Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A main reason for exploding debt and deficits

Funding wars with income tax cuts is rarely a good idea. The cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq stands at $3.7 trillion...and growing.

Let's also recall this chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (see Figure 1 inside the link). The chart shows where most of the future debt and deficit is coming through the end of the Twenty-Teens. The debt and deficits mostly come from three sources: the burst housing bubble and resulting economic downturn, the wars and the Bush Jr. income tax cuts.

The only other driver I can see is Medicare reimbursement costs because Medicare is prohibited by law (yes, by law) from negotiating better prices from Big Pharma, and the US Government, under Medicare, continues to provide the primary insurance for the most expensive part of the population--the elderly. If we put everyone in the same pool, Medicare for All, and gave Medicare the chance to negotiate pricing, we would have a much more effective system of health insurance.

And for those who think Obama is just swell, and simply hampered by Republicans, the failure of the Democrats, when they had the House and a major majority in the Senate, to raise the Big Pharma giveaway to a fever pitch to get that law repealed. Most Americans don't even know that prohibition exists.

ADDENDUM: But even the idea that Medicare is going broke is one that is far less likely than corporate media likes to make us all assume. Stimulating demand in our economy will boost GDP and that will help maintain Social Security and Medicare. When we focus on Social Security and Medicare as "problems" to be solved, we are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Would someone please tell that to our Hoover-like President?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Judge for Booker Prize quits in protest of selection of Philip Roth

...and good for the judge!

Philip Roth is so terribly overrated that Carmen Callil, a feminist oriented writer and former book publisher, quit the judging panel rather than be a party to Roth gaining a lifetime achievement prize from the Booker Awards.

My views about Roth were previously stated in a meandering blog post here

Business Insider Discovers the Second Gilded Age

See Digby's post and link to Business Insider magazine here.

Between the above and PIMCO's Bill Gross' statement that we need a New Deal style stimulus, and his corollary statement that it is wrong to worry about short term deficits and debt, perhaps someone should alert our inert president...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Barack Hoover Obama continues his tone-deaf re-election campaign

President Obama delivered a pathetic weekly speech this morning. Watch it here.

He sounds more like Herbert Hoover every day, imploring business to invest in the US and American workers when everything has shown him that business won't do that at all. They will pocket any tax cuts for themselves and do nothing to stimulate the economy--and for the rational reason that there is no demand for further goods and services and because workers have been left beggared by the Great Recession. Meanwhile, our infrastructure continues to crumble and our president takes a slow boat toward removal of troops from Afghanistan (after the partial withdrawal, there will still be more troops in Afghanistan than when he took up residence at the White House).

Think my comparison to Hoover is not reasonable? Read Hoover's speech to the nation in 1931, particularly the first two paragraphs and the section entitled "The Domestic Situation." There are more of these speeches during the period of 1930 through 1932 that are not on the web, but snippets can be found in Frederick Lewis Allen's brilliant histories "Only Yesterday" (1931) and "Since Yesterday" (1940).*

And President Obama's political tone-deafness continues. Hear what business he is touting in the address? A robotics company that would replace what would be semi-skilled workers. Has this president not even read "Player Piano"? In terms of emotional power, it was a "downer" speech. As I said, tone-deaf...

President Obama is obviously running a campaign where he hopes to be re-elected on the strength of the wackiness of the Republican Presidential Nominee. He is, as I have said in the past, a Weimar Democrat who is managing America's decline. The problem as I have also said is that the Republicans' policy answers are to hasten that decline. That is the essence of our choices among the two major parties in next year's elections. It is a sad choice and a sadder state of affairs for our once powerful nation.

* I first wrote about Allen's work and how Obama is acting like Hoover here.

ADDENDUM: The twin re-election campaign songs for Obama: "Proclamation" and "Valedictory." Gentle Giant continues to inspire!

Sorry, Conrad, wrong legal strategy...

Conrad Black, a Robber Baron about whom I feel much personal sympathy, was ordered back to jail yesterday to continue serving his sentence for business corruption. What I found sad about the article is that Black's legal strategy was that somehow the Court was going to set him free based upon the argument that he did nothing wrong. No contrition. No sense of "You know, I messed up. I was far less a monster than the prosecution initially said, but still, I was wrong." Just the same haughtiness that led to his indictment and conviction in the first place.

Had he shown contrition, some sense of the injustice that often arises with sentencing, and then only alluded to the difference between what he was charged with and what he was convicted, he would have stood a better chance of convincing a Court that he had served enough time. But no, here is how he and his lawyers played it:

Black's lawyers had made an impassioned plea to Judge Amy St. Eve for him to be sentenced to just the 29 months he has already served in jail, arguing that he had already suffered enough.

The once flamboyant media mogul -- who had counted politicians and pop stars among his entourage -- was more stoic as he defended his reputation in a lengthy oration that he concluded with a partial recitation of the Rudyard Kipling poem "If."

Black, 66, blasted the "corporate governance zealots" he blames for the collapse of Hollinger -- for which he took a $250 million stock equity hit -- and berated prosecutors for refusing to concede after Black evaded conviction on 13 of 17 counts and had two more overturned on appeal.

He bemoaned the fact that he has spent the last decade defending himself against a crime that was initially alleged to be a $500 million "corporate kleptocracy" and ended with his conviction for what he said amounts to the "improper receipt of $285,000."

"I never ask for mercy. I seek no one's sympathy," Black told St. Eve. "I do ask for the avoidance of injustice which now lies exclusively in your hands."

Not a good strategy, sir. I can't imagine any judge interested in upholding integrity in the halls of justice wanting to free a convicted felon, no matter what the crime, with such an attitude. Mr. Black has my personal sympathy largely because he wrote the best biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and I know I would love to speak about history and literature with him and his very intelligent wife (...though their politics are high neo-con...shudder). However, I wish I had been in the room with his lawyers to offer a better strategy. Yes, one can make the case that he has served enough prison time considering what his conviction covered. But the length of that sentence should only cause him and other business people to be more careful about supporting tough sentencing when it comes to poor people convicted of drug possession and the like. The adage "A civil libertarian is a business person who has just been indicted" is truly exemplified in the case of Mr. Black. There should have been more sympathy and empathy, and especially contrition from his side of the prison dock. Lacking these, the Court acted the way we would have expected...

Monday, June 20, 2011

The US Supreme Court finds class actions are no substitute for a labor union

I am less upset than many progressives about the US Supreme Court decision today in Dukes v. Wal-Mart. Americans are just going to have to realize that labor unions are the best way for workers to go, as opposed to waiting until the boss screws you over and then having to find a lawyer to file a lawsuit for you.

Wal-Mart workers need to organize and American consumers need to support those workers' right to organize. Unions matter. Unions are still relevant.

Personal story: My wife learned first hand this past year how important labor unions are. She was getting grief from an administrator at her school where she worked as a teachers' aide. Because she was in a union, she did not have to find a lawyer. She just called her union and the union representative moseyed on over and had a meeting with my wife, my wife's supervisor and the administrator. The union rep made clear that the administrator's evaluation of my wife was an attack on her personally, not her performance and that the union was ready to take the issue upwards. The administrator backed off. At the end of this year, my wife received a transfer to a school that appreciates her and knows her effectiveness with challenged students.

If she was in a non-union workplace, that administrator would have succeeded in having her terminated under the usual "at will" relationship (I can fire you for any reason and you can quit for any reason). The union rep was far more effective than most lawyers could ever be, it cost my wife no attorneys' fees and costs and there was no significant delay. Plus, she did not have to worry about the whim of a judge or jury --unlike litigants to a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Obama blew it big time by not supporting labor law reform. In light of this US Supreme Court decision, now might be a good time for our president to talk about unions. But we know better. To paraphrase Kayne West, Barack Obama doesn't care about labor unions.

ADDENDUM: June 21, 2011:

Looks like Obama is scared enough of his base for his 2012 prospects to have the National Labor Relations Board actually propose some helpful rules for union elections. Let's see how far Obama pushes for this change of rules. Chances are he won't. This could end up being a Clintonian stunt akin to Clinton's infamous "side agreements" on labor and the environment during the NAFTA debate. The time to make the stand was two years ago. Still, let's welcome this development which we hope to follow closely and with some...gulp...hope.

Outstanding essay critique of modern business libertarianism

Stephen Metcalf delivers most of what he promised. I would like to see more discussion of the context in which libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick walked away from his thesis. Still, it captures the one dimensionalist sensibility of modern business libertarianism, its ahistorical perspective and its ultimate adolescent philosophical meandering. That Nozick and so many other philosophers who embraced the libertarian model never set foot in any corporate boardroom or had any position in any real business has long been one of my personal piques as to why their philosophy is of little value when dealing with issues of public policy.

Yup, can't wait to see how the folks at Reason magazine respond.

This essay could be an equivalent to the first major "The God that Failed" for the libertarians. One difference I must initially note: I don't think Metcalf is a libertarian or ever identified himself as one. The persons who wrote essays for "The God That Failed" were former Marxists, socialists, Communists, etc. One may only hope, however, that Metcalf's arguments are engaged...

One more personal note: I got a kick out of Metcalf stating more eloquently my post from yesterday about rich corporate executives being overrated except for Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett. He used precisely those two persons as his countervailing examples.

ADDENDUM: June 21, 2011:

And Reason has responded, sort of. Matt Welch provides multiple links to those responding to Metcalf. So it looks like Metcalf mangled a Keynes quote, but seems to have gotten it largely right that the von boys, Mises and Hayek, were beneficiaries of corporate or wealthy patrons. And I did wonder how much Nozick had disavowed his libertarianism--though it appears Nozick did walk back his libertarian position a bit. As for whether libertarians are just "selfish jerks," the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf shows where libertarians are standing tall on issues of the war in Libya, the drug war and prison sexual abuse. Yeah, but those are actually the exceptions to the rule that prove the rule. Most of the time, it's the left that does the job libertarians only sometimes do. The abuse against the left shows who is really the one who challenges authority. Libertarians tend to be invited into the tent quite often and with fairly open arms. And that's because...American libertarians tend to vote Republican. Just compare the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation for the overlaps, especially on the economic issues.

Overall, there is no direct hit against Metcalf's fundamental point against Nozick's famous philosophy book on libertarian dogma. The responses to Metcalf are merely quibbles posing as substance. And while I sometimes share the Brad DeLong point about Slate writers being generally contrary to a fault, Metcalf is not after mere contrarian analysis. He has directly exposed a fundamental flaw in the main book of one of the leading libertarian philosophers of the late 20th Century, i.e. Nozick.

Metcalf still stands tall here.

ADDENDUM: 6/26/11 9:25 p.m. I just came across Metcalf's rejoinder to critics. He is quite good once again. He notes the silliness of "thought experiments" that stack a deck, and then hits back with an alternative history where the Left economic ideas were ascendant these past thirty years to show what a libertarian voice in the wilderness would look like. In the ending to my book, there is a little of that. However, there was one part edited out where I identified someone like myself trying to write--in the RFK as president timeline--a timelines where Reagan becomes president. Metcalf also acknowledges his muddling of Keynes' remarks about Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom," but adds that his view of Keynes' seemingly positive comments were actually condescending and not a little sarcastic against Hayek. I wish he would have shown us the remarks to judge for ourselves, however.

Finally, Metcalf notes the shrillness of the mostly non-sequitur attacks, something I saw as well from the roundup at magazine.

As my arguments with the commenter on my blog site demonstrate, I have little use for most philosophy that is not grounded in empirical data. And Nozick was the personification of that failure. Nozick's proof that an absolute is not necessarily salutary is only the start of an analysis; it is not a cause to reject the mean or less than absolute so as to avoid the messiness that is real life.

ADDENDUM: 6/27/11: And whether the one percent increase in the GDP from 1997-2000, cited by the commenter, was due to the Republican social engineering on taxes is not proven, but the 3.2% growth in the economy that occurred after income tax increases on the rich spoke merely to the point that contrary to those of the commenter's ilk, the economy did not implode in 1993 through 1996. In fact, the economy grew. But as I said, I am more skeptical whether changes in the margin that are not drastic have much if any effect on economic growth for those making oodles of money at the top income levels.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Birthright: As bad as I expected it to be...

This article in The Nation by a young Jewish person will surely get her branded as "self-hating" among the official Jewish political organizations in our fair nation.

The Birthright tours remind me of those tours people took of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s. And the groupthink is familiar to anyone who knows about the culture of 1930s and 1940s American Stalinism.

One institutional fallout from the article is that the Birthright tours will now screen out even more carefully anyone who has a worldview that is consistent with Ha'aretz editorials. It will, instead, become even more Likudnik in its orientation.

The rich are getting away from the rest of us...

Even The Washington Post is starting to notice. I figure the super-rich people are not going to be satisfied until they can build moats around their private houses complete with armed guards, have completely privatized roads to chauffeur their children to and from private schools, and have their servants go shopping for them if they can't order their goods and services via the Internet.

It's also disgusting to me to read that a leading Obama adviser had to bow before certain corporate executives at a swank meeting because those executives are "exasperated" with Obama. Really? How does anyone think Rich Trumka and labor leaders feel about Obama? The executives almost to a man or woman opposed Obama's election in 2008, while labor poured hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Obama. And he gave labor NOTHING while bailing out bankers, financiers and corporate executives from the consequences of their decisions during the reign of Bush Jr. and Cheney. Think I exaggerate? Look at this article from a right winger who is afraid in 2008 that Obama will fulfill a list of labor's demands. Not one of those demands even came close to being met.

Dean Baker has his own critique of the Post article about inequality. His second part of his critique is worth reprinting here:

The other major flaw in this piece is its seeming willingness to accept the explanation that higher pay is explained by the growth of companies. First, this does not appear to have been the case in the 50s and 60s when the economy and many companies grew very rapidly, with no comparable explosion in pay at the top.

Second, the rise in pay for top executives far exceeds the growth of companies. While there has been some increase in concentration over the last three decades, it has not been nearly large enough to explain the rise in pay of top earners. Many of the huge companies of the 60s and 70s, for example General Motors and AT&T have been seriously downsized relative to the size of the economy.

The increased size of companies could at best explain a small portion of the rise in executive pay and would not explain at all the huge gap between the pay for top executives at U.S. companies and the pay for top executives for large foreign corporations like Toyota or Volkswagon (sic). These gaps are likely explained by the corruption of the corporate governance process in the United States where the CEOs get to largely decide the people who determine their pay. Stockholders are likely to exert more control elsewhere and thereby keep pay for top executives more in line with the market.

In short, rich executives in America are overrated. And we know this because, when they are called to testify to Congress about abuses, corruption, mistakes and the like, we hear from them "I don't know..." or "I didn't know..." That is a far cry from "We're the smartest guys in the room and that's why we have to make millions every few months..." It remains a fact that most corporations could summarily fire most CEOs today and the performance of those companies might as often improve as stay the same (The clear exceptions would begin with Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett.) Also, we could double the income taxes on most corporations and they would behave essentially the same as they do today--though if we re-built infrastructure in our nation, they'd hire more workers in response to increased demand.

Why this is so difficult for many Americans to see is a most remarkable aspect to all this macroeconomic discussion. It can be explained, in part, by a relentless propaganda barrage from corporate media since the end of World War II, but only so far. The rest is in the ether of the American Way...

Oh well, enough with exasperation. It's Father's Day, and my wife and I are planning a little family hike today in our local hiking place in this Tuscany of California known as San Diego. :-)

Bernard Avishai on Uri Avnery

Read it here, and read Avnery's latest column. Provocative, yes, to many Jewish-American ears. But certainly enlightening.

Avishai is certainly correct that Avnery's biography is powerful in and of itself.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Onion Explains National Health Insurance From the Perspective of the Average Jim..

This is a brilliant character study. It shows what we've been up against, and how the corporate media, particularly hate radio, propagandizes with guys like "Jim"...

Target Shows Its Fangs Against Its Workers

I used to think of Target as non-union as opposed to anti-union as Wal-Mart. I am revising that view for the worse. Target has shown it is very much anti-union in the Wal-Mart mode.

Guess I'll have to stop shopping at Target. I wonder how my wife and daughter are going to feel about that....

The Irony of It All...

Yesterday, we learned Obama has proven once again why he is "radical" in the George W. Bush manner, not the Eugene Debs manner. I am ready for impeachment hearings for both Obama and Biden.

Meanwile, this one is simply delicious: Post-9/11 bed wetter Christopher Hitchens schools the post-post-9/11 bed wetter David Mamet. The Hitch is saying, "Hey, if you're gonna bash liberals like I do, then you need to do it with better sourcing than Glenn Beck."

More ironic than Ironic, don'tcha think?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Glenn Greenwald Sums Up How I Feel Too...

Read Greenwald's latest here, juxtaposing Nancy Pelosi not wanting to impeach Bush Jr. for his crimes and misdemeanors, but actively pushing Anthony Weiner out the door for acting like a 13 year old.

The two cents I'd add are whether there is anyone prominent in corporate media who will expressly say how embarrassing it is for the corporate media to have covered this story so obsessively and with the same prurience that the disgraced congressman exhibited in his use of social media devices--and how striking it is that the media could barely be bothered to deal with far more important stories, economic, foreign policy and environmental, over the past few weeks.

Atrios Says We Are Doomed...And We Are...

See this latest post from Atrios regarding the latest elitist economist to be promoted by our elitist president.

Train Wreck Budgeting in the tarnished Golden State

The State government of California continues to be a train wreck. The Democratic Party leaders in the legislature passed a budget that normally conservatives would call a compromise--continuation of some temporary additional taxes for a year and significant spending cuts. No Republicans joined in.

Now the Republicans are saying the budget decisions are not doing anything to promote the overall economy and that the balanced budget is based upon gimmicks.

Never mind that in the University of California system, the budget reduces spending by another $150 million on top of a $500 million cut, which will force double digit increases in tuition for students next year (Hear that, my son?). Let's recall that 20 years ago, the UC was 10% of CA's budget. It is now 3%. Prison spending, meanwhile, went from 3% to 10% of CA's budget. Again, those are Republican priorities--and now the fault of weak Democratic Party leaders who won't rally the people.

I just don't understand why Governor Brown and the Democratic Party leaders in the legislature did not push for public initiatives for income tax increases, oil extraction taxes (which would be a first in CA, and bring it in line with other states), increased property taxes on business property and the like. Might as well get this all on the table front and center.

The State needs to grow up, accept responsibility and reform its tax structure. It also should use the recent US Supreme Court decision as the wake-up call to reform the draconian three strikes initiative from nearly 20 years ago that has put so many drug offenders in jail for life, without proper jail housing. Finally, the State should embark on its own infrastructure rebuilding program, which will immediately stimulate an economy that has been more racked by a deep recession than some other places around the nation due in part to CA being a more post-industrial society than some other places.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Judge Walker Not Judicially Biased Just Because He Was a Gay Guy in a Monogomous Relationship

Federal Judge Ware delivered a well-reasoned opinion* yesterday about whether Judge Vaughn Walker should have provided full disclosure to the litigants in Perry v. Schwarzenegger that he was a gay man living with another man in a sexually monogamous relationship for the previous eight years.

* One has to click through the lower part of the screen about high profile cases, and then click on docket document number 797 for the opinion.

Judge Ware recognized the difficulty in formulating or implementing a rule that would reasonably apply in such a broad circumstance. What is intriguing about the opinion is that early on, Judge Ware notes the anti-same sex marriage litigants were not arguing Judge Walker should be found to be biased because he is gay. What they were arguing is that by being a gay man in a monogamous sexual relationship, he should have at least disclosed that fact to the litigants. Now that is subtle--but it's still a pretty broad delineation of a sub-group when trying to apply the bias rules.

The practical legal answer to that jousting sort of argument against Judge Walker's conduct is this: The ruling from Judge Walker is right or wrong on the merits of the arguments and application of law he cited in his opinion declaring the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. The language of his decision is what the court is going to consider, especially as it was a long and detailed decision that those who disagree with the conclusion may honestly and substantively analyze. And if Judge Walker's opinion appeals to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is not gay, then Kennedy and at least other four not-gay justices of the US Supreme Court may well uphold Judge Walker's decision, making it the law of the land.

Thus, it is ultimately irrelevant whether Judge Walker is a gay man living in a sexually monogamous relationship with another man at the time he considered the case and rendered his opinion.

Still, one understands some of the consternation of those opposing same-sex marriage at the fact that Judge Walker was a gay guy who might personally benefit from his ruling. How do we understand this? By flipping the story: Imagine, for a moment, that Judge Walker was a practicing Mormon, but nobody knew that before he decided to uphold the DOMA. Considering how out front the Mormon Church was in promoting Proposition 8 in California, the same State where Judge Walker presided as judge and where he rendered his decision, someone on the same-sex marriage side might have ended up screaming: "Of course he's biased! He's a member of a church that has made it a priority to uphold laws like the DOMA. He has a non-pecuniary interest in upholding the laws that say marriage is between a man and woman, not a man and man, and not a woman and a woman."

But again, I'd say the same to those folks in that scenario as Judge Ware said in his decision yesterday: Is a judge's mere membership in a sub-group enough to trigger full disclosure rules before the judge can consider a petition or case?

While the answer under law is fairly clear that his decision should not be overturned on the grounds of "bias," as defined under the law, I wish Judge Walker had used more personal discretion and disclosed his sexually monogamous gay relationship before hearing and deciding the case. I would like to think I would have been more sensitive than he was to those litigants who were trying to uphold the DOMA. For example, I think I would disclose my being Jewish to a criminal or even civil defendant who was a virulently anti-Semitic white supremacist. If he wanted no part of my presiding over the case, I would carefully want to consider whether to accommodate him--and would likely do so in any number of circumstances.

I had commented on this issue around the time of Judge Walker's decision and am pleased to now find I anticipated Judge Ware's decision.

Still, I also believed then and believe now that Judge Walker is a rather elitist sort of fellow, which is a hallmark of so-called "moderate Republicans" (Yes, Walker was, at least until recently, a Republican by registration). I have also previously blogged on this sociological observation regarding elitist moderate Republicans in the context of the gay rights cases (see here and here), where such moderate Republicans are more likely to engage in the type of judicial social engineering than a left or right wing populist-minded judge might have done.

Oh well, it's on to the US Supreme Court for Perry v. Schwarzenegger, and let's see what happens there.

(Corrected title as I originally wrote "Not impartial"...Oops...)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Another Roy Zimmerman gem...

Roy Zimmerman recorded this in January of this year in Tucson, AZ, where Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) is the congresswoman. It is from an album of his from a few years ago, with a couple of added twists. I loved the references to Yip Harburg and Molly Ivins, too...:-)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dallas Mavericks: Deserving champs of the NBA

The Dallas Mavericks won it all tonight, and were outstanding all through the playoffs. I am so happy for the team and for one of the greatest owners in all of sports, Mark Cuban.

Cuban did something deeply selfless tonight. He brought the original owner of the team to the podium and wanted him to be the first to hold the trophy. Cuban had kept quiet throughout the playoffs, no arguments with refs, no arguments with opposing team players or coaches. He really cares about his team and his players and again it is great his team won it all tonight.

As for the Miami Heat, they were great, too, but just not able to win it. They remind me of the 1960s Lakers' teams, with two or three incredible players, but just not enough of a team to be a champion. At least, not yet. One or two more moves for role players and Pat Riley, a great basketball executive, will hoist the trophy, and LeBron James will find his redemption.

My final comment is to say that I was knocked out by Jason Terry. He was smooth and amazing on the court tonight, but in the quick interviews going to or from the locker and after the game, Terry spoke with an articulation of a coach or executive. He has a great future as a leader in the NBA front offices.

P.S. Now, if only Cuban is able to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers. We need you, Mark!

Roy Zimmerman: Our new Tom Lehrer with a good dose of Phil Ohs

My son and I saw, and met Roy Zimmerman last night. He was in Ventura County, and staying with friends who are active in the Conejo Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

Zimmerman is truly remarkable, very smart about public policy and scientific matters, and often laugh out loud funny. Offstage, he is deeply genuine and friendly.

Last night, among his more well-known songs (well-known among us affectionados) he played songs from a yet unreleased CD including a very moving, serious song about a soldier told he is going to be the last one to die in Afghanistan. At one point the mother of the solider says she is proud because her father was the last to die in Vietnam. It really is moving and the music is very respectful of the soldier who stands to do his duty to God and Country--even when our nation has let him and other soldiers down in a war that is simply wrong or should be ended a lot sooner.

And PaulR, I bought you signed copy of The Foremen's Greatest Hits...Yeah, you!

And here is a personal non-topical favorite of Zimmerman's that he played for an encore: What If The Beatles Were Irish?

Must reading from Krugman...


I love the point he is making which is that we have a health care cost problem, not a Medicare problem. Medicare does a better job of controlling costs, giving access to everyone in its pool and doing it for less administrative costs.

For those ideologically committed to the profit motive, please explain. Wait, don't bother. We've had enough of the nonsense ideological garbage. The facts are facts are facts and in this instance, which is for publicly paid health insurance, this is one instance where government does a pretty damn good job.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Think this will show up on MSNBC or most corporate media?

This is an interesting fact and most interesting hypothesis. Low level radiation from nuclear power plants do tend to track with infant mortality rates. And the conclusion of the doctors does not really surprise me. Still, further investigation should be conducted just to give more confidence in such a conclusion that the Japan nuclear reactor fallout produced this spike in infant mortality in the Pacific Northwest region of the US.

However, there is enough information to report this in our 24/7 corporate media. Let's see how far this news gets, particularly at the GE-marinated NBC and its subsidiaries, MSNBC and CNBC.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The modern history of taxes in the charts

See them here at Center for American Progress.

Friday Night Review of Book Reviews

We open with the Los Angeles Review of Books, a nice find (Hat tip to 3 Quarks Daily):

First, Barbara Ehrenreich reminds us of why she is one of our most insightful writers--ever. Here, she is reviewing several books regarding humans and other animals, and how we are closer than human vanity seems to assume--even those who wrote about it and should really know better.

Second, here is an intriguing article about social Darwinism that focuses on the poor science behind that philosophy and the human penchant for finding relationships after the fact that are simply reductionist.

Third, here is a Washington Post review of an 100 year old book, "The History of Mr. Polly" by HG Wells. It nicely explains the story of a tragic, dark and yet comic book about a somewhat insignificant man. Sinclair Lewis' "Our Mr. Wrenn" (1914) was a take off of that novel, I should add.

And finally, here is another front in the politics of food, this time on the tomato industry.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

During Weiner roast on Daily Show, Stewart slits own wrist

Is there something subconscious about disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY)'s close friend, Jon Stewart, accidentally slitting his own wrist during a very funny satire on the now obligatory "apologize and semi-take responsibility "press conference? The chyrons on the right side and lower parts of the screen during the "presser" were brilliant.

I normally don't comment on politicians' sexual peccadilloes--and just to be sure confirmed I haven't commented on Ensign and Chris Lee on this blog, and my only comments on Vitter were to say Spitzer should no more resign than Vitter and noting the scandals that are engulfing not merely Vitter but others in the context of our often juvenile discussion of homosexuality and matters of sexual behavior.

Still, I am struck by the way our 24/7 corporate news media has crowded out the bad news on the economy, the growing restiveness of our troops in Afghanistan who want to go home and the continued mayhem in Iraq. I guess I should not be struck at all, but each time it happens, one wonders what sort of soul searching goes on in the newsrooms of those organizations. This clip from CNN, which Jon Stewart's show happened to catch, does give us a glimpse of some soul searching. Good for that reporter at CNN to say what she said with just a hint of disgust.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Mike Hiltzik takes on GOPers "moral" challenge

Mike Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times Business section socks it to an also ran GOP presidential candidate--Jon Huntsman--who said that anyone opposing the dopey Ryan plan had a "moral responsibility" to propose an alternative. What cocoon has Huntsman been living in to not know there are "moral" alternatives to Ryan's plan, the same Ryan plan that cuts benefits for poor, elderly and women in general, and rewards the wealthy and large corporations, and keeps funding foreign imperial wars?

I mean, really, Huntsman gets space in the Wall St. Journal op-ed page to ask a question that begs someone to rhetorically sock him square in the face? How pathetic.

We know that Medicare for All does a better job of reining in costs, administering insurance and providing universal access to health care. It is only politics, meaning lobbying by the wealthy special interests of doctors, hospitals, insurers and banks who control insurance companies who buy the congress members and influence the way corporate media covers the issue. Chuck Todd and John King (forget the obvious FoxNewers for a moment) know where to stand, how to sit up and beg and know what NOT to say in order to get their paychecks. They need nobody to threaten or even suggest to them how to protect those interests that pay for political advertising and advertising in general for their networks--and who owns their networks.

Get some popcorn and don't worry yet about Republican presidential primaries...

The corporate owned media is filled with all this wasted circus-like talk about Republican presidential primaries. In the new world of 24/7 corporate media, which now includes the Internet for at least the top half of likely voters who read at least some "news" on the Internet, things move and change quickly. And what that has meant, perhaps counter-intuitively, is that candidates can come out of the woodwork later in the game, as with the rising star, Herman Cain, or later this summer, Texas Governor Rick Perry.

The names of any of these actual or potential Republican candidates simply do not matter. What is already clear is that any candidate must at least successfully feign insanity and take insane positions to win the nomination. Cain, a wanna be Trump sort of politician-businessman, is better than Trump at this, but even he has limits. He just told a reporter yesterday that Bachmann and Pawlenty were doing the "ultimate pander" when including prayers in their speeches at the Faith conference that Republican stalwarts set up. While we doubt that will dim Cain's star, it does show a propensity that might create problems for Cain when the corporate media decide to give him more attention.

Meanwhile, poor Mitt Romney is finding that people don't believe him because...well, he's not insane. From time to time, he tries to be insane, but his flip-flops are because he keeps having to run away from sane things he has said in the past that won't play with the new insane Republican-radio-talk-show-FoxNews universe. Just yesterday, though, Mitt committed sanity regarding climate change--and did it by re-affirming his position, not flip-flopping. And while he did flip around on the health care plan he pushed through as governor of Massachusetts half a decade ago, I think he is finally admitting it really is just like Obama's. The ultimate irony is that the plan is something his Republican father, the long-deceased George Romney, would have rejected as too conservative forty-five years ago (By the way, I love that Mitt reveres his father, as his father really was a good and solid citizen.*).

Romney the Son has made one realization that is remarkably counter-intuitive. He realizes the only way to reach the angry white working class and religious people in the Republican Party is to run to Obama's left on the deplorable state of joblessness in America. He did it again yesterday, castigating Obama that people without jobs are not a "bump in the road," as Obama said in his speech on Friday. It's all rhetoric of course, and Romney is not likely to propose a New Deal solution. Still, it is worth remarking once again about Obama's elitist tonedeafness. As with Obama's true ancestor, Herbert Hoover, such tonedeafness becomes more appalling every day.

My advice to readers is to step back from reading, listening or watching too much about the Republican Party jockeying. If we do encounter it, as I finally decided to do this weekend, we should simply make sure we're eating some popcorn or my favorite, M&M's, and treat the jockeying as the insane spectacle it has become. And let's not be surprised if the candidate the Republicans next year is not someone officially running now.

* But before we get too misty-eyed, let's remember Mitt is a modern Republican, which means he really would work to kill Social Security and Medicare. What angers me is that Obama feels the same way, and is just itching at the chance to please his financier donors in doing so. If she were alive, Obama's mother would be appalled.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

First crack in the wall of the Dylan Cult?

The Jewish Daily Forward asks the question: Paul Simon vs. Bob Dylan, Who's Greater?

Well, it's a start.

As I have said, as the Baby Boomers age and finally die off, so will the Cult that overrated Bob Dylan...

Thoughtful article on the philosophy and practical challenges in higher education

Louis Menand has written a powerful, thought-provoking article on higher education in The New Yorker. There are aspects I am not in agreement with, more because of what he is implying as opposed to saying, but the article moves forward the discussion we should begin to have in our nation.

I was particularly intrigued by his discussion showing how business majors did worse than biology or literature majors in being able to make business decisions. Menand recognized that the methodology the authors of the book he was reviewing may have mis-selected or did not compare levels of students at differing colleges. I have to agree, because my life experience says that while business people are not readers of high fiction or even deep non-fiction, they sure know how to read balance sheets, reports and memoranda, communicate well and make snap decisions that are on the whole very smart.

Menand has two (and then later three) theories of higher education. The two he juxtaposes as somehow largely exclusive do not strike me as exclusive at all. I think schools should be meritocratic and democratic. There may be some tension at some point, but the two concepts are definitely compatible. At worst, they are a yin and yang, meaning that one does not practically function without the other.

Again, the stats and analysis within the article are a treat, and give a great perspective on the experience of higher education.

Personally, I'd love to teach a course to business and communication majors called "The Business Novel." I think it would be both enlightening and provide the students some enjoyment of what one student quoted in the article said was thought before the course to be something "boring."

Philo-Semitism explained...and analogized

Adam Kirsch nails this subject in a manner truly enlightening.

I got a kick out of the last few grafs about how Eastern European nations, starting in Poland, are now reveling in Jewish kitsch. This is similar to way we Americans who are children of immigrants (right down to Mayflower descendants) revel in Native American ("Indian") imagery. We later love what we have killed, is what Kirsch says in his article.

That is also how come I feel so negatively toward "Indian casinos" in our nation. It is a twisted sort of apology to allow these zombie tribes to open casinos, tell us that it is their land after all (meaning few if any state laws apply) and bring with the casinos the usual corruption and vice that goes along with the vice of gambling. I have compared it to allowing Jews to return to their homes in Poland to open casinos and say, the laws of Poland's cities where the homes are no longer apply since the Jews are their own "nation." And then we'd have the spectacle of people who claim to be Jewish by "blood," and those who may or may not be able to prove it--and internal fights arising over who is more purely "Jewish", etc.

This is what happens with the zombie tribes who operate the casinos, of course. See here and here, for starters. There was in Congress, starting in the late 1960s, a weird confluence between people like Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and later Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ), whose genuine sense of guilt over what our nation's ancestor leaders did to the Native Americans led to the development of casino culture within the various "Indian" tribes throughout our nation.

Anyway, the article on anti- and philo-Semitism is well worth the read.

Great Robert Scheer column and odds and ends

Scheer's column on the latest disclosures of Obama Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner's tenure at the NY Fed is outstanding.

The corruption at the heart of our Empire is a sight to behold.

Also, Stephen Colbert nails the shameless hypocrisy of Republicans over the issue of the debt ceiling.

Still, let's rip into our Democratic Party president, too. Who does he think he's fooling with his speech about the manufacturing turnaround? The president's action to save GM and Chrysler was fine, but it was too little. This nation needs a far more wide-ranging infrastructure rehabilitation and modernizing. The president and the Democratic Party blew their chance, but that assumes the president or his party leaders ever stood for anything other than "managing the decline" of America. Between these weak water carriers for financiers and the crazy people who think we need more of what ails us, which is income tax cuts for the wealthy elite and imperial wars, or people who are so dumb they can't correctly recall American history (with a touch of mythological poetry), I am losing hope in our ability to overcome our nation's economic challenges.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The union premium

My friend, Hip, whose comments grace this blog more than any single commenter, has an affliction of some libertarians these days (see Rand Paul, for example), which is an abuse of the word "slavery." This strikes me as the equivalent of the left winger who abuses the word "fascist," perhaps, but even there, there are more fascistic elements in the US than we might normally think (see Bertram Wolfe's "Friendly Fascism").

Anyway, in a comment regarding my post about Steve King (R-NY) and his saying labor is a commodity, I contrasted Abe Lincoln's recognition that labor is about human beings, and that is why humans must have first consideration over "capital." Hip then responded that the Davis-Bacon Act was like slavery as it supposedly impoverished non-union workers.

My response in the comments to that post was that studies show unions tend to benefit the economic fortunes of those who are non-union. Here is one such study from Lawrence Mishel and Matthew Waters of the Economic Policy Institute. Now, just trashing the authors of the study as working for a pro-union think tank is not enough here. Their analysis is consistent with other studies from non-union funded think tanks. See here (a March 2010 Study from two Cornell professors in labor and industrial relations regarding the construction industry, unions and the overall economy of Massachusetts) as one recent example.

Now, let's see what the right wing, corporate-funded Heritage Foundation has to say about this. Reading this report from The Heritage shows they really can't prove unions cause more poverty in a society. They think it's a mixed bag, and with their suppositions thrown around here and there (particularly their last few paragraphs of their linked-to discussion), they just say unions don't really help overall. That's a far cry from slavery, too.

The real "tell" in The Heritage piece is what I say: Unions operate to squeeze profits at the top, which most often means that executives get to grab less profits for themselves. Unions force executives to make choices between innovation, for example, and taking more money for themselves. Is that really so bad? And if we think about it, that's why we see such a disparity in wealth, little investment, etc. in the past decade, and that's because without unions, more wealth is grabbed by the economic elite. That shows further why unions often (not always) play a salutary role in a society.

And isn't it funny how those who want to denigrate the union premium all of a sudden believe in a zero-sum society? That's the hidden assumption in a main part of The Heritage analysis. Yet, aren't those same folks the ones who believe a rising tide lifts all boats when they are defending excessive wealth of a few executives and financiers?

The Record Store Lives in Some Places at Least...

See this nicely drawn, and somewhat touching article about a record store in NYC that continues to survive. The owner lives in the town next to where I grew up, is likely of the Hebraic faith and loves Zappa (his friend loves King Crimson, too).

Keeping the faith of music for its own sake in an American society that has seen music almost completely commodified into style of clothes, personnas and frankly noise.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

In 1860, Republican Steve King would be a Democrat

See this outburst where King says that labor is a commodity just like "corns or beans or oil or gold..."

Abe Lincoln, an original Republican, was a free labor, free soil kind of guy. In 1861, in his first annual message to Congress, Lincoln said:

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

Another tidbit: Here is Karl Marx's January 1865 congratulatory telegram to Lincoln upon Lincoln's re-election in 1864.

The Republican Party continues to devolve...