Monday, January 27, 2014

Jamie Dimon shows that crime does pay, and how!

Put this in the Cheater Nation file, copied to the TBTF file. Crime does pay, as long as you do it wearing a tie, with an expensive education under your belt.

In any kind of just country, Jamie Dimon would be walking the plank, breaking stones in a gulag, or wallowing in a dungeon, but in the US of A, he is a very rich and well-respected -- I daresay fawned over -- man.

By Richard (RJ) Eskrow
January 24, 2014 | Huffington Post

Dem congressmen's hypocrisy on minimum wage

Seldom do I quote the far-right Daily Caller, much less agree with it, but never say never. (HT: AL).  

I tells it like it is, and lets the chips fall where they may. Check it [emphasis mine]:

According to a new study by the Employment Policies Institute (EPI), only four percent of the 210 lawmakers who pledged their allegiance to a bill raising the minimum wage pay their interns.

The Fair Minimum Wage Act would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. EPI found that 96 percent of its House and Senate supporters give their interns a minimum wage of zero.

For shame, my liberal comrades!  

Seriously though, I've written before about the institutional elitism of unpaid professional internships. There ought to be a law against them, except in very special circumstances.  If something is worth doing, it's worth paying for; if it's worth paying for, then unpaid interns shouldn't be allowed to do it. They displace people who are looking for jobs but can't afford to work for free.  

Why is it elitist, you ask?  Because only young interns from well-off families can afford to work for free on Capitol Hill to gather up DC connections and pad their resumes.  

By Breanna Deutsch
January 26, 2014 | The Daily Caller 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

On Ukraine's burgeoning revolution

As I wrote before, the U.S. should leave the hard work of national liberation to those nations who would be liberated. What I meant was, we cannot "gift" the fruits of a struggle like that to a nation that has never known what real liberty and self-governance are about. They won't accept it; they won't make the most of it.

I said this in the context of Iraq and Afghanistan, but it could apply in some ways to today's war -- yes, it's a war for liberation -- in Ukraine. And Ukraine is the key to Europe.

For more than two months protesters in Kyiv, Ukraine waited in the ice and snow for some compromise, some negotiations with the corrupt, Russian-ass-licking government of President Viktor Yanukovych about an Association Agreement with the EU that he had promised and negotiated toward and then a week before signing in Vilnius... reneged on.

(Read here: "Myths about the Association Agreement – setting the facts straight" from the European Union Delegation in Ukraine.)

Meanwhile, the so-called political "opposition" representing the pro-EU protesters, a troika of party leaders, failed to achieve any results; they only shouted speeches and slogans to the crowds freezing and standing stalwart on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square).  

After the Kyiv police attempted to clear Maidan and beat several protesters and journalists without punishment, and after Ukraine's Verhovna Rada (national parliament) passed a series of unconstitutional laws on January 16 to outlaw protests and free assembly, free speech in the media, free use of automobiles, restrictions on social media, allowed police to search homes without a warrant, put new burdens on NGOs, etc., the protesters had had enough. The protesters literally chased off the "Big 3" and went after the Cabinet of Ministers (the highest government executive body) and the Rada.

(Left to right) Vitali Klitschko, Oleh Tyahnybok and Arseniy Yatsenyuk

From there it turned into armed conflict on the main streets of Kyiv. As of today, that conflict has spread to at least 12 other regions (oblasts) of Ukraine, where protesters have seized government buildings and are declaring their separation from Yanukovych's central government.  

So far, 12 oblasts of Ukraine plus the Kyiv City Administration have been seized by the people.

Starting in November 2013, the opposition has somewhat naively called for the U.S. and EU to impose sanctions on Ukraine and revoke visas and freeze bank accounts of government officials. They haven't realized that international sanctions take months if not years to put in place; and the West does not go freezing accounts willy-nilly. Anyway, sanctions have never ousted a corrupt or dictatorial regime from power; it's usually the average citizens who suffer.

The protesters -- we can call them freedom fighters now -- are a small, active minority. (But aren't all successful revolutions carried out by an active minority?) In trying to overturn the last election, let's be honest, they are acting un-democratically. But in terms of recognizing Ukraine's democracy is broken, and neither the corrupt courts nor the State-controlled media can stop violations of Ukraine's constitution by the ruling Party of Regions, they are acting in the true best interests of liberty and democracy. 

This is a hard truth to swallow, especially for outsiders who cling to the norms and values of the West, revere the sanctity of fair elections, and oppose violent means to achieve political ends.

What I know, and what you should know, is that Ukraine's government has been employing violence for years now against its citizens. Armed groups of thugs backed by government officials routinely raid successful businesses, forcing owners to sell out at firesale prices. Citizens are regularly arrested and held without charges by police, where they are beaten and intimidated, sometimes dying in custody, or leaving as vegetables. Land is simply taken from its owners and new land titles drawn up for cronies. Corrupt officials selectively enforce the law. Bureaucrats demand tributes for the most trifling government services. Its parliament and executive posts, down to the smallest district, are filled by those willing to pay for the job. 

An investigation by the police of a real crime, a decision by a judge, a slot in a preschool, a bed in a hospital, a univesity diploma -- are all contingent upon bribes, and it's not hard to find out the asking price. [See my Update below to see what I mean, in a Ukrainian business leader's own words - J].

And all this has gotten worse since Ukaine's peaceful "Orange Revolution" in 2004.

Ukraine is smeared with corruption from end to end: from pro-European West to the pro-Russian East, North to South, from the hospital where children are born to the cemetery where they are buried, and everything in between. 

What's worse, everybody admits it. The ruling Party of Regions' supporters, the politically apathetic, the so-called opposition parties -- everybody. There is not even a pretense of disagreement on the sad facts of life in Ukraine.

It is a country that is coming to a screeching halt due to bad governance and corruption. Ukraine's economy has been in and out of recession since the 2008 financial crisis. Its state finances are an ongoing IMF-bailout basket case. Foreign direct investment is drying up. Ukrainian enterpreneurs are closing their businesses, and those who can are moving their assets and families abroad. 

This is what the freedom fighters have recognized: Ukraine is too far gone for elections to fix -- elections that would probably be rigged anyhow. Moreover, the opposition parties are only marginally better than the ruling party, controlled by competing clans of oligarchs. The sickness in Ukraine goes deep, down to the roots. That is why the freedom fighters want to tear up the the system and start over. 

As I said, Westerners don't like to tell others to use violence to solve their problems. ("Do as I say, not as I do.")  But so far -- violent opposition is working. Finally President Yanukovych has called for negotiations. Personally I'm doubtful those negotiations will lead to anything that will please the protesters. But we'll see. For now, the only lesson is that violence is the only language this two-time convicted thug of a president understands and respects. 

Protester Mikhail Gavrilyuk: stripped, beaten and humiliated by 'Berkut' special police in Kyiv

As somebody who loves Ukraine and admires the bravery of those fighting for liberty, I am conflicted. But I know that, realistically, the U.S. or EU will not agree to come and save them; and morally, it is not the place of outsiders (including Vladimir Putin's Russia!) to decide Ukraine's fate.  

We can offer moral support. We can tell them their struggle is just. We can remind them that many of our countries were born in the blood of revolution. Maybe further armed conflict and bloodshed are inevitable, I don't know yet. Nevertheless, we Americans especially should not be so quick to scold those brave Ukrainians risking their lives to secure their compatriots' inalienable rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.

Glory to Ukraine! To the heroes glory!

UPDATE (26.01.2014): Last night the opposition rejected President Yanukovych's power-sharing offer with Arseniy Yatsenyuk (as new PM) and Vitali Klitschko (as new deputy PM). Not only that, protesters in Kyiv seized Ukrainian House (former House of Lenin) on European Square, located strategically between Maidan and Grushevskogo street where most of the clashes are taking place: "Ukraine opposition turns down president's power-sharing offer."

UPDATE (26.01.2014): Anne Applebaum, who's supposed to be an expert on Eastern Europe and the former USSR, seems slow on the uptake in her latest WaPo op-ed, "Ukraine shows the ‘color revolution’ model is dead." See what I mean:
... once Ukrainians realize that the ideal of the color revolution is dead and the West has no tools to revive it, there may be consequences. If peaceful demonstrations don’t work, after all, some may logically conclude that it’s time to use violence. Ukrainians have indeed constructed violent resistance movements more than once in the past century.
First of all, nobody in Ukraine's opposition ever believed the U.S.-Russian construct about colored revolutions financed and organized by outsiders. (I was there for the Orange Revolution and I know the colored revolution theory is hooey: nobody "trained" or paid hundreds of thousands of people to stand out in the freezing cold for weeks and start loving each other and their country, just like nobody is pulling their strings now.) So there is nothing for Ukrainians to "realize;" only the Anne Applebaums of the Western media and diplomatic corps. Indeed, the hardcore protesters on Maidan realized weeks ago that violence must be met with violence, so Applebaum's fretting is moot. Maybe Applebaum is pretending violence hasn't happend because it so offends her Western sensibilities, and because the escalating conflict -- now a burgeoning revolution -- rejects America's conceit that it somehow has a handle on events in that part of the world?... Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.

UPDATE (26.01.2014): Lately, I'm reading about quickly unfolding events in Ukraine so you don't have to. This op-ed on a Ukrainian news site really struck a chord. I think it tells those not familiar with Ukraine most everything they need to know about why these protests are happening -- indeed, why conflict with the corrupt government has been years in the making. It's by a banker who says he manages 1,000 employees in the southern "pro-Russian" port city of Odessa. Here's my translation of part of his article, "Why I go to Maidan and Grushevskogo:"
1. In the first place for my family. I want my children to grow up in Ukraine and not "Little Russia" [historically, a condescending, imperialist Russian term for Ukraine - J]'; I want them to be told at school about European, not post-Soviet, values; I want them to go to university for knowledge and new contacts, and not for teachers/bribe-takers to issue them grades; I want my children to work in any international organization in any country, and not dream to be state bureaucrats. I do it for the future. 
2. Second, for my country. It is my inner conviction that the current regime is criminal. We are not a monarchy, and I, as a citizen of this country, want to have the right, the instruments and the opportunity to change the government in this country. Anybody who takes away these instruments from me and my fellow citizens, anybody who limits our freedom, is my enemy. I am ready to fight this enemy by all means available. 
3. Finally, for myself. I do not want to be afraid. I am a cultured adult, and on the inside I'm disgusted to think that I should be afraid to go to a public hospital, afraid to contact the police, afraid to go to court. It's disgusting to think about bribery and "Untouchables" in my favorite city. About the Range Rovers of police chiefs, and Mezhigorie [President Yanukovych's palatial presidential residence -- "lawfully" leased to him at taxpayers' expense - J]. 
UPDATE 1 (28.01.2014): From CNN: "Ukraine's parliament scraps anti-protest laws, Prime Minister resigns," and President Yanukovych accepted PM Azarov's resignation.

UPDATE 2 (30.01.2014): The U.S. is considering financial sanctions against members of President Yanukovych's government, and does not rule out sanctions against leaders of Maidan, if they can be shown to be involved in violent action by activists: (Reuters): "Exclusive: U.S. readies financial sanctions against Ukraine: congressional aides".

UPDATE 3 (30.01.2014): Good article in Al Jazeera on the militancy of the protesters by the Kyiv Post's long-time editor Brian Bonner: "Ukraine front-line fighters dig in for escalating battle with government". Is it OK to call them revolutionaries yet??....

UPDATE 4 (20.02.2014):  Ukraine's revolution is still going, now looking more like a civil war. Western regions like Lutsk, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Zhytomyr, Cherkassy and Ternopil are in open revolt, forcing pro-government officials to resign, burning Interior Ministry and Security Service (KGB) buildings, burning buses emptied of "titushki" (hired thugs) headed for Kyiv, etc., etc.. For its part, Berkut and Interior Ministry troops are using live ammunition, snipers, stun grenades and deadly force on the streets of Kyiv. Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds wounded.  

Today President Yanukovich and the opposition leaders agreed to a "truce," but the looks on Kyiv's streets don't seem peaceful.  The truth is that nobody is in control of the situation. The U.S. has imposed visa bans and the Congress and Senate are writing bills to impose targeted sanctions on Ukraine. (Reuters): "Ukraine president agrees to truce with opponents as U.S. imposes visa bans." 

UPDATE (22.02.2014): Too much happening! Yesterday President Yanukovych and the opposition agreed on an interim government, and a return to the 2004 constitution. Today, the Verhovna Rada (parliament) voted on a new speaker, voted Yanukovych out of office (!), voted for new presidential elections in May, voted on a new Interior Minister (the old one has fled), voted no-confidence on the Prosecutor General (who has fled), and voted to free opposition leader Yulia Tymoschenko from jail. President Yanukovych says he's not leaving, called the protests a Nazi coup. He was in Kharkiv today, where pro-Russian deputies from the East and South gathered to strategize and show their strength. Meanwhile, his palatial mansion with infamous "golden toilet" has been taken over by pro-Maidan forces; it was like a state park, with families touring the grounds in the hundreds. (CNN):  "Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych says he's not leaving."  Notably, hardcore activists have not left Maidan, have not taken down their barricades, and are continuing to "guard" many administrative buildings!

UPDATE (23.02.2014): Here's a pretty comprehensive update of the last few days from the New York Times: "Archrival Is Freed as Ukraine Leader Flees." Pretty ominous quote ending the article:
“Nobody wants to end up owning all the problems that Ukraine faces,” said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, “the country is bankrupt, it has a terrible, broken system of government and insane levels of corruption.”
The big question for many and yours truly, what will the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol do now? A delegation of about 100 deputies and officials from Crimea attended a meeting Saturday in Kharkiv with Party of Regions and Communist Party members, where they declared they would take control locally of ensuring the constitutional order.  Over the past few weeks, the speaker of Crimea's supreme council (parliament) Konstantinov has been making noises about independence for Crimea, and/or joining Russia. Today the Verhovna Rada (parliament) of Ukraine is asking the new Interior Minister what he's going to do about burgeoning separatism. So the threat of civil war is not over. Mostly it depends on the resolve of Crimea's (former) ruling Party of Regions members to risk the wrath of Kyiv.... But their political power is on the line, and they may be willing to risk anything to hold onto power, especially if Russia will throw in with the South and East of Ukraine.

UPDATE (25.02.2014): The Western media is not picking up on it yet, but the rumor is that President Yanukovych, who is now a wanted man, is hiding in Sevastopol under the protection of the Russian Naval Fleet. On Sunday the mayor of Sevastopol resigned and the people tried to nominate a Russian citizen (!) as their new mayor. If Russia is going to make trouble in Ukraine -- the bad, bad kind, Georgia-style -- it will probably start in Sevastopol, where its fleet is based, where many residents are Russian citizens and/or very pro-Russian....

Friday, January 17, 2014

Most U.S. shootings are by law-abiding citizens

Every criminal is a law-abiding citizen until he commits his first crime. Cox reminds us that the same is true of gun crime [emphasis mine]:

Among the 5,417 gun homicides in 2012 that the FBI assigns a circumstance to (3,438 are "unknown circumstances"), a mere 1,324 were committed in conjunction with another felony. Three times that (3,980) were committed by otherwise law-abiding citizens. Of that, over half (1,968) were the result of an argument that escalated fatally out of control.

To put it another way: otherwise unpremeditated murders, where people kill out of momentary rage, are the single most common type of gun homicide in America. More than gangland killings (822); more than murders committed during robberies (505) and drug deals (311) combined.

But, armed with these facts, Americans still won't do anything about it because we'd rather be armed, period.  We think we're the good guys, when we're really not. We're crazy about our little instruments of death.

By Ana Marie Cox
January 16, 2014 | Guardian

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The 'You didn't build that' lie persists

Here we have the latest citation from the Rush Limbaugh Show. Rush quotes as Gospel for his mind-numbed robots that President Obama sincerely believes that nobody who has achieved that fleeting "American Dream" really deserves any credit for it.  Nope, it was all thanks to Big Gubument, says Rush of Obama's beliefs:

That's what the President believes. Obama doesn't believe in the prescription of hard work equals success.  In that statement, he just puts it down.  He just delegitimizes it.  Cookie, find that from our archives.  That was July 2012, Roanoke, Virginia.  Give me the whole thing.  "I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there." That's not what makes the difference.

The thing is, that quote has always been taken out of context. Several sentences of Obama's speech have always been artfully deleted by the talk-radio/Fox News media axis. busted this myth back in July 2012, yet it still persists:

There’s no question Obama inartfully phrased those two sentences, but it’s clear from the context what the president was talking about. He spoke of government — including government-funded education, infrastructure and research — assisting businesses to make what he called “this unbelievable American system that we have.”

In summary, he said: “The point is … that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

Now here's what President Obama actually said, unedited and unabridged by talk radio and Fox News hacks, on July 13, 2012 [emphasis mine]:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.

Now the thing about it, now that you've read it, is that Fact Checkers be damned, it's unequivocally true. You can go back as far as you like, and you can find the hand of government in the great successes of our nation, business or otherwise. The things that we take the most pride in as Americans are the things that we did together

I mean, is it any wonder that our Armed Services -- not Microsoft, not Apple or Google -- are held today by Americans in such high esteem?  Is it indeed because they "defend" us -- against whom? -- or because they are the last great institution devoted to a -- dare I say it? -- socialistic ethos of collective contribution, shared sacrifice, and honor for the glory of country? Instinctively, in our guts, we see the value in their honorable endeavors.

The great pity of modern American culture is that we cannot apply those same values of sacrifice, teamwork, equality and honor to making the lives of Americans better. The U.S. Military can teach us plenty; but we accept their lessons emptily, we accept their examples of self-sacrifice ritualistically, without thought or self-reflection. Glory be to them -- but shame on us!

Going further... The GOP talks about morals, they talk about values. What would be wrong with President Obama talking about the value of hiring American workers and paying them a fair wage?  What would be immoral or un-American about Obama's naming and shaming those companies like Apple, Google... the list goes on and on... that call themselves "American," and yet employ most of their workers and pay most of their taxes overseas, and his demanding, "Can't you do better?  Can't you be more patriotic?"  

I'm not talking about a single law, a single executive order, just our Chief Executive saying what we all know in our guts to be true: so many U.S. companies treat American workers like Kleenex; meanwhile, they depend like the dickens on American consumers to buy their products. If this were wartime, if this were a time of crisis, we simply wouldn't put up with it.  And yet we do. Because we believe that's just the way it is.  Well who the hell said so?? 

I'm fired up!  WHOO! 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

FOX tries its best to spin Senate BENGHAZI! report

Check out the GOP Spin Zone over at Fox News: 

  • COMPREHENSIVE REPORT BY the Senate Intelligence Committee definitively declares that individuals tied to 
  • Al Qaeda groups were involved in the Benghazi attack, and that the attack could have been prevented.

Yet further down in the article it says:

The Senate committee report stressed that the intelligence still suggests the attack was not “highly coordinated,” but rather “opportunistic” – possibly put in place in “short order” after protests over an anti-Islam film elsewhere in the region.

“It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks,” the report said. 

So those conclusions from the Senate committee's own biased, partisan report refutes two of the Republicans' four main accusations against the Obama Administration: that al Qaeda was behind the attacks (and not just al Qaeda-affiliate groups being "involved"); and that the anti-Islam film had nothing to do with the timing of the attack. 

The third main accusation by the GOP is that the State Department and the White House ignored security threats inside Libya. This I won't go into now. It suffices to say that Amb. Stevens alone made the decision to visit Benghazi that day, not Hillary Clinton or President Obama. He was quite aware of the risky post-conflict security situation in Libya. Rep. Grayson made this amply clear in a House hearing on Benghazi, see it here:

The fourth main accusation by the GOP is that Obama and his generals did not come to the rescue of Amb. Stevens and other U.S. personnel in time, for reasons unclear or speculative. I won't respond to this accusation now either, since I've written about it before, and no credible analysts have been able to dispute the actual events or timing.

So there you go.  BENGHAZI! has been reduced to plain old Benghazi, a political tempest in a teapot, where brave Americans' lives and memories have been used cynically as political ammunition by the GOP.  Moving on.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Zakaria: Blame Bush for today's Iraq violence

Right on. It's totally fair to keep blaming Iraq on Bush.

The escalating violence there isn't something that President Obama can wag away with a dissaproving finger, or "surge" through with thousands of troops. It's too late, the damage was done 10 years ago.

As Zakaria rightly notes, Dubya's policy in 2003 of de-Baathification in Iraq pitted an ousted Sunni elite against a new Shia majority. Their sectarian fight continues to this day. 

It didn't have to be this way. If only some smart, informed people had been in charge, with a little intellectual nuance.

By Fareed Zakaria
January 11, 2014 | CNN

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ex-CIA analyst and Army prof.: Don't trust Robert Gates

If you're at all concerned about Robert Gates's "revelations" in his recent memoirs about the Obama Administration then you should definitely read this article.

If you're like me and you see a guy in Gates who admits in his own memoirs that he was a burnout and reluctant SecDef before he even took the job in the Obama Administration, and now doesn't want to be associated with "defeat" in Iraq and Afghanistan (just like Dubya didn't want to -- hence he kept the troops there indefinitely, passing these two shit sandwiches to Obama...), and yet who writes in the same memoirs that he agrees with all Obama's major policy decisions (DWTF?!), then you can skip this one.

But like I said, if you have any doubts, just read this.

By Melvin A. Goodman
January 9, 2014 | CounterPunch

Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University.  He is the author of the recently published National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (City Lights Publishers) and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: The Story of a CIA Whistleblower” (City Lights Publisher). Goodman is a former CIA analyst and a professor of international relations at the National War College.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

CNN exposé: NCAA athletes read like children

This expose by CNN goes to show that sports socialism starts before the collegiate level. We subsidize, through our tax dollars, a sham system of "education" that promotes star athletes from elementary to high school to college who barely read at the level of children:

Based on data from those requests and dozens of interviews, a CNN investigation revealed that most schools have between 7% and 18% of revenue sport athletes who are reading at an elementary school level. Some had even higher percentages of below-threshold athletes.

According to those academic experts, the threshold for being college-literate is a score of 400 on the SAT critical reading or writing test. On the ACT, that threshold is 16.

Many student-athletes scored in the 200s and 300s on the SAT critical reading test -- a threshold that experts told us was an elementary reading level and too low for college classes. The lowest score possible on that part of the SAT is 200, and the national average is 500.

On the ACT, we found some students scoring in the single digits, when the highest possible score is 36 and the national average is 20. In most cases, the team average ACT reading score was in the high teens.

"It is in many ways immoral for the university to even admit that student," said Dr. Richard M. Southall, director of the College Sport Research Institute and a professor at the University of South Carolina.

Immoral, he says. Gee, ya think?

Yeah, but they get the best tutors to help them! said one of my sports-crazy friends. Even so:

Former and current academic advisers, tutors and professors say it's nearly impossible to jump from an elementary to a college reading level while juggling a hectic schedule as an NCAA athlete. They say the NCAA graduation rates are flawed because they don't reflect when a student is being helped too much by academic support.

"They're pushing them through," said Billy Hawkins, an associate professor and athlete mentor at the University of Georgia.

"They're graduating them. UGA is graduating No. 2 in the SEC, so they're able to graduate athletes, but have they learned anything? Are they productive citizens now? That's a thing I worry about. To get a degree is one thing, to be functional with that degree is totally different."

This immoral betrayal of student-athletes (most of whom won't play professional sports) and the ideals of higher education is all so that we have something to do on a Sunday, can enjoy the bowl games and hoopla, listen to the never-ending arguments on talk radio, and catch the highlights on ESPN before bedtime.

As I said before, the NCAA is a kabuki dance of amateur athletics. Everybody knows it's a lie, yet we still love it; we pretend it has something to do with the quality of a college or university, and by extension -- with the quality of the fans, I mean, us.  (Even queerer are the millions of college sports fans who never attended their favorite college, or any college at all for that matter.)

Even more galling, every halfway honest sports fan knows there is an inverse relationship at work here: the better the college's team, the dumber the student-athletes.  

It's so, so pathetic.  Sports socialism and sports craziness have spoiled America -- and sports. There is nothing else that unites us anymore.

By Sara Ganim
January 7, 2014 | CNN

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Reich: 2013 saw huge wealth redistribution

Trickle-down economic theory vs. trickle-up economic fact.

I can't say it any better than this. Read the whole thing and get back to me with any questions!

By Robert Reich
January 5, 2014 | Huffington Post

One of the worst epithets that can be leveled at a politician these days is to call him a "redistributionist." Yet 2013 marked one of the biggest redistributions in recent American history. It was a redistribution upward, from average working people to the owners of America.

The stock market ended 2013 at an all-time high -- giving stockholders their biggest annual gain in almost two decades. Most Americans didn't share in those gains, however, because most people haven't been able to save enough to invest in the stock market. More than two-thirds of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck.

Even if you include the value of IRA's, most shares of stock are owned by the very wealthy. The richest 1 percent of Americans owns 35 percent of the value of American-owned shares. The richest 10 percent owns over 80 percent. So in the bull market of 2013, America's rich hit the jackpot.

What does this have to do with redistribution? Some might argue the stock market is just a giant casino. Since it's owned mostly by the wealthy, a rise in stock prices simply reflects a transfer of wealth from some of the rich (who cashed in their shares too early) to others of the rich (who bought shares early enough and held on to them long enough to reap the big gains).

But this neglects the fact that stock prices track corporate profits. The relationship isn't exact, and price-earnings ratios move up and down in the short term. Yet over the slightly longer term, share prices do correlate with profits. And 2013 was a banner year for profits.

Where did those profits come from? Here's where redistribution comes in. American corporations didn't make most of their money from increased sales (although their foreign sales did increase). They made their big bucks mostly by reducing their costs -- especially their biggest single cost: wages.

They push wages down because most workers no longer have any bargaining power when it comes to determining pay. The continuing high rate of unemployment -- including a record number of long-term jobless, and a large number who have given up looking for work altogether -- has allowed employers to set the terms.

For years, the bargaining power of American workers has also been eroding due to ever-more efficient means of outsourcing abroad, new computer software that can replace almost any routine job, and an ongoing shift of full-time to part-time and contract work. And unions have been decimated. In the 1950s, over a third of private-sector workers were members of labor unions. Now, fewer than 7 percent are unionized.

All this helps explain why corporate profits have been increasing throughout this recovery (they grew over 18 percent in 2013 alone) while wages have been dropping. Corporate earnings now represent the largest share of the gross domestic product -- and wages the smallest share of GDP -- than at any time since records have been kept.

Hence, the Great Redistribution.

Some might say this doesn't really amount to a "redistribution" as we normally define that term, because government isn't redistributing anything. By this view, the declining wages, higher profits, and the surging bull market simply reflect the workings of the free market.

But this overlooks the fact that government sets the rules of the game. Federal and state budgets have been cut, for example -- thereby reducing overall demand and keeping unemployment higher than otherwise. Congress has repeatedly rejected tax incentives designed to encourage more hiring. States have adopted "right-to-work" laws that undercut unions. And so on.

If all this weren't enough, the tax system is rigged in favor of the owners of wealth, and against people whose income comes from wages. Wealth is taxed at a lower rate than labor.

Capital gains, dividends, and debt all get favorable treatment in the tax code - which is why Mitt Romney, Warren Buffet, and other billionaires and multimillionaires continue to pay around 12 percent of their income in taxes each year, while most of the rest of us pay at least twice that rate.

Among the biggest winners are top executives and Wall Street traders whose year-end bonuses are tied to the stock market, and hedge-fund and private-equity managers whose special "carried interest" tax loophole allows their income to be treated as capital gains. The wild bull market of 2013 has given them all fabulous after-tax windfalls.

America has been redistributing upward for some time -- after all, "trickle-down" economics turned out to be trickle up -- but we outdid ourselves in 2013. At a time of record inequality and decreasing mobility, America conducted a Great Redistribution upward.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Ralph Nader's letter to Dubya on Iraq

If it's not too late to keep naming things after Reagan then it's not too late to keep blaming things on Bush. 

In this case, for the ongoing Iraq nightmare.

Nader wrote this letter in reply to a mailed solicitation for a donation to the Bush library -- obviously sent to him in error. But Nader didn't let the chance slip.  It's a must-read!

Mission accomplished? Have you seen Iraq lately?

By Ralph Nader
January 3, 2014 | Huffington Post

Engelhardt: U.S. National Security State is an insane religious order

Right on!  Tom Engelhardt is a lone voice of sanity. Our National Security State (NSS), as he dubs it, has indeed grown out of control. Its reason for being has become self-perpetuation and -aggrandizement.

As I posted back in March, the Department of Homeland Security, which didn't even exist prior to 9/11, has spent about $800 billion since then in order to prevent any more such attacks.  Never mind that that plot could have been thwarted if the FBI had simply listened to its field agents.  No, we had to go an make a "monstrosity" (in Ron Paul's words), a real "Department of Defense" to rival the Pentagon -- the "Department of Offense."  

This is not to forget the outrageous $700 billion Pentagon budget that is bigger than the next 13 biggest military budgets in the world combined; and let's ponder in awe and disgust that the Pentagon employs, directly and via contractors, about 3.3 million Americans, making it the single largest U.S. employer. Finally, let's remember Pentagon's network of hundreds of military bases worldwide. (For comparison, by one estimate, the Roman Empire had about 37 major bases at its height, while the British Empire had 36. So what does that make the United States, Rotary International?!)

And of course we have the NSA.  What can I say that hasn't already been said?  The NSA assures us that they have foiled some 54 "9/11"-type attacks (but only 13 in the U.S.... maybe we should start charging Europe a fee?) with their ceaseless spying on innocent Americans, but they can't tell us anything about these so-called plots because they're so secret.  But the NSA did tell a Presidential task force, which responded, essentially with, "Phooey." So that's more money and liberty down the drain.

Folks, this is all done in our name, ostensibly to protect us. We're not innocent bystanders in all this.  We're enablers.  We must stop enabling.  We must tell our Congressmen -- I'm talking to you, "fiscally responsible" Tea Partiers -- that the NSS has grown out of our control and must be chopped down. This monster now exists to feed itself and make babies, not to protect us

Read on!...

By Tom Engelhardt
January 5, 2014 | Tom Dispatch

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Big Lib Idea of the Day: Free public higher education

About $40 billion. That's how much it would cost per year to pay for all students' education at public universities.  

This will never happen, sadly, because of the Tea Party mentality that is present in many Democrats' minds, too, that for some reason we have to approach every policy problem with a complicated cocktail of tax credits, loans, exceptions, opt-outs and incentives instead of government simply paying for it, at a lower cost, with less anxiety and uncertainty for qualifying students and their parents.

Meanwhile, our conservative brethren don't make a peep or give a second thought about the $1.5 trillion cost so far (or at least $4 trillion in the long-term) for Dubya's unnecessary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  $4 trillion is enough to pay for college for everybody for about 100 years, and somehow we found that money.  

Priorities, folks.  Priorities!  Jobs, health, education, housing.  (These all happen to be winning issues for Democrats, but hey, that's just incidental.)

By Jordan Weissmann
January 3, 2014 | The Atlantic

A mere $62.6 billion dollars!

According to new Department of Education data, that's how much tuition public colleges collected from undergraduates in 2012 across the entire United States. And I'm not being facetious with the word mere, either. The New America Foundation says that the federal government spent a whole $69 billion in 2013 on its hodgepodge of financial aid programs, such as Pell Grants for low-income students, tax breaks, work study funding. And that doesn't even include loans. 


If we were we scrapping our current system and starting from scratch, Washington could make public college tuition free with the money it sets aside its scattershot attempts to make college affordable today.

Of course, we're not going to start from scratch (and I'm not even sure we should want to make state schools totally free). But I like to make this point every so often because I think it underscores what a confused mess higher education finance is in this country. On the whole, Americans seem to want affordable colleges that are accessible to all. But rather than simply using our resources to maintain a cheap public system (and remember, public schools educate 75 percent of undergrads), we spill them into a fairly wasteful and expensive private sector. At one point, a Senate investigation found that the for-profit sector alone was chowing down on 25 percent of all federal aid dollars. 

If that story sounds awfully similar the problems the U.S. faces with healthcare costs, well, that's because it is similar. Americans have an allergy to straightforward policy solutions involving the public sector. And for that, we pay a price.

Update—Friday Jan. 3, 3:45 PM: Just to clarify, because some readers have asked, making tuition free in 2012 would have required $62.6 billion on top of what state and local governments already spend subsidizing public colleges, as well as some of the federal spending that doesn't go towards financial aid. Again, you can find a detailed breakdown of how our colleges are funded in the Department of Education's data

For anybody interested in reading more about the idea of making public college tuition free, and the vast array of economic considerations that would entail, here's a lengthy piece I wrote last year.

Update—Friday Jan. 3, 4:31 PM: One more update to answer another good question I've received. Technically, you could say the additional cost of making college tuition free would be even cheaper than $62.6 billion. How come? Because most Pell Grant money is already spent at public colleges. In 2011 - 2012, state school students received $21.8 billion in grants. So, if you subtract that from the total needed to completely eliminate tuition, it the sum would be closer to $40 billion. (Apologies for not teasing that point out earlier. I'd noted it in a previous article and didn't think to repeat it.)

Does drop in trade mark the limit of globalization?

Interesting. This is not something most people are paying attention to. Is the "dramatic" drop in global trade a fluke, or the start of a new trend?  

By Jason Miks
January 4, 2014 | CNN

At the start of 2014, let's take a look at one of the great trends of the last century. You could be sitting in Chicago, Illinois right now, but your TV was probably made in Japan, your sneakers were likely manufactured in China and your coffee might be from Kenya. 

Globalization impacts every single thing around us. So here’s the big question: have we reached the end of globalization?

For much of the last thirty years there has been a steady trend in commerce: global trade has expanded at about twice the pace of the global economy. For example, between 1988 and 2007, global trade grew on average by 6.2 percent a year according to the World Trade Organization. During the same period, the world’s GDP was growing at nearly half that pace: 3.7 percent.

But a strange thing has taken place in the last two years. Growth in global trade has dropped dramatically, to even less than GDP growth. The change leaves one wondering: has the incredible transfer of goods around the world reached some sort of pinnacle? Have we exhausted the drive toward ever-more-globalization?

It's a fascinating thesis. The world has seen historic developments in the last few decades: the internet, China's opening up, the rise of emerging markets, fast and cheap travel…all of these trends led to a massive acceleration in global trade.

But have those trends peaked? Could the next big invention, say, 3-D printers, end the need for more and more trade? Imagine a world where you need a new faucet in your restroom. Instead of going to the local store that sells faucets made in China (which contributes to global trade) now you just print out your own faucet, sitting at home or at a local store. Are people also getting more interested in local products compared to global brands.

Joshua Cooper Ramo points out in an essay in Fortune that localism is one the rise – local banking, local manufacturing, and even local sourcing for food and restaurants. Is this simply a pause or could it be more than that? The answer will depend on politics.

The last time the world saw a consistent period where the growth of global trade lagged behind global growth was in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. One factor was the rise in protectionist policies - as a response in many cases to the Great Depression and the disruption of the gold standard. At one point, under what was known as the Smoot-Hawley tariff, the United States government began imposing import duties of around 60 percent. The move was aimed at protecting domestic farmers, but instead, it exacerbated the depression. It led to a steep drop in
trade, and a wave of counter protectionist measures by other countries.

The world has learned its lessons from the Great Depression. But perhaps not as well as it should have.

According to the independent think tank Global Trade Alert, we’re in the midst of a great rise in protectionism. In the 12 months preceding May 2013, governments around the world imposed three times as many protectionist measures than moves to open up. Anti-trade policies are at their highest point since the 2008 financial crisis. According to the Petersen Institute, the rise of these measures cost global trade 93 billion dollars in 2010.

There might be some good news on this front. Last month, the World Trade Organization passed a deal to cut red tape in customs. It’s a small start, and there is a lot more to accomplish. Globalization and trade have produced huge benefits for people, especially the poor, who have been able to make their way out of poverty in a faster growing and more connected global economy. But globalization won’t continue by accident or stealth – politicians will have to help make it happen.