Tuesday, January 29, 2013

AR-15s at Kroger: What the NRA and GOP have given us

Is this what you pro-gun right-wingers want??

Imagine being with your child or grandchild and seeing this guy walk into the Kroger or Walmart before you toting an AR-15. At that moment, I guarantee that you won't be thinking, "Hooray for the Second Amendment!" You'll immediately go into fight-or-flight mode, fearing for the life of your child. You might use your own gun, preemptively, if you have one, creating all kinds of deadly confusion.

You might dial 911 and precipitate a costly and dangerous emergency, or a standoff situation if the guy is itching for it. In any case, I guarantee that you wouldn't not feel terror, it's just human instinct.

This is the country that the NRA and GOP have given us. This is not the country of our grandparents; there's nothing "conservative" or traditionally American about a guy casually walking into a grocery store with a deadly weapon that can fire more than 120 rounds per minute.

And the best part? It was perfectly legal. This is looney tunes! This is America ca. 2013. (Sigh). 

By Hunter Stuart
January 28, 2013 | Huffington Post

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Bill Black: Loan fraud caused the Great Recession

Sorry, I hate to be that guy who keeps bringing up stuff that happened, like, six years ago, but getting the history right on the financial crisis that caused the Great Recession matters, 'cos this is gonna happen again.

I'm just going to quote two-fisted regulator Bill Black verbatim, because there is only so much condensing I can do:

The ultra brief version is (1) by 2006 roughly 40 percent of total mortgage loans originated were "liar's loans," (fyi, roughly half of all loans called "subprime" were also liar's loans -- the categories are not mutually exclusive, (2) the incidence of fraud among liar's loans is 90 percent, (3) an honest real estate lender would not make pervasively fraudulent loans because doing so would inevitably cause the firm to fail (absent a bailout), (4) liar's loans, however, are optimal "ammunition" for "accounting control fraud", (5) investigations (and logic) have confirmed that it was overwhelmingly lenders and their agents who put the lies in liar's loans, (6) no lender was ever required or encouraged by the government to make or purchase liar's loans -- the opposite was true, the government discouraged such loans and industry documents confirm this fact, (7) liar's loans make an excellent "natural experiment" because even Fannie and Freddie were not encouraged to make these loans -- because they did not aid them in meeting the "affordable housing goals", (8) Fannie and Freddie, eventually, purchased enormous amounts of liar's loans for the same reason that the investment banks (not subject to the CRA or any affordable housing goals did) they created massive (albeit fictional) short-term accounting income, which flowed through to the bonuses of many Fannie and Freddie executives. Let me put these data in another format -- by 2006, lenders were making over two million fraudulent liar's loans annually. Fraudulent liar's loans grew massively because lenders (and purchasers) created perverse incentives to make and purchase massive amounts of these fraudulent loans.

This level of fraud is massively greater than during the S&L debacle, where accounting control fraud never became a dominant national lending strategy. Liar's loans grew so rapidly, and became such a large share of the market that they constituted the loans "on the margin" that hyper-inflated the financial bubble, which drove the Great Recession.

A liar's loan, by the way, is a low-documentation or no-documentation home mortgage loan. This is not the same as a subprime loan, where the lender (usually a bank) knows the borrower has bad credit, sketchy employment history, etc., and therefore gives the borrower a higher rate of interest to compensate the lender for taking such a risk.  

So, the whole line that "lenders were greedy" during the housing bubble is only half true. Mobsters and bank robbers are also greedy, you could say. I'm greedy. You're greedy. Children are greedy with cookies and crayons. The difference is that robbers and banksters are also criminals. Financial fraud and lending fraud are crimes.

Besides the media and of course Wall Street actively covering up this fraud, Dubya and especially Obama deserve the most blame and contempt for referring zero fraud cases to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. Sums up Black:

One of our mantras in white-collar criminology is: "if you don't look, you won't find." The Frontline documentary begins the process of explaining what those of us who are aware of what a real investigation is and what it requires have been saying for years -- neither the Bush nor the Obama administration has been willing to conduct a real investigation of the elite banksters whose frauds made them wealthy and drove the financial crisis and the Great Recession. This is one of the hallmarks of crony capitalism. It cripples our economy, our democracy, and our integrity.

[...] Any bank that is too big to fail and to prosecute is a clear and present danger that should be promptly shrunk to the point that it can no longer hold the global economy hostage in order to extort immunity from the criminal laws for the controlling officers who became wealthy by being what Akerlof and Romer aptly described as "looters."

By William K. Black
January 26, 2013 | Huffington Post

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Study: The more Repubs know, the crazier they are

Let's recall the famous quote first attributed to American humorist Josh Billings and paraphrased by Ronald Reagan, among others: "It ain't ignorance causes so much trouble; it's folks knowing so much that ain't so."  Check it out:

75 percent of Republicans, but only 56 percent of Democrats, believed in at least one political conspiracy theory. But even more intriguing was the relationship between one's level of political knowledge and one's conspiratorial political beliefs. Among Democrats and independents, having a higher level of political knowledge was correlated with decreased belief in conspiracies. But precisely the opposite was the case for Republicans, where knowledge actually made the problem worse. For each political knowledge question that they answered correctly, Republicans' belief in at least one conspiracy theory tended to increase by 2 percentage points.

Well, we liberals already knew that FOX and talk radio make you stupider. Now we have proof.

Tinfoil: the official headgear of the GOP. Get yours today!

By Chris Mooney
January 24, 2013 | Mother Jones

Work is getting old

The Republican Party keeps getting older, while old people keep getting poorerConnection?

By Hamilton Nolan
January 25, 2013 | Gawker

The "American Dream," which is dead, is to work a steady job for four decades or so, buy a house, watch some football, make some pineapple upside-down cake, and then retire at age 65 with a little pension to enjoy your useless time before death. Every single part of that setup is now crumbling to pieces.

You can't find a steady job. If you can, you can barely afford to rent, much less buy. Football and cake will both kill you. Retirement is a pipe dream. What does this all add up to? The fact that these days, turning 65 means "Here is your Wal-Mart greeter training packet. Please familiarize yourself with its contents." From a new US Census report:

In 1990, 12.1 percent of the population 65 years and older was in the labor force, compared with 75.6 percent for 16- to 64-year-olds during that time. By 2010, the labor force participation rate of those 65 years and older had increased to 16.1 percent, a 4.0 percentage point change. For 16- to 64-year-olds, the national labor force participation rate was 74.0 percent in 2010 (1.6 percentage points lower than in 1990). Within the 65 and over population, 65- to 69-year-olds saw the largest change, increasing from 21.8 percent in 1990 to 30.8 percent in 2010, a 9.0 percentage point increase, compared with a 5.0 percentage point increase for 70- to 74-year-olds and a 1.0 percentage point increase for people 75 years and older.

That's number-speak for "lots of old people have to f**king work now." The only upside is that they're taking jobs away from teenagers (who will rob them) (then fill our jails) (paid for by your tax dollars) (then later be released without skills and unable to find employment) (and rob you).

Dems have always championed the 'out-groups'

Political analyst Bill Schneider found a way to tie together the old and new Democratic Party:

Notice that the Democratic Party changed its ideology, from anti-government to pro-government. But the party did not change its allegiance. The Democratic Party remained the party of out-groups. Only now, those out-groups saw the federal government as their ally, not their enemy. Under President Obama, the Democratic coalition includes working and single women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, gay people, young people, Jewish voters, educated professionals, and the "unchurched" (the one-fifth of Americans who say they have "no religion").

That's the New America. For different reasons, they all see themselves as out-groups. They see the federal government as a force that protects their interests and promotes their values. They see the Republican Party as the party of entrenched wealth and privilege (i.e., Mitt Romney). What's changed is that the New America is becoming the nation's majority. Democrats have carried the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential elections.

Let's hope Schneider's right, and government isn't a dirty word in the U.S. anymore. Next we'll restore for the words liberal and progressive the respect they deserve.

By Bill Schneider
January 25, 2013 | Huffington Post

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What a Catholic priest must do to get noticed these days

Just in case you thought the premise of the hit TV show Breaking Bad was a bit far-fetched, here is yet more proof that truth is stranger than fiction. (I'm late to the game on BB; I'm only through Season 2 so far.)

Jeez, it looks like we're running out of places to hammer any more nails in the Catholic Church's coffin. 

(BTW, I have concluded, based on all available evidence, that for the Church to take action against one of its priests the first time he is caught committing a felony or molesting somebody, he has to be running buck naked, high on PCP, through a shopping mall on Black Friday on live TV while carrying a sack-full of kidnapped kindergartners and screaming, "I am Satan Claus, come and get me!" Talk about having somebody's back! And the job security! Man, even the Cosa Nostra isn't as tight-knit and loyal to its own as the Catholic Church.)

By Neetan Zimmerman
January 18, 2013 | Gawker

What a Day to Appreciate Guns Across America

You can't make this stuff up, folks. Well, I guess you can't be surprised though. 

And the day's not even over yet, there could very well be more accidental discharges before they finally put their guns away and go to bed!

Just think: If every day were Gun Appreciation Day (aka "Shoot Yourself Or The Unlucky Guy Next To You Day"), there could be at least 1,460 more accidental shootings of the most deserving dumbasses a year. Oh, one can only dream!...

By Taylor Berman
January 19, 2013 | Gawker

Two people were wounded Saturday afternoon after an accidental shooting at the Dixie Gun and Knife Show in Raleigh, North Carolina. The incident apparently occurred at a security check point when the owner of a 12-gauge shotgun was asked to remove his gun from its case. Somehow, the gun discharged, shooting a man in the hand and a nearby woman in the side.

Meanwhile, in an entirely unrelated incident, a man at the Medina County Gun Show was shot and injured later Saturday afternoon.

As the Daily Intelligencer notes, today is both Gun Appreciation Day and Guns Across America. What a perfect way to celebrate!

UPDATE: And there was another shooting. A man shot himself in the hand while loading his gun outside the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife Show gun show in Indianapolis.

Obama must consider 'zero option' in Afghanistan

Excellent commentary by Michael Boyle. President Obama must seriously consider the "zero option" -- full withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan by 2014 -- for three reasons:

1)  U.S. troops are just targets for the Taliban. So far a sizable U.S. presence there hasn't been able to root them out; a smaller force won't do any better.
2)  Having a base with a small U.S. presence won't equal "influence" over Afghanistan or its government, despite what many Republicans and neocons believe.
3)  Keeping U.S. troops there as advisers/trainers gives Afghanistan's government a scapegoat when its military cannot perform, as well as fosters a "culture of dependency" in the Afghan military that has only 1 out of 23 brigades that are combat-ready.

Here's his upshot:

It is now time for the US to look seriously at the zero option and to develop plans for removing all combat troops, except for a small special operations force to target exclusively on the 100 or so surviving al-Qaida operatives remaining. However many Americans remain there, the war against the Taliban needs to be President Karzai's from 2014 onwards, and the consequences of failure should be owned by him.

After more than 2,156 US troops killed and 18,109 wounded (pdf) since 2001, and more than $590bn given in aid, it is time to call an end to America's war in Afghanistan. With such losses, it is hard to accept that the US war in Afghanistan will end without a decisive victory, but keeping substantial American troops present in the country indefinitely will confer no real political or strategic advantages – while risking death and injury to even more young Americans.

Guns and the media-mental illness red herring

The NRA and the Big Gun lobby are making the following fallacious argument right now in opposing restrictions on large magazines and semi-automatic assault weapons:

1) Mental illness, violent TV/movies, video games, etc. are more to blame than guns for gun violence.
2) These "causes" are really hard to address, for a variety of practical and legal-constitutional reasons. 
3) Since we can't do much about these causes, we shouldn't do anything about guns themselves.

This argument is absurd. It is basically saying, "Since we can't control everything, we can control nothing." Wrong. We can control legally the sale of guns and ammo. All Congress has to do is act.

No, change won't happen overnight. But if we stick to our guns (pardon the pun) and stop going back and forth on gun control every 10 years, then eventually we will see results. 

Call 'assault weapons' what you want, the result's the same

Many pundits and analysts have been recently pleading, predictably, that we don't understand what "assault weapons" really are. Here are just a couple of examples:

Is it fair to call them 'assault weapons'?

Some myths about assault weapons

It reminds me of the nutty '90s, before and after President Bill Clinton's assault-weapons ban, when gun nuts like G. Gordon Liddy used to maintain, pedantically, that what the Crime Bill really banned were "assault-type weapons." As if that made any difference.

Look, whatever you call them, these high-capacity, semi-automatic firearms are not used to bake souffle, hunt deer or protect a home. They are offensive weapons designed to kill a lot of human beings very quickly.

And that's just what Adam Lanza did at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012. 

Afterward, investigators found "multiple 30-round magazines and hundreds of bullets" where he killed 26 people, most of them 6- and 7-year-olds, in a matter of seconds, with a semi-automatic .223 rifle. Some of the victims were shot as many as 11 times at close range. One of the semi-automatic pistols on Lanza was never even used. It wasn't needed. The other 10 mm pistol found on Lanza was used only once... when Lanza shot himself in the head. 

The irony of Walmart's health exchanges

Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes. Take Walmart. Its profitable business model requires hiring only part-time workers and paying them minimum wage with no benefits -- including no health insurance.

Now Walmart wants to open its own "health insurance exchange" under Obamacare. Walmart already runs its own medical clinics and pharmacies.

When it comes to using Walmart's buying power and marketing power to negotiate with insurance companies to give its customers a good deal on health insurance, that's just dandy and a valid reason for Walmart to flex its free-market muscles.

So why can't Walmart do the same for its own employees' benefit? In state after state, impoverished Walmart employees receive more Medicaid and food stamp benefits than any other company. That's right: U.S. taxpayers subsidize health coverage for Walmart's employees by Walmart's design; meanwhile, Walmart plans to turn around and sell health coverage to U.S. taxpayers. Huh-what?!

And Walmart's opening health insurance exchanges at its stores is doubly ironic, because the same "free-market" forces that allow it to negotiate cheaper insurance for its customers, are exactly the same forces that would allow the U.S. Government, under a single-payer health insurance system, to win even better deals for all of us. But then that would be goddamn "socialism."  Whereas it's "capitalistic" to overpay for the same thing.

And oh, by the way, the Walton family that controls Walmart is wealthier than the bottom 40 percent of Americans, combined. God bless America!  

P.S.  Read Ralph Nader's recent wonderful open letter to Walmart CEO Mark Duke here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Report: NCAA sports socialism is a net financial LOSS

Read the scoreboard and weep, sports socialists:

“The belief that college sports are a financial boon to colleges and universities is generally misguided," the [Delta Cost Project] report states. "Although some big-time college sports athletic departments are self-supporting – and some sports may be profitable enough to help support other campus sports programs – more often than not, the colleges and universities are subsidizing athletics, not the other way around.”

Think about that. If you are an American man, quite likely your free-time enjoyment, pride in your home city, maybe even your own self-esteem, all come from government-subsidized sporting events featuring immature teens and young adults doing a kabuki dance of "amateur" athletics.

Dontcha think that's kinda weird?

Now, if only we could get the Tea Parties mobilized against all this waste and fraud in higher education, as the cost of college skyrockets and the quality of our higher education plummets, then maybe something would change!....

By Kevin Kiley
January 16, 2013 | Insider Higher Ed

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Basel III: TBTF banks drag us back to the brink

(HT: Vern).  I don't pretend to get this 100%. But here's the upshot: the evil TBTF banks have successfully lobbied for lower liquidity (i.e. cash) requirements from the international "Basel III" Committee on Banking Supervision. Specifically, the banksters have been fighting to include riskier (read: shittier) securities in the numerator of the so-called Liquidity Coverage Ratio that banking regulators use to assess the riskiness of a bank.

Why is liquidity important, and why are the mega-banks lobbying to lower the liquidity requirements? Because the 2007-08 financial crisis started with the collapse of AIG, which in turn caused a run on banks when they couldn't honor their deposits and pay their creditors (because AIG was supposed to "insure" the banks' riskier investments that were a toxic house of cards). In other words, everybody everywhere had a shortage of cash simultaneously, leading us to near-collapse of the global financial system... until the U.S. Treasury, Federal Reserve and other central banks stepped in with huge amounts of free cash for the banks, which continues to this day.

So... now older and wiser, our banking regulators were supposed to pass Basel III reforms to prevent this from happening again... but the banksters and their lobbyists are patient and persistent, and have continued pushing to restore risk, since the only way they can make huge profits for themselves at our expense is through huge amounts of leverage (i.e. using borrowed money to buy assets and securities).  

I know it's tempting to let your eyes glaze over and ignore this stuff, or just buy into the myth that "irresponsible borrowers" and the FMs caused the Great Recession, but you really need to pay attention and tell your Congressmen that you care about banking supervision.  The mere fact that they (the banksters) care about this and spend $ billions to prove it, while you and I are silent, puts them at a huge advantage. 

By Mayra Rodriguez Valladares
January 7, 2013 | American Banker

Monday, January 7, 2013

GOP's 'Blazing Saddles' bluff on debt ceiling (AGAIN!)

By mocking CNN's Ali Velshi on the debt ceiling, Rush Limbaugh proved Velshi's point that Republicans don't understand the difference between the debt ceiling and the debt (which comes from spending authorized by Congress).

No, Rush and the rest of you, the debt ceiling is not like the spending limit on your credit card. Bad analogy. It might be a fitting analogy if you were allowed, in some crazy alternate universe, to set your own credit limit on yourself...and then decided to exceed that limit every 6-12 months without paying down your balance, and then "threatened" to default on your own debt and ruin your credit history as an inducement to yourself to stop spending so much, without really intending to cut any expenses except groceries for your kids and prescription drugs for your elderly mother, but not your gun club membership or ammo purchases. 

I know, I know... that doesn't make much sense, it's still a pretty bad analogy, but that's as close as I can come to describing, in household-finance terms, (since that's all Republicans will understand), what the Republican Congress keeps doing to itself -- and to us, by extension.

As Walter Dellinger, the former solicitor general under Bill Clinton, remarked, the House Republicans' stance on the debt ceiling is like that scene in Blazing Saddles when Sheriff Bart (played by Cleavon Little) takes himself hostage by pointing his own pistol at his head, where the townspeople are Wall Street, cable news and most of the media:

Bart: [low voice]  Hold it! Next man makes a move, the ni**er gets it! 
Olson Johnson:  Hold it, men. He's not bluffing. 
Dr. Sam Johnson:  Listen to him, men. He's just crazy enough to do it! 
Bart: [low voice]  Drop it! Or I swear I'll blow this ni**er's head all over this town! 
Bart: [high-pitched voice]  Oh, lo'dy, lo'd, he's desp'it! Do what he sayyyy, do what he sayyyy! 
[Townspeople drop their guns.  Bart jams the gun into his neck and drags himself through the crowd towards the station
Harriet Johnson:  Isn't anybody going to help that poor man? 
Dr. Sam Johnson:  Hush, Harriet! That's a sure way to get him killed! 
Bart: [high-pitched voice]  Oooh! He'p me, he'p me! Somebody he'p me! He'p me! He'p me! He'p me! 
Bart: [low voice]  Shut up! 
[Bart places his hand over his own mouth, then drags himself through the door into his office
Bart:  Ooh, baby, you are so talented! 
[looks into the camera
Bart:  And they are so *dumb*! 

Yep, Republicans sure must think we're dumb to keep pulling a Sheriff Bart on us again and again....

Sunday, January 6, 2013

BOMBSHELL: Lead to blame for ADHD, urban crime and low IQ

I remember reading several years ago an article about the eerie correlation between the use of leaded gasoline and national crime rates (outside the U.S., too), with about a 20-year lag time, and thinking this was a real bombshell in social science research. 

But this discovery was dismissed even by the "lib'rul" mainstream media and never got a fair hearing. Why? Probably because this theory doesn't fit the traditional Right-Left / Nature v. Nurture debate about the causes of crime. This isn't about genes or upbringing, it's pure brain chemistry. It also deprives a lot of folks like the Rudy Giuliani's of the world a pet issue on which they made their careers. This is not to mention America's well-funded and lobbied prison-industrial complex that tells us that more prisons and tougher sentencing are to thank for lower crime rates.

Now MJ is back with more research that's been done in the meantime and it looks pretty legit. As journalist Kevin Drum points out, "econometrics consistently fails to explain most of the variation in crime rates."  Levels of lead -- specifically Pb(CH2CH3)4 -- however, do pass the econometrics test.

So if this is true -- and it looks like it still is borne out by the data -- then what are some of the implications?

1. Here we have a huge case of economic spillover or "negative externalities," as economists like to call it, for when an economic decision costs society more than its private or "market" cost does. Innocent children end up paying for it; and then later, their innocent crime victims. 

2. We have a lurking danger in our urban areas among populations least equipped to clean it up. The cost of a real, nationwide cleanup of houses with lead paint, lead pipes, and urban topsoil would be $20 billion per year for 20 years!  However, MJ argues that the benefits in lower crime rates could be $200 billion per year, or a 20-to-1 return on investment.

3. Trying to clean this stuff up in the wrong way can make it worse, spreading lead dust that is currently "locked" into lead-based paint or up to 6 inches of urban topsoil.

4. This theory explains, at least partially, why murder rates in cities are always higher than in smaller towns... but also why the crime rates in big cities everywhere have been going down, down since the 1990s.

UPDATE (01.07.2013): A buddy tipped me off that one American engineer/chemist, Thomas Midgley, Jr., was responsible for both leaded gasoline and many CFCs that cause the greenhouse effect. Thanks, dick!

New research finds Pb is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic. And fixing the problem is a lot cheaper than doing nothing.
By Kevin Drum
January-February 2013 | Mother Jones

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sandy relief vote shows the New GOP's true colors

You can criticize 67 "No" votes in the House of Representatives -- all Republicans -- against the Superstorm Sandy relief bill that passed unanimously in the Senate on a few grounds. Take your pick:

Man-made global warming. Total free-market fail: we're consuming too much, using too many fossil fuels, and Sandy is the blowback (pun intended). How are free enterprise and hands-off government supposed to deal with this? Republicans' reply: they're not. Learn to swim. That goes for your house and belongings, too.

If, "You made your bed [by consuming too much], now swim in it," was their answer, I might give them some points for scientific principle, but that's not their point of view. In their world, free markets are supposed to fix everything.

Not MMGW. Ditto the above. Although we didn't do anything wrong and burning everything we can dig out of the ground has no effect on our climate, nevertheless, the climate inextricably smacked us down and it's beyond the power of rugged individualists or "free markets" to fix the damage in a time frame and a cost that's allocable and acceptable. So then what?  [Crickets chirping.]

Government exists to keep us safe. So... a super storm that knocks out basic services in the Center of the Universe, New York City, doesn't meet that standard?  So WTF is government for then? To dole out radio spectrum frequencies to Clear Channel?

So by Republicans' logic and ours, opposing relief for victims of Sandy makes no sense. So what is their logic, if any? It's simple: government shouldn't do jack, ever, except fight the Nazis and maybe some bearded baddies who live in caves 5,000 miles away. Er, uh... just like the Founding Fathers wanted.

Even the next GOP Presidential nominee unloaded on Speaker Boehner and the House GOP for its failure to act.

This is an object lesson, folks. The GOP is being taken over by a "devil-take-the-hindmost" philosophy, otherwise known as libertarianism. (But with the 2 P's -- pot and prostitution -- to make it make this jagged pill more palatable to youths and corporate hotshots.)  Don't be fooled!

Friday, January 4, 2013

The myth of the murderous Muslim

Let's get educated so we can put an end to all the ignorant Islamophobia in the West!  Here's one myth dispelled:

Somewhere jihadis are killing everyone they come across, more or less, but still Muslim dynasties remain in power, their wealth increases, the urbanisation of their population increases and they leave behind magnificent public and private structures, which suggests they had quite a bit of free time. When the Ottoman Empire finally collapsed at the end of World War I, its capital, then called Constantinople, was over 50 percent non-Muslim. This is not to suggest the Ottomans were liberal democrats. But it also suggests they were remarkably tolerant for their time. Probably no other city in Europe was so diverse. 

By Haroon Moghul
January 3, 2013 | Aljazeera

M. Moore: We don't 'support our troops'

Well said!  Nothing I could add.

By Michael Moore
January 3, 2013 | MichaelMoore.com

I don't support the troops, America, and neither do you. I am tired of the ruse we are playing on these brave citizens in our armed forces. And guess what -- a lot of these soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines see right through the bull**** of those words, "I support the troops!," spoken by Americans with such false sincerity -- false because our actions don't match our words. These young men and women sign up to risk their very lives to protect us -- and this is what they get in return:

1. They get sent off to wars that have NOTHING to do with defending America or saving our lives. They are used as pawns so that the military-industrial complex can make billions of dollars and the rich here can expand their empire. By "supporting the troops," that means I'm supposed to shut up, don't ask questions, do nothing to stop the madness, and sit by and watch thousands of them die? Well, I've done an awful lot to try and end this. But the only way you can honestly say you support the troops is to work night and day to get them out of these hell holes they've been sent to. And what have I done this week to bring the troops home? Nothing. So if I say "I support the troops," don't believe me -- I clearly don't support the troops because I've got more important things to do today, like return an iPhone that doesn't work and take my car in for a tune up.

2. While the troops we claim to "support" are serving their country, bankers who say they too "support the troops," foreclose on the actual homes of these soldiers and evict their families while they are overseas! Have I gone and stood in front of the sheriff's deputy as he is throwing a military family out of their home? No. And there's your proof that I don't "support the troops," because if I did, I would organize mass sit-ins to block the doors of these homes. Instead, I'm having Chilean sea bass tonight.

3. How many of you who say you "support the troops" have visited a VA hospital to bring aid and comfort to the sick and wounded? I haven't. How many of you have any clue what it's like to deal with the VA? I don't. Therefore, you would be safe to say that I don't "support the troops," and neither do you.

4. Who amongst you big enthusiastic "supporters of the troops" can tell me the approximate number of service women who have been raped while in the military? Answer: 19,000 (mostly) female troops are raped or sexually assaulted every year by fellow American troops. What have you or I done to bring these criminals to justice? What's that you say -- out of sight, out of mind? These women have suffered, and I've done nothing. So don't ever let me get away with telling you I "support the troops" because, sadly, I don't. And neither do you.

5. Help a homeless vet today? How 'bout yesterday? Last week? Last year? Ever? But I thought you "support the troops!"? The number of homeless veterans is staggering -- on any given night, at least 60,000 veterans are sleeping on the streets of the country that proudly "supports the troops." This is disgraceful and shameful, isn't it? And it exposes all those "troop supporters" who always vote against social programs that would help these veterans. Tonight there are at least 12,700 Iraq/Afghanistan veterans homeless and sleeping on the street. I've never lent a helping hand to one of the many vets I've seen sleeping on the street. I can't bear to look, and I walk past them very quickly. That's called not "supporting the troops," which, I guess, I don't -- and neither do you.

6. And you know, the beautiful thing about all this "support" you and I have been giving the troops -- they feel this love and support so much, a record number of them are killing themselves every single week. In fact, there are now more soldiers killing themselves than soldiers being killed in combat (323 suicides in 2012 through November vs. about 210 combat deaths). Yes, you are more likely to die by your own hand in the United States military than by al Qaeda or the Taliban. And an estimated eighteen veterans kill themselves each day, or one in five of all U.S. suicides -- though no one really knows because we don't bother to keep track. Now, that's what I call support! These troops are really feeling the love, people! Lemme hear you say it again: "I support the troops!" Louder! "I SUPPORT THE TROOPS!!" There, that's better. I'm sure they heard us. Don't forget to fly our flag, wear your flag lapel pin, and never, ever let a service member pass you by without saying, "Thank you for your service!" I'm sure that's all they need to keep from putting a bullet in their heads. Do your best to keep your "support" up for the troops because, God knows, I certainly can't any longer.

I don't "support the troops" or any of those other hollow and hypocritical platitudes uttered by Republicans and frightened Democrats. Here's what I do support: I support them coming home. I support them being treated well. I support peace, and I beg any young person reading this who's thinking of joining the armed forces to please reconsider. Our war department has done little to show you they won't recklessly put your young life in harm's way for a cause that has nothing to do with what you signed up for. They will not help you once they've used you and spit you back into society. If you're a woman, they will not protect you from rapists in their ranks. And because you have a conscience and you know right from wrong, you do not want yourself being used to kill civilians in other countries who never did anything to hurt us. We are currently involved in at least a half-dozen military actions around the world. Don't become the next statistic so that General Electric can post another record profit -- while paying no taxes -- taxes that otherwise would be paying for the artificial leg that they've kept you waiting for months to receive.

I support you, and will try to do more to be there for you. And the best way you can support me -- and the ideals our country says it believes in -- is to get out of the military as soon as you can and never look back.

And please, next time some "supporter of the troops" says to you with that concerned look on their face, "I thank you for your service," you have my permission to punch their lights out (figuratively speaking, of course).

(There is something I've done to support the troops -- other than help lead the effort to stop these senseless wars. At the movie theater I run in Michigan, I became the first person in town to institute an affirmative action plan for hiring returning Iraq/Afghanistan vets. I am working to get more businesses in town to join with me in this effort to find jobs for these returning soldiers. I also let all service members in to the movies for free, everyday.)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

More cheating at U.S. business schools

Another entry in the "cheater nation" file. Notice how many of these stories happen at U.S. business schools, you know, those prepping grounds for our future business leaders, who are mythologized as the smartest and ablest among us. Yeah, right.  

Then these business whizzes go on to do great things like muni fraudsecurities fraudloan fraud, selective amnesia, and made-up LIBOR rates.

"Cheaters prosper," that's today's lesson.

January 2, 2013 | Huffington Post

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The temporary triumph of the Tea Party

Here's an interesting take on the Tea Party movement:

The twist in the Obama-era is that some of the conservative backlash has been directed inward. This is because the right needed a way to explain how a far-left anti-American ideologue like Obama could have won 53 percent of the popular vote and 365 electoral votes in 2008. What they settled on was an indictment of George W. Bush’s big government conservatism; the idea, basically, was that Bush had given their movement a bad name with his big spending and massive deficits, angering the masses and rendering them vulnerable to Obama’s deceptive charms. And the problem hadn’t just been Bush – it had been every Republican in office who’d abided his expansion of government, his deals with Democrats, his Wall Street bailout and all the rest.

Thus did the Tea Party movement represent a two-front war – one a conventional one against the Democratic president, and the other a new one against any “impure” Republicans.

But I have a slightly different take. 

In politics, power is not always about numbers, it's about intensity. At the base level, at the grassroots of the GOP, the Tea Party movement is still the most intense. These folks -- mostly older white men, well off -- are still attending weekly meetings, publishing newsletters, attending local hearings, scrutinizing candidates, etc.  And they are totally supported by talk radio, which sees in them its core audience who is at once an echo and an amplifier of every disproved and crazy conservative idea to come down the pike the past 20 years.  And so big-time Republican politicians ignore them at their peril. 

Way above them, we have big-money, ego-driven right-wing donors like the Koch brothers, Peter Thiel, Sheldon Adelson, et al, who basically subscribe to the Tea Party philosophy of small government with government-enforced Christian morality. 

In the middle are caught the actual majority of Republicans (let's call them fiscally conservative, morally ambivalent) who are hesitant to criticize the Tea Parties whom they mostly agree with and want to defend against unflattering portrayals in the mainstream "liberal" media; and who either don't understand, or don't see anything wrong with, the big-money donors who wildly skew our politics in their favor.

The upshot is that the Tea Parties are stronger in the GOP than their numbers might suggest because they have the hard-core conservative minority supporting the base, and the nutjob, let's-go-Galt, libertarian billionaires at the top throwing silly amounts of money at elections.  

Meanwhile, we all know how well Tea Party-affiliated candidates fared in the November 2012 elections.

The upshot for Democrats is: let this crazy drama play itself out. These are the pathetic death throes of a sick, wounded animal. We shouldn't seek to commiserate with the GOP, or advise it, or even hasten its demise... for who knows what will succeed it? 

Nay, we should relish this last "rage against the dying of the light" in the Republican party, since it's sure to garner us a few more elections and delay the advent of the more libertarian-leaning party that will take the GOP's place in U.S. politics and might possibly be much, much worse....

By Steve Kornacki
December 27, 2012 | Salon

MB360: U.S. income, 'fiscal cliff,' and the Little Guy

These U.S. income stats are important for us Average Joe's to keep in mind during the so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations that may have been resolved by Congress early this morning.  

To recap: the Republicans have been ready to impose higher income taxes on all Americans in order to exempt households earning between $250,000 and $449,000 -- that's already the top 1-2 percent of income earners -- from paying a 39.6 percent marginal tax rate instead of the current 35 percent.  (For the record, the One Percent includes anybody making more than $350 K a year). 

Meanwhile, the median U.S. wage per person is about $27 K. Sixty-six percent of individual Americans earn less than $42 K a year; and 68 percent of households earn less than $75 K a year.  If the "middle class" means the middle of the U.S. income distribution, then these are the very people we should care about, not the Two Percent!

Think about that: Republicans have been adamant to scrap any deal on taxes and spending -- to the detriment of the middle and working class! -- that raises income taxes on the top Two Percent of all Americans. They show their true colors. The GOP is not the party of the Little Guy, but rather of the selfish elitists.

UPDATE:  Said President Obama at 11:21 EST today, after the GOP-led House voted to pass a 'fiscal cliff bill:'
"I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2% of Americans while preventing a middle class tax hike that could have sent the economy back into recession and obviously had a severe impact on families all across America."
Except we know he's fudging a bit, since this bill saves mostly the One Percent, those making over $350 K a year, keeping the Bush tax cuts in place for anybody making under $400 K a year.

Let's hope our President sticks to his guns and won't let the insane Republicans in the House use the debt ceiling as negotiating leverage when this kick-the-can bill expires two months from now....