Thursday, December 31, 2009

Revealing article about Whole Foods CEO--and the Libertarian cult

A penetrating article in the New Yorker about Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey is here.

And Digby's take is must reading, right down to her links. I was so very happy that, in the course of her discussion, Digby says such nice things about Chomsky's insights, and how deftly Chomsky knocked down the silly libertarian Ron Paul supporter.

What is striking to me about the Mackey article is what I felt when he penned that silly "article" in the Wall Street Journal, which is just how shallow he is about public policy. His hero, Ayn Rand, never had a clue about how business actually functions. There has never been a revolt of the rich a la John Galt. And his plan for health care (not just insurance) markets has never existed except in primitive form--in the days when doctors thought bloodletting was the way to stop most diseases. He willfully ignores how most civilized nations deliver health care services and pay for them, and doesn't recognize that our medical R&D is largely government funded for decades--and the breakthroughs come from salaried employees in lab coats, not entrepreneurs from Wharton's business school.

Shout out to Mackey: Why don't you talk to Dr. David Himmelstein or Uwe Reinhardt and learn something about the way other civilized nations fund health care expenditures?

The other thing that struck me is how this guy got started. And when I learned his Dad was a billionaire who basically funded the guy, well, now I understood how a mediocre mind could have gotten this far. A Warren Buffett he ain't.

Still, there is an Andrew Carnegie sensibility about Mackey, meaning he is decent and humane, culturally, and has some redeeming values as an individual and business leader (I loved the bio of Carnegie by Andrew Nasaw, by the way, where Carnegie recognized steel tariffs helped his business prosper, fought for steep inheritance taxes, and promoted world peace). Mackey is also not a total asshole like Steve Burd of Safeway* or the ogres who run Wal-Mart. But I can't see why I should spend any money at Whole Foods when it funds a guy as deluded and shallow as Mackey, either.

* Steve Burd is testimony to how much you can screw up and keep your cushy job as CEO of a major corporation. Burd declared war on his grocery workers at the beginning of the decade saying he needed to save $130 million to compete against Wal-Mart. The strike he precipitated cost Safeway $325 million and his company lost 20% marketshare to Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Wal-Mart, among other places. Heckava bargain you made there, Steve. There's your capitalism rewarding merit, Mackey!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bob Herbert: A dishonest health insurance tax

Bob Herbert fleshes out the scariest thing for those with existing good health insurance plans that cost around $670 a month or more. A new health insurance tax. What happened to Obama's pledge to not hurt those who already have a health insurance plan? I guess the same thing Obama did with his pledge to have a public health insurance option...

This is why I continue to say these congressional health insurance plans are monstrosities. Here we have the scorpions like Mary Landrieu (D?-Louisiana), who did not want millionaires to pay a surtax, but are fine with making middle class folks with pre-existing conditions, who shell out major premiums to insurance companies to be able to keep choosing their own doctors (PPO plans), pay a new excise tax.

Memo to Harry Reid: Rule of 51, Rule of 51...Now!

Oh, and here's a new name for the Blue Dog Democrats: Scorpion Democrats.

Israeli apartheid road?

After reading this, I guess Jimmy Carter should not have bothered to apologize for some of his comments regarding the state of Israel.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Eh...with Koestler

Bernard Avishai pens a fascinating post on the life and legacy of Arthur Koestler, known for the anti-Communist novel, "Darkness at Noon." The irony for me is that his defense proves more to me than ever why Koestler has less relevance to Americans who have come of age since the end of World War II, and how Koestler's private life seems to have influenced and limited his philosophical outlook.

This is my comment at Avishai's website (which website I had recently added in the Links to this blog):

After reading the links, and the blog post, I am less impressed with Koestler than ever. Koestler strikes me as a political poser who wanted to be Henry Miller, another jerk with an unwarranted literary reputation.

The best anti-communist, but humane writers remain Victor Serge and just underneath Serge, Ignazio Silone. Both men were far less cruel and had a better sense that the uncertainties in life make us less cruel to each other.

Silone has his own demon of possibly being a Fascist informant in Italy in the 1920s during the time he was a member of the Italian Communist Party, though one wonders how much that was bound up with his brother being in trouble and then in a Fascist jail before the brother was executed. Serge, however, remains steadfast and judicious, and a democratic socialist to the end who best understood the human betrayal at the heart of Bolshevism and Stalinism in particular.

Koester's search for a unifying theory and his mysticism, as well his narcissism does seem to infect his work. In a Cold War and post-Cold War world where the assumptions of the Cold War...remain hardened, Koester and even Orwell are more abused by the likes of a Gingrich-Reagan mindset that is antithetical to true freedom of thought, creativity and human kindness. Better to leave most of these anti-Communist players behind for at least the likes of Serge, Silone or Czeslaw Milosz, whose "The Captive Mind" was consciously written to attack (Communist Party) apparatchniks as well as corporate middle management.
(Parenthesis and links added)

(Edited first paragraph of post)

Friday, December 25, 2009

They don't make Communist sportswriters like Lester Rodney anymore...

A fascinating obituary about a great sportswriter, who happened to write for The Daily Worker from the 1930s through the 1950s. Lester Rodney's role in pushing major league baseball to allow African-Americans to compete and play cannot be overstated.

Here is a similar obituary of Rodney from the lefty sportswriter, Dave Zirin.

The positive role of American Communists in leading and supporting civil rights for African-Americans, in pushing for labor laws to protect American workers and in the fight against American imperial adventures can be overstated, but it is more often neglected amidst a continued ignorance born of hysteria during the Red Scare from the late 1940s through the early 1990s. Yes, we know about the crimes of Communism in other nations. But we should be careful to recognize the good things individual Communists helped accomplish inside the United States that made this country a better nation than it was before their activism, which began in the 1920s and blossomed during the 1930s and 1940s.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Frankenstein monster of health insurance reform continues to form

The people who have continued to push this so-called "reform" as it turns into Frankenstein's monster are continuing to mislead as they try to justify this reform.

Here is Jonathan Cohn taking Jane Hamsher to task for her critique of the Senate plan. Notice that he nowhere tells his readers the trigger date for the coverage he says produces real gains for a working class family. And what is that date? Check his article to which he links, and then click to enlarge the chart he produces. Ready? The trigger date is 2016. That is four election cycles from now, and two presidential election cycles from now.*

Yet, the one significant thing that kicks in now if the Senate bill passes in final form is the individual mandate, meaning that we have to buy insurance from private insurance companies who, even if they are forced to insure me with my pre-existing conditions, can force me to pay horribly high premium prices, co-pays and deductibles. I am also worried about this so-called "excise tax" against so-called top medical insurance policies. I have a PPO policy for my children and myself through work. Am I going to be punished with a tax for taking care of them better than putting them under Kaiser in an HMO?

So here is the Republican attack ad for 2010: "The Democrats just spent $1 trillion of your taxpayer money so they could force you to buy insurance and pay even more." "Obama said you could keep your plan and that his big government plan won't affect you. But he and the Democrats just added a new tax on your plan that you are already paying for."

Now, go ahead and run against that without saying you were for Medicare for All and had opposed this plan for precisely those reasons.

The Senate plan is so politically tone deaf I am amazed the D.C. villagers think passing this plan in this form is "realistic" or "good politics."

What would be good politics would be to overturn the table, as Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has now begun to recognize, and tell Joe Biden to announce a new Congress in about ten days and have Harry Reid announce new rules in the Senate that ends the filibuster (except, in a bow to the constitutional provision of lifetime appointments of judges, for approval or rejection of judicial nominations). The Rule of 51 can then apply and we pass a health insurance reform plan with a robust public option for any American citizen to join. And any Democrat in the House who does not vote for this provision loses all Democratic National Committee (DNC) money and gets themselves a primary challenge funded by the Democratic Party.

And then watch Congress' ratings go up, people flock to the public option, the private insurers cower and snarl, and the scorpions like Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, the Nelson Boys and Olympia Snowe drown in their own mendacity--or get with the program.

That, boys and girls, is how real political leaders get things done.

* At least Nate Silver admits his figures are for 2016 right up front. See here.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

How to argue with liberal friends who support the health care bill in the Senate or House

How to argue with our liberal friends who support the health insurance bill by this point in the process, starting with the Senate plan:

Just ask them to tell you when different provisions become effective. You may laugh at them when they tell you how the bill, if passed in this form, saves anyone other than insurance companies this year or in 2010.

Just ask them to give you facts about the bill, not cliches like "Half a loaf is better than a full loaf." Or "Don't let perfect become the enemy of the good."

This is not half a loaf. This is not a good bill.

And when they say it's like Social Security, which did not begin with a disability program, remind them there was no mandate to directly fund your own pension in the Social Security system in 1935. Each generation contributes more toward the current generation of seniors than its own (Our Baby Boom generation has contributed more for its own...but that is another story...).

Last time I looked, neither Howard Dean nor Robert Reich supported Ralph Nader in 2000, which is a favorite attack my liberal Dad uses against me (Yes, I did support Nader in 1996 and 2000).

This bill, as I wrote in a post about the House bill, is a monstrosity. The best thing to happen is for Harry Reid to invoke the Rule of 51, tell Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, the Nelson Twins, and Olympia Snowe, scorpions all, to go to hell, and pass a real health insurance bill.

The problem is simply that Reid, Pelosi and Obama are failing in their negotiation tactics. They need to overturn the apple cart, to use another cliche, and follow what LBJ and FDR did in their time, which is to cut off funding for those recalcitrant Democrats and tell them they just bought themselves a Democratic Party funded primary for opposing a fundamental reform of the health insurance system in this nation--instead of placating these treasonous Democrats who, for example, hold real reform hostage in their zeal to save fetuses and zygotes. If Nelson of Nebraska was really pro-life, instead of an anti-abortion ideologue who is against giving women autonomy in their lives, he would vote for a bill that supports existing human life, and then work afterwards to improve the lives of fetuses and zygotes. But no, Nelson instead places more value on zygotes and fetuses than living men, women and children. Nelson's bad faith, and the bad faith of Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landreiu, and Joe Lieberman, is as bad as the the bad faith shown by Republicans.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Government Bureaucracy, Apartheid Edition

So we think Israel never behaves like an apartheid state towards otherwise law-abiding Arab citizens, do we?

Think again.

Libertarians should be most outraged here of course, though we "statists" (as Libertarians call us) should be at least ashamed. And of course we Zionists should be most ashamed.

Let this guy build his house already!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

One great economist named Paul toasts another great economist named Paul

Still getting over this cold...Cough, cough...(really)

Paul Krugman writes nicely and succinctly about another Paul...Samuelson, who passed from us at the age of 94.

The Times obit by Michael Weinstein is outstanding. These were noteworthy paragraphs in the obituary:

The University of Chicago developed the century’s leading conservative economic theorists, under the later guidance of Milton Friedman. But Mr. Samuelson regarded the teaching at Chicago as 'schizophrenic.' This was at the height of the Depression, and courses about the business cycle naturally talked about unemployment, he said. But in economic-theory classes, joblessness was not mentioned.

'The niceties of existence were not a matter of concern,' he recalled, 'yet everything around was closed down most of the time. If you lived in a middle-class community in Chicago, children and adults came daily to the door saying, "We are starving, how about a potato?" I speak from poignant memory.'

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Chicago in 1935, he went to Harvard, where he was attracted to the ideas of the Harvard professor Alvin Hansen, the leading exponent of Keynesian theory in America.

As a student at Chicago and later at Cambridge, Paul Samuelson had at first reacted negatively to Keynes. 'What I resisted most was the notion that there could be equilibrium unemployment' — that some level of unemployment would be impossible to eliminate and have to be tolerated. 'I spent four summers of my college career on the beach at Lake Michigan,' he explained. 'It was pointless to look for work. I didn’t even have to test the market because I had friends who would go to 350 potential employers and not be able to get any job at all.'

Eventually he was converted. 'Why do I want to refuse a paradigm that enables me to understand the Roosevelt upturn from 1933 to 1937?' he asked himself.

I did feel, and the obituary notes this, too, that Samuelson became too willing to accept neo-classical principles during the 1990s. But one is forgiving of a man who recognized that his craft as an economist should involve more than plugging conventional wisdom into a computer metric.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tony Judt on social democracy: A must read

Tony Judt, in the New York Review of Books, performs an outstanding service in highlighting the challenge of the last fifty years of incessant attacks on the social welfare state. Even after the collapse of an anti-democratic Left, the voice of social democracy remains missing in action in our nation's discourse.

What is the only sad spot is that Judt cannot find a place to mention the great American social democratic writer and activist, the late Michael Harrington. The absence of Harrington's name is also a symptom of the decline of the level of our discourse.

So I signed the MoveOn petition and wrote a note to Harry Reid

Sign the petition here.

And here is what I personally wrote to Harry Reid, the Democratic Party's ridiculously incompetent Senate Majority Leader:

So how does it feel to be the new Tom Foley, Harry? He compromised his way to oblivion too. You have one choice to make and that is act boldly. The rule of 51 will solve your continued failing. And any Democrat or Lieberman not supporting a full and robust public option is stripped of their committee chairs or subchairs, and you write to the DNC saying cut the bastards' money supply off. That is how LBJ and FDR did it. And that's how we got Social Security, labor law reform in the 1930s (time for that again, Harry, again with the rule of 51).

Right now, we have nothing to tell our poorly informed independent voters why it makes a difference to vote for you and your corporate whore friends. Other than the other party is f-ing crazy. That's not enough. Let's stand up now and not let our party be hijacked by tone-deaf politicians who are destined to lose in a primary or general election already--Blanche Lincoln is a scorpion who is already poisoning you the frog taking her across the lake. Stop it now.

(Edited--I put in the link for MoveOn. I've been sick with a virus of some sort the past week, with the past few days really horrible. My wife is kicking me off the computer and won't let me do work today. We'll see how that goes...:-)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Robert Scheer sums up my feelings on Obama's emails


I will say I responded directly to the Obama email and cursed them out for selling out the nation. Obama's email that Scheer references was the most cynical thing I'd seen thus far from Obama's camp. It was more in the tradition of a Rove operative's propaganda operation than anything else.

ADDENDUM: Markos at Daily Kos feels the same way. So does Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

It was twenty-nine years ago today...

...John Lennon became the Walrus, after all.

Turn us on dead man. And imagine.

And no, happiness is not a warm gun...but it is one of the more outrageously brilliant songs, at least according to this progressive rock fan.:-)

Every year on this date, I find it harder and harder to believe the assassination of John Lennon ever happened. It is the senselessness of the assassin's act and his mindset that often drives the disbelief. Worse, as time goes on, I see the timing of the assassination, coming as it did as Reagan was ascending to the presidency of the U.S., as the final attack on anything good that was attempting to be born from the decade known as the Sixties.


Monday, December 07, 2009

Matt Welch at Viva socialized health insurance

Matt Welch, an editor at the libertarian, had the opportunity to personally compare the French system of health insurance with the American system. And France won.

It is really too bad that the only way libertarians and conservatives like Welch can get their heads out of the metaphoric butt of Ayn Rand ideology is to actually live under the two systems and compare. Otherwise, Matt would have joined in with the other libertarians and trembled with fear that America would become "socialist"--which they mean a dictatorship--if Democrats enacted a health insurance system as in France.

On the bright side, the compelling and clear prose of Welch's article shows once again why a Democratic Party strategy that goes for the gusto of a Medicare for All plan will be far more successful in reforming the delivery of health insurance in our nation than the current and continuing strategy of placating and coddling up to Blue Dog Democrats. The bankruptcy of the coddling/placating strategy was on display yesterday, when our president was afraid to even utter the words "public option" when talking with Democratic Party members.

When will Democratic Party leaders understand that populist economic reforms are not only good policy, but good politics? Does it take more falling poll numbers for Obama?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Happy Zappadan

Every year from December 4 through December 21, we honor the life and legacy of Frank Zappa. Zappa was born on December 21, 1940 and died on December 4, 1993. The period of the annual celebration is known as Zappadan.

There is no doubt that Zappa is an acquired taste.

For the uninitiated.

For the initiated. And no, you can't play this stuff if you're on drugs.

Zappa was a very serious, brilliant and witty guy. And I miss him.

Bonus: The first post-communist government in Czechoslovakia was led by a Zappa fan. Yup, Vaclav Havel.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Wow. I'm nominated for best blog post of 2009

3 Quarks Daily has promoted a contest for best political blog post in the past year. I am one of 47 nominees. That nomination alone is an honor from some very bright people, including Tariq Ali.

If you want to vote for my post, then vote here.

I am sure there are better posts than mine, but heck, I voted for myself in that most mercenary way...:-)

Oh, and if you want to read the nominated post I wrote, here it is. It is called "Is the Obama administration still worth defending?"

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Follow the money...a strange criticism from the Wall St. Journal

The Wall St. Journal editorial writers have no shame, do they? Looking at this article, one finds that they criticize Phil Jones, the lead scientist at the university in Great Britain in the "climate change" emails matter, for receiving lots of money for his and his group's research. The writer then haughtily calls for transparency in the research, which he obviously believes is undermined by the pursuit of the money. One sardonically laughs at the irony of the following paragraph written by this right winger at the Wall St. Journal:

None of these outfits is per se corrupt, in the sense that the monies they get are spent on something other than their intended purposes. But they depend on an inherently corrupting premise, namely that the hypothesis on which their livelihood depends has in fact been proved. Absent that proof, everything they represent—including the thousands of jobs they provide—vanishes. This is what's known as a vested interest, and vested interests are an enemy of sound science.

Um, does anyone think some executives at Big Pharma are a little nervous to read that in the Wall St. Journal today? How about anyone funded by ExxonMobil--say The American Enterprise Institute? Or maybe the Cato Institute?

Yeah, I'd say that the cloistered scientists at the University of East Anglia were perhaps motivated in part by money funding their efforts and the potential for intellectual property protection for their research. And yes, I'd say transparency would be a good thing for scientific research--just as I would also say transparency is important with respect to developing pharmaceutical products. The right wingers and libertarians are inconsistent when it comes to the principle of transparency. Their consistency comes in their exultation of corporate over human interests.

The right wing and libertarians would therefore rather beat up on these socially hapless, insulated--and foreign--scientists who are researching climate change with government grant money, not oil company grants--despite these scientists remaining correct in their overall analysis, and having merely vented in emails they thought were going to remain private. See my first post on this email imbroglio.

And finally, Ronald Bailey, the science writer for the business libertarian magazine, Reason, has a nice article on the need for transparency which may be the best outcome of this scandal. Still, to push for transparency in a way that undermines intellectual property protections for private profit undermines much of the ideological underpinnings of Reason magazine, doesn't it? Amusing...


Bernie Sanders shows Obama and the Republicans he can obstruct, too

Two sides can play this obstruction game. Good for Bernie Sanders to obstruct the nomination proceeding for Ben Bernanke.