding that all the "moderate" conservatives (if there any) speak out against the terrorists in their ranks.  Because if they don't, that means they're for the terrorists.

'Euro-socialism' never works...except when it does

Hmm... lower income taxes, bigger social safety net, smaller deficit.  How do they get away with it?!  It must be the wine.  

By The Stig
August 14, 2012 | Daily Kos

Ryan's parish priest: 'He shouldn't wrap himself in Catholic teaching'

So here's what Father Stephen Umhoefer had to say about his hometown boy Paul Ryan:

Umhoefer also laments what he calls an excess of individualism in America that is sometimes abetted by politicians. He prepared for (Center for Media and Democracy) CMD a section of the church catechism, which states that the church "has refused to accept, in the practice of 'capitalism,' individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor." Umhoefer said that he doesn't mean to accuse Ryan of choosing individualism as a creed over community, but that Ryan's promotion of Ayn Rand to his staff and others is "an alternative universe of which he is a member.... What I call an excessive attitude of individualism is doing a great deal of harm to us as a society because we are forgetting society values," said Umhoefer.

"What I wish for Paul -- he is so smart and so articulate and has made this whole budget, which he can defend on his own view ... of how the economy and politics work. I wish he wouldn't bring in the Catholic church. He doesn't need to if his economic and political argument are strong, and I'm sure he believes that they are."

It's too bad Ayn Rand is dead, because then we could get quotes from her saying how Ryan is a "compromiser" who betrayed the absolute principles of Objectivism. Then we'd see how Ryan is neither Catholic nor Randroid, nor anything else at his core except a hyper-ambitious suck-up to the rich and powerful.

By Jonathan Rosenblum
August 15, 2012 | PR Watch

FOX: Iran says...

I didn't know Iran could talk!  That's amazing.  Regardless, what Iran said was wrong. Iran should apologize.  

August 17, 2012 | FoxNews

Review of: After Zionism: One State for Israel & Palestine

Yeah, come to think of it, the banal "two-state solution" is so early 20th century. Jeff Sparrow sums it up: 

The Zionist colonial project was based on expectations from a different age, taking for granted that homicidal anti-Semitism lurked ineradicably in the West, so that Jewish people would be relentlessly persecuted unless they lived under a Jewish state.

Those assumptions were wrong.

In the developed world, anti-Semitism has become an ideology of a crackpot fringe. And has Israel become a place of safety, a magnet for Jews the world over? On the contrary. Most Jews in the West have no intention of moving. Why would they? Omar Barghouti quotes former speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, about Israel: 'Few of us know any other existential reality apart from our unrelenting war with everyone, all the time and over all issues.'

By contrast, the underlying assumptions of the one-state solution are much more compatible with contemporary democratic sensibilities.

If the U.S. has a role to play in this conflict, it should be to support democracy, equal rights and inter-ethnic tolerance.  A one-state solution in a democratic, multi-ethnic Israel meets those criteria.

By Jeff Sparrow
August 16, 2012 | Overland

Why GOP Congressional staffer quit after 28 years


Mike Lofgren: Well, I would say that in today's GOP, Ronald Reagan would be considered too moderate. After all, he pleaded with Congress to pass a clean debt relief bill when the deficit threatened to get out of hand. He passed several tax increases.

Does that mean that Zombie Reagan is not the answer to the GOP's prayers?  Today, would the Party's Bachmanns, Palins, Pauls and Wests just as soon put a bullet through his rotten RINO brain?

By Joshua Holland
August 13, 2012 | AlterNet