Archive for the ‘The New Normal’ Category

Donald Trump, a walking conflict of interest

May 3, 2017

I doubt if Donald Trump could get through a single day, certainly not a single week, without being involved in a conflict of interest.

The Atlantic magazine has drawn up a list of 39 issues (and counting) in which decisions by President Trump will affect the profitability of the Trump Organization.

Maybe the biggest one is the federal investigation of the Deutsche Bank, which holds $300 million in IOUs from the Trump Organization.

U.S. banks wouldn’t give Trump credit after he defaulted on debt when his Atlantic City casinos declared bankruptcy, so he turned to the Deutsche Bank, which is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice on charges of  laundering money for Russian mobsters.  Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said he will continue this investigation impartially.  We’ll see,

The Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service have been conducting investigations as to whether the Trump Organization violated labor law and tax law.   Will these investigations continue?  We’ll see.

The Trump Organization’s lease agreement with the General Services Administration for the Trump International Hotel property contains a provision that no elected official will be part of the lease.  But the GSA has ruled this doesn’t apply to Trump because he’s no longer officially head of the business.  An impartial decision?  Maybe.

Trump’s business is involved in business deals with politicians and close relatives of politicians in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, Dubai and Argentina.  Will Trump, if necessary, make decisions that threaten those relationships?  We’ll see.

And then there are daughter Ivanka’s women’s fashion business and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s family real estate businesses.

Never even mind the penny-ante stuff—Donald Trump charging the Secret Service for use of Trump facilities while they guard him and his families.

Any of these conflict would be highly controversial as a stand-alone issue.  The problem is that there are so many issues it is impossible to remember any one of them.

The problem is that there is hardly any decision that Trump or his appointees can make—whether in foreign policy, tax policy, labor policy, environmental policy or consumer protection—that will not in some way affect the profitability of the Trump businesses.

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Barack Obama’s $400,000 speaking fee

May 3, 2017

There are two ways of looking at the $400,000 speaking fee that ex-President Barack Obama will receive from the Wall Street brokerage firm of Cantor Fitzgerald for speaking at a health care investment conference.

One is that a public official who governed in the interests of Wall Street and the health insurance industry is receiving a big bag of money from a Wall Street firm with major investments in the health insurance industry.

The other is that Obama is merely doing what all but one of the ex-Presidents from Gerald Ford onward have done, which is to use speaking fees cash in on his celebrity status.

Hillary and Bill Clinton’s speaking fees were a special case because Hillary Clinton was a future Presidential candidate.   Hillary’s $675,000 in Goldman Sachs speaking fees could be interpreted as payments not only for services rendered, but for services anticipated.   That suspicion was reinforced by Clinton’s refusal to release the texts of her talks.

I imagine that Barack Obama will have sense enough to watch his words enough to be able to release the text of his Cantor Fitzgerald talk without embarrassment.

Obama is not doing anything unusual.  All but one of the Presidents from Gerald Ford through George W. Bush cashed in with big speaking fees after they left office.

This is the new normal.  In this neoliberal age, an ex-President such as Harry Truman or Jimmy Carter who refused to monetize the office of the Presidency would seem quaint and strange.

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Guantanamo ratio vs. public school ratios

April 10, 2017

Prison staff at Gitmo: 1,750

Prisoners at Gitmo: 41

Average teacher/student ratio in US public schools: 1 : 27

Source: Jeffrey St.Clair | Counterpunch

Donald Trump didn’t come out of nowhere

March 7, 2017

During the election campaign, I wrote that Donald Trump is intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit to be President of the United States.  Nothing since then has changed my mind.

But it is not as if Trump overturned a well-functioning system.   The United States was already committed to perpetual war and rule by Wall Street.

My friend Bill Elwell called my attention to an article by Tom Engelhardt, who wrote in part:

Odd as it may seem under the circumstances, Trump’s presidency came from somewhere, developed out of something. To think of it (as many of those resisting Trump now seem inclined to do) as uniquely new, the presidential version of a virgin birth, is to defy both history and reality.

Donald Trump, whatever else he may be, is most distinctly a creature of history. He’s unimaginable without it.  This, in turn, means that the radical nature of his new presidency should serve as a reminder of just how radical the 15 years after 9/11 actually were in shaping American life, politics and governance. 

In that sense, to generalize (if you’ll excuse the pun), his presidency already offers a strikingly vivid and accurate portrait of the America we’ve been living in for some years now, even if we’d prefer to pretend otherwise.

After all, it’s clearly a government of, by and evidently for the billionaires and the generals, which pretty much sums up where we’ve been heading for the last decade and a half anyway. 

Let’s start with those generals.  In the 15 years before Trump entered the Oval Office, Washington became a permanent war capital; war, a permanent feature of our American world; and the military, the most admired institution of American life, the one in which we have the most confidence among an otherwise fading crew, including the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, television news, newspapers, big business and Congress (in that descending order).  […]

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How artificial intelligence elected Trump

February 28, 2017

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Hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer bailed out the Trump campaign last summer when it hit its low point, but that was not the most important thing he did.

The most important thing was to teach Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner and Jason Miller how to use computer algorithms, artificial intelligence and cyber-bots to target individual voters and shape public opinion.

The Guardian reported that Mercer’s company, Cambridge Analytica, claims to have psychological profiles on 220 million American voters based on 5,000 separate pieces of data.  [Correction: The actual claim was 220 million Americans, not American voters.]

Michal Kosinski, lead scientist for Cambridge University’s Psychometric Centre in England, said that knowing 150 Facebook likes, he can know a person’s personality better than their spouse; with 300 likes, better than the person knows themselves.

Advertisers have long used information from social media to target individuals with messages that push their psychological buttons.

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked or surprised that political campaigners are doing the same thing.

Bloomberg reported how the Trump campaign targeted idealistic liberals, young women and African-Americans in key states, identified through social media, and fed them negative information about Hillary Clinton in order to persuade them to stay home.

This probably was what gave Trump his narrow margin of victory in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The other way artificial intelligence was used to elect Trump was the creation of robotic Twitter accounts that automatically linked to Breitbart News and other right-wing news sites.

This gave them a high-ranking on Google and created the illusion—or maybe self-fulfilling prophecy—that they represent a consensus.

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Why do things cost so much?

February 17, 2017

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Scott Alexander, a physician in the Midwest, points out on his blog that during the past 50 years—

  • U.S. housing costs have increased about 50 percent.
  • U.S. education costs have increased 100 percent
  • U.S. college costs have increased 400 percent.
  • U.S. subway fares have increased 400 percent or more.

All of this is adjusted for inflation.

  • Health care in the United States costs about four times as much as equivalent health care in other First World countries
  • U.S. subways costs about eight times as much as equivalent subways on other First World countries.

The wages and salaries of public school teachers, college professors, nurses and physicians has meanwhile remained relatively flat.

As Alexander points out, this is strange.

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Maybe we all really can get along

February 11, 2017

This Danish television program takes people who fit in different boxes ethnicity, belief and social and economic class, and shows the commonalities that exist across these divisions.   Who among you was the class clown? they were asked.  Who are step-parents?   Who is madly in love?

It’s easy to put people in boxes.  There’s us and there’s them.  The high-earners and those just getting by.  Those we trust and those we try to avoid.  There’s the new Danes and those who’ve always been here.  The people from the countryside and those who’ve never seen a cow.  The religious and the self-confident.  There are those we share something with and those we don’t share anything with.

And then suddenly, there’s us.  We who believe in life after death, we who’ve seen UFOs, and all of us who love to dance.  We who’ve been bullied and we who’ve bullied others.

  Maybe we all really can get along.   Hat tip to kottke.org.

Americans’ increasingly insecure twilight years

January 14, 2017

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Hat tip to occasional links and commentary.

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Can intelligence agencies overturn the election?

January 12, 2017

The following is by Lambert Strether on the Naked Capitalism web log.

Since November 8 we’ve had four crises of legitimacy of escalating intensity, each one pointing to a change in the Constitutional order.

  • First, we had Stein’s recount effort, justified in part by a(n unproven) theory that “Russian hacking” had affected the vote tallies.  (Recall that 50% of Clinton voters believe this, although no evidence has ever been produced for it, it’s technically infeasible at scale, and statistically improbable.)  Since the “Russian hacking” theory was derived from intelligence not shown to the public, the change to the Constitutional order would be that the Intelligence Community (IC) would gain a veto over the legitimacy of a President during a transfer of power; veto power that would be completely unaccountable, since IC sources and methods would not be disclosed.
  • Second, we had the (hilariously backfired) campaign to have “faithless electors” appoint somebody other than Trump to be President.  Here again, the change in the Constitutional order was exactly the same, as (Clintonite) electors clamored to be briefed by the IC on material that would not be shown to the public, giving the IC veto power over the appointment of a President after the vote tallies had been certified.
  • office_of_the_director_of_national_intelligence_seal_usaThird, we had the IC’s JAR report, which in essence accused the President-elect of treason (a capital offense).  Here again the publicly available evidence of that quite sloppy report has been shredded, so in essence we have an argument from IC authority that secret evidence they control disqualifies the President elect, so the change in the Constitutional order is the same.
  • Fourth, we have the “Golden Showers” report, which again is an argument from IC authority, and so again gives the IC veto power over a President appointed by the Electoral College. 

Needless to say, once we give the IC veto power over a President before the vote is tallied, and before the electoral college votes, and after the electoral college votes but before the oath of office and the Inaugural, we’re never going to be able to take it back.

This is a crossing the Rubicon moment.  Now, you can say this is unique, not normal, an exceptional case, but “sovereign is he who decides on the exception” (Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmidt).  And who then is the sovereign?  The IC.  Is that what liberals want?

Source: naked capitalism

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Senator Schumer on the power of the deep state

January 5, 2017

The new leader of Democrats in the Senate says Donald Trump is being “really dumb” for picking a fight with intelligence officials, suggesting they have ways to strike back, after the president-elect speculated Tuesday that his “so-called” briefing about Russian cyberattacks had been delayed in order to build a case.

“Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Tuesday evening on MSNBC after host Rachel Maddow informed him that intelligence sources told NBC news that the briefing had not been delayed. 

“So, even for a practical supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this,” he added.

Source: Washington Examiner

Think about what Schumer said.   He said the Central Intelligence Agency is more powerful than the elected President of the United States, and the President is a fool to challenge the CIA.

Is this compatible with democracy?  with Constitutional government?

This is an example of the power of what’s been called the Deep State—interlocking institutions with power over public policy that are not accountable to the public.

Presumably President Obama was not such a “fool” as to take on the CIA, even if he disagreed with its conclusions.  This would explain a lot about his decisions on foreign and military policy.

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Adam Curtis on image, reality & suicide bombing

November 10, 2016

Adam Curtis is a documentary filmmaker for the BBC who uses archival footage to remind viewers of forgotten facts and to make connections that others wouldn’t see.

This documentary does not quite add up to a connected whole, but within it is a fascinating history of the evolution of suicide bombing, starting with the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1982, the Iran-Iraq war, Palestinian terrorism, the 9-11 attacks and Islamic State (ISIS) terrorism.

Along with it is a history of American and British deception and self-deception in their policies toward Syria and Libya.

Suicide bombing, according to Curtis, as a military tactic by Syria’s ruler Hafiz al-Assad to offset American military power in his region.  Now it is used by ISIS to sow sectarian strife in Iraq and Syria, and bring down Assad’s son, Bashir al-Assad.

He documents how Muammar Qaddafi was set up by American policy-makers as a scapegoat for the crimes of Hafiz al-Assad because he was a more vulnerable foe.

This film is not the whole story of recent Middle Eastern history.  Curtis appears to think that the American and British governments seriously intended to bring democracy to the Middle East, for example.  But he brings out many fascinating facts, some forgotten and some new (at least to me).

I recommend viewing just those parts of the documentary dealing with Syria, suicide bombing and the Middle East, and fast-forwarding through the rest, which consists of disconnected material about Curtis’s long-term concerns about technological manipulation, technological utopianism and the decline of the democratic process.

Click on HyperNormalization if the YouTube version doesn’t work.  Click on The Century of the Self and All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace for Curtis’s best documentaries about his meta concerns.

The good, the bad and the ugly

November 7, 2016

A Tale of Three Foundations: Carter, Clinton and Trump by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

The new normal: links Nov. 2, 2016

November 2, 2016

A Tale of Three Foundations: Carter’s, Clinton’s and Trump’s by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Forget the FBI cache: the Podesta emails show how America is run by Thomas Frank for The Guardian.

Too Smug to Jail: ‘The Economist’ issues a myopic defense of the white-collar criminal by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Michael Moore Owes Me $4.99 by David Swanson for Counterpunch.

Dean Baker on white privilege

June 6, 2016

violentTrump-RallyThe rise of Trump has provoked a considerable outpouring of commentary from the pundits.  Most of it centered on the chief complaint that the white working class is upset about losing its privileged position and see Trump as the ticket to setting things right.

There is considerable truth to this story.  Trump’s strongest support comes from white men without college degrees, although he also does quite well among small business owners.  But before we condemn these workers as hopeless Neanderthals, it is worth stepping back a bit to consider what led them to support Donald Trump’s candidacy in the first place.

The “privilege” that these working class whites are looking to defend is middle-class factory jobs paying between $15 and $30 an hour.  These jobs generally came with decent health care benefits and often a traditional defined benefit pension, although that has become increasingly rare over the last two decades.

Trump-Iowa-supporters-Getty-640x480This is certainly a privileged position compared to billions of people in the developing world who would be happy to make $15 a day.  It is also privileged compared to women, whose pay still averages less than 80 percent of their male counterparts.  And, it is privileged compared to the situation of Americans of color who have frequently been trapped in the least desirable and lowest-paying jobs.

But these factory jobs and other blue collar occupations are hardly privileged when compared to the high flyers in the financial industry, the CEOs and other top level managers, or even professionals like doctors and dentists.  These groups have all seen substantial increases in their pay and living standards over the last four decades.

If you want to see “privilege,” look to the CEO making $20 million a year as they turn in a mediocre performance managing a major corporation.  Or talk to a cardiologist, an occupation with a median annual salary of more than $420,000 a year.

The pundits all know about these disparities in pay, but they want us to believe that they have nothing to do with privilege; rather, they reflect the natural workings of the market.  And they tend to act really ridiculous when shown evidence otherwise.

Source: Dean Baker | truthout

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Super-delegates and super Tuesdays

April 6, 2016

Bernie Sanders’ strong showing in the Democratic primaries is remarkable because today’s primary system was set up specifically to prevent somebody like him from winning the nomination.

Bernie_Poster_Large_Web_Graphic_72dpiSuper-delegates are Democratic party and elected officials who automatically get a seat in the convention, but are un-pledged.  They have the power to tip the balance against any undesired upstart grass roots candidate.  About 15 percent of this year’s delegates will be super-delegates.

Super-Tuesday is a day early in the election year in which a large bloc of states, mainly Southern and Midwestern, hold primary elections on the same day.  The expected result is for the front-runner to lock in a lead before New Yorkers and Californians vote.

The super-delegate system was set up in 1982 and the first Super Tuesday was in 1984.  The avowed purpose, which was frankly stated at the time, was to prevent the nomination of another George McGovern, an anti-war, left-wing candidate who swept the primaries in 1972 but only carried Massachusetts and the District of Columbia in the general election.

mcgovernbd74cdee16334b204b22d6ece81699c2It’s almost forgotten now that 1972 was the first year that all delegates to Democratic or Republican national conventions were chosen in primary elections.  From 1832 to 1908, there were no presidential primaries, and presidential candidates were nominated at conventions, usually after many ballots.  From 1912 to 1968, some states held primaries, but the results were frequently disregarded.  The Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey in 1968 even though he did not win a single primary.

Things changed in 1972 when George McGovern was nominated against the virtually unanimous opposition of the Democratic Party establishment.  Under party rules of that year, there was guaranteed minimum representation of racial minorities, women and youth, but not of Democratic governors, senators and congressional representatives, many of whom failed to win election as delegates.

McGovern went down to ignominious defeat—which was partly, but probably not mainly, due to lack of support from Democratic regulars.   Moderate, business-friendly Democrats founded the Democratic Leadership Council to steer the part away from what he stood for.

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Why a profitable company laid off 1,400 people

March 28, 2016

carrier2WTTVIndianapolis

In February, 1,400 employees of Carrier Air Conditioner in Indianapolis were told their jobs were being transferred to Mexico to cut costs.

It turns out that, according to the annual report of United Technologies, its parent company, that Carrier was a profitable and growing business segment.  In 2015, it was UT’s best-performing division in the company.

So why mess with it?  UT management hoped to boost the company’s stock price by cutting costs.  Managers say they plan to keep on cutting costs for the indefinite future, evidently without regard to

All this runs contrary to the way I was taught in college that a capitalist free enterprise system is supposed to work.

I was taught that the duty of corporate management is to ensure that the corporation survives and is profitable into the indefinite future.  This goal is achieved by making good products and at a reasonable price, and provide good customer service.  To do this, it is necessary to re-invest a good portion of the profits in the business.

UT management’s philosophy is evidently the opposite—to take money out of the business and give it to the passive shareholders.

∞∞∞

The New York Times evidently had a good article on this, which unfortunately is behind a pay wall.  David Dayen summarized its conclusions in an article for Salon.

Last year, Carrier produced a significant chunk of total profits for its parent company, United Technologies.  Of $7.6 billion in earnings in 2015, $2.9 billion came from the Climate, Controls & Security division, where Carrier resides.  Profits from this division have expanded steadily in recent years, which is not what you’d expect from a unit desperate to cut labor costs.

A look at United Technologies’ annual report reveals even more good news: Commercial and industrial products, Carrier’s category, make up over half of UTC’s $56 billion in net sales. Climate, Controls & Security had 3 percent growth in 2015, the highest in the company; it was the only division to increase its profit margin year-over-year.

“Organic sales growth at UTC Climate, Controls & Security was driven by the U.S. commercial and residential heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and transport refrigeration businesses,” according to page 14 of the report. In other words, air conditioners – what the workers are making in Indianapolis – drove the growth of the best-performing facet of United Technologies’ business.

So why would a profitable, growing business need to ship jobs to Mexico?  Because their shareholders demanded it.

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Hillary Clinton’s core message for America

March 15, 2016

Corey Robin, a blogger and political science professor, said Hillary Clinton’s core message should be taken seriously.

Amid all the accusations that Hillary Clinton is not an honest or authentic politician, that she’s an endless shape-shifter who says whatever works to get her to the next primary, it’s important not to lose sight of the one truth she’s been telling, and will continue to tell, the voters: things will not get better. Ever.

At first, I thought this was just an electoral ploy against Sanders: don’t listen to the guy promising the moon.  No such thing as a free lunch and all that.  But it goes deeper.  The American ruling class has been trying to figure out for years, if not decades, how to manage decline, how to get Americans to get used to diminished expectations, how to adapt to the notion that life for the next generation will be worse than for the previous generation, and now, how to accept … … low to zero growth rates as the new economic normal.

Clinton’s campaign message isn’t just for Bernie voters; it’s for everyone. Expect little, deserve less, ask for nothing.  When the leading candidate of the more left of the two parties is saying that — and getting the majority of its voters to embrace that message — the work of the American ruling class is done.

Source: Corey Robin

African factory workers in deepest Iowa

March 14, 2016

Writer Paul Street reported for Counterpunch on his experiences working alongside Congolese and Sudanese immigrant workers in a Procter & Gamble factory in Iowa.

Here in and around the liberal bastion of Iowa City, a university town where wage-earners’ working class lives are all but invisible to a large local cadre of privileged and mostly white academicians, the lower end of the workplace and the job market – the factory and warehouse positions filled by temporary labor agencies, custodial jobs, taxi drivers, etc. – is crowded with immigrants.

Paul Street

Paul Street

It is chock full of nonwhite people who feel fortunate to have any kind of job that helps them escape danger, misery terror, and oppression in far-away places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Honduras, Mexico, and Haiti.

Does anyone really believe that Iowa City’s giant Procter & Gamble plant – my low-wage, finger-wrenching workplace between from September of 2015 through February of 2016 and the origin point for many of North America’s leading hair-care products – is crawling with Congolese and Sudanese workers, along with a smattering of Central Americans, Caribbean islanders, marginal whites, Black Americans, and Africans from other states, because P&G (the nation’s 25th largest company and its top consumer packaged goods firm by far) is nobly committed to racial and ethnic diversity and a world without borders?

Of course it isn’t.  P&G reserves its better paid and more “skilled” and secure “career” production jobs almost completely for non-Hispanic whites.  These “plant technician” jobs require no more than a GED (high school equivalency) degree and start at around $20 an hour.

Street said P&G relies on Staff Management / SMX, a temporary help agency, to provide its lowest-paid workers.  They get $10 to $11.85 an hour.  SMX gets an additional fee—Street heard that it was $6—on top of that.

The work includes filling boxes on rapidly moving assembly lines with shampoo, conditioner and mouthwash bottles, building and wrapping pallets at the end of never-ending packaging-assembly lines, putting stickers on one shampoo or conditioner bottle after another, and more and worse.

It’s all performed in exchange for inadequate wages (far lower than they ought to be thanks to the SMX rake-off) and at constant risk of being sent home early and without warning since there’s often “no more product today” (that’s called “labor flexibility” and it’s no small problem for workers who already paid for a full day’s worth of child care).

He himself quit because, he found after five months of pulling apart tightly glued boxes, he could no longer clench and un-clench his fists.  The function in his hands returned after a week off the job.

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Trump is only slightly more crazy than the others

December 31, 2015

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I confess that I never thought Donald Trump would get as far as he has.  I thought he would crash and burn, like so many of the Republican candidates in 2012.  I thought Hillary Clinton was the inevitable Democratic candidate, and that Scott Walker might take the Republican nomination away from Jeb Bush.

I did not think that somebody as sleazy as him would be taken seriously by the mass of ordinary Americans.

I kept waiting for Donald Trump to say something so outrageous and stupid that his candidacy would fail.  But here he is, stronger than ever – as Thoreau of Unqualified Offerings says, something like The Mule in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.

I still don’t think Trump will be nominated, and, if he is, I don’t think he will be elected.  I most certainly wouldn’t vote for him.

But I don’t see that he is that much crazier than the mainstream Republican candidates or Hillary Clinton.

Muslim-bashing is bad, immigrant-bashing is bad, and “roughing up” black protesters is truly vicious.  But it is just as badworse to accept perpetual war as normal, economic decline as inevitable, and financial fraud as something you can’t do anything about, which is what almost all the so-called mainstream candidates do.

LINKS

Eight Things About Donald Trump by John Scalzi on his Whatever blog.

How Republicans and Polls Enable Donald Trump by Nate Silver for FiveThirtyEight.

Six Crazy Things Trump Says That Are Spot On by Ted Rall for Japan Times.

Fear itself is the greatest danger

December 11, 2015

Suppose you are an ISIS terrorist determined to wreak havoc on the United States.   So you infiltrate a Syrian refugee camp hoping to be admitted to the United States.

refugeecamps1371059561224.cachedWhat would be your chances of succeeding?  Let’s do some arithmetic.  There are about 4 million refugees in camps surrounding Syria.  President Barack Obama has announced he will admit 15,000 refugees (up from his original 10,000).  So the odds of any particular person being selected for the program are about one in 27,000.

Of course you would have to come up with a convincing story about how you came to be a refugee and find a U.S. sponsor.  What are the chances of that?   Yet there are governors of American states who fear to admit even one refugee.

Then there’s Donald Trump, who wants to keep out all foreign Muslims.   How would these Muslims be identified?  Simple, Trump explained.  Airline representatives, customs officials and border guards would simply ask, “Are you Muslim?”   Evidently he doesn’t consider the possibility that a terrorist would lie.   Maybe it would be simpler just to ask incoming visitors if they’re agents of ISIS.

gallup.poll.terrorismWhy do people think so irrationally?  It is because we’re scaredFrightened people don’t think.  They only react.

The fact is that so long as the U.S. government wages war in the Greater Middle East, there is going to be blowback against Americans, and there is little we can do to prevent it.

We can choose to end these wars, which is what I advocate.  We can accept a certain amount of danger as the price of waging war for important national objectives.  Or we can do things out of fear that make us feel safer, even though they don’t.

Another stock market bubble ready to pop?

May 7, 2015

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Why are stock prices rising while the real economy is doing so badly?

Answer: Stock buybacks.

Mike Whitney, writing for Counterpunch, explains how corporate CEOs keep their stock prices high even when their sales and profits are lagging by borrowing money and buying back stock.

CEO salaries and bonuses are typically tied to stock prices, so CEOs are rewarded for increasing their corporate debt rather than figuring out how to improve efficiency and make better products.  Whitney quoted Wall Street analysts as saying stock buybacks account for more than half the post-recession rise in the stock market.

Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve Board made this possible by holding down interest rates, an action that punishes risk-averse small savers who’d prefer to keep their money in insured bank accounts and pushes them into the financial markets.

That’s why the financial markets are doing so well and working Americans are doing so badly.  But this cannot go on forever, and I think the next crash will be worse than the previous one, just as the current recovery is worse than the previous one.

LINKS

The Rich Get Richer: Titanic Stock Bubble Fueled by Buyback Blitz by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

The Whisper of the Shutoff Valve by John Michael Greer on The Archdruid Report.

Body counts and the new normal

May 1, 2015

Physicians for Social Responsibility, in a report issued several weeks ago, estimated that more than 1 million people died in Iraq during the past 15 years as a result of U.S.-led military operations, and more than 300,000 people died in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’m not certain these numbers are accurate.  I do think they are as close to being accurate as is humanity possible.  I don’t find them unbelievable.  They’re partly based on verified reports, partly on statistical sampling methods most Americans find credible when applied to everyday subjects.

The worst thing to me is not the number, but the indifference of the American public.  We as a nation don’t care about bystanders, except when American citizens happen to be among those accidentally killed.

Somebody might argue that people were killed in larger numbers, and more indiscriminately, in World War Two.  But the war against the Axis powers had a definite purpose and came to a definite end.  There is no expectation of when the so-called long war on terror might be won, or exactly what winning would consist of.

We talk about the moral breakdown of society.  When I think about the moral breakdown of society, I don’t think about sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.   I think of the President of the United States drawing up a weekly list of assassination orders, as if this were the most normal thing in the world

LINKS

Why the U.S. “war on terra” is a fraud by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Body Count by Physicians for Social Responsibility.  The full 80-page report.

Young children can be victims of identity theft

February 20, 2015

I’m getting on in years, and, like my friend Daniel Brandt, hadn’t realized that young children and even infants these days have Social Security numbers.

Infants are assigned Social Security numbers at birth so parents can claim them as dependents on their income tax forms.

Like Daniel, I didn’t have a Social Security number until I got a summer job as a teenager and had to pay withholding tax.

It’s an example of the new normal.  On the one hand, information kept in electronic data banks affects our whole lives.  On the other hand, that information is not secure.

LINK

Millions of Children Exposed to ID Theft Through Anthem Breach by Herb Weisbaum for NBC News.  (Hat tip to Daniel Brandt)

 

The new normal: NYPD with machine guns

February 18, 2015

Tom Englehardt raises the question: Just when did it become an accepted thing for the New York Police Department to be armed with machine guns?

blog-policetank-500x280The response to this question is a great example of the fallacy of the political moderate.

One extreme position is that the NYPD’s new Special Response Group should bring machine guns to peaceful protests in case they get out of hand.  The other extreme position is that a municipal police department doesn’t need machine guns at all.

The middle position is that police departments need machine guns, but they shouldn’t use them unless it is really, really necessary.   Which means at some point, they will be used.

The use of lethal force by police has become all too routine.  But I recognize that, in a country where the right to carry firearms in public is a constitutional right and where some criminal gangs have military-grade weapons, police need to have guns and need to know how to use them.

But machine guns?  It’s as if somebody is in fear of a revolutionary uprising.

The main thing wrong with so-called ‘P.C.’

February 9, 2015

In October 2001, shortly after America invaded Afghanistan, some of its Navy personnel were preparing missiles that were going to be fired at al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds.  One of the Navy men … … wrote the following message on his missile: ‘Hijack this, you faggots.’

… … When they heard about what had happened, the upper echelons of the Navy were outraged. They expressed ‘official disapproval’ of the homophobic message. … … Some unofficial guidelines were issued … …

… … What these Navy people were effectively saying is that it is okay to kill people, but not to offend them. … …

This really captures the warping of morality that is inherent in political correctness, where one becomes so myopically focused on speech codes, on linguistic representation, that everything else, even matters of life and death, can become subordinate to that.

via Brendan O’Neill | spiked.

The main thing that is wrong with so-called “political correctness” is that its goals are compatible with gross inequality and injustice.

It is imaginable that a future society may have conquered racism, misogyny, homophobia, able-ism and even class-ism and still be a police state committed to endless war on behalf of a tiny financial oligarchy.

That is why elite universities that have hate speech codes and teach “oppression theory” can pay sweatshop wages to their adjunct instructors and raise tuition as high as the traffic will bear, and why Fortune 500 companies and big Wall Street banks can “honor diversity” and still work against the interests of the vast majority of the American people.

I got a taste of this when I worked for a Gannett newspaper when Allen Neuharth was CEO of Gannett Co. Inc.  Under his management, Gannett made a good-faith effort to recruit and promote women, ethnic minorities and also people from diverse backgrounds—not just members of the Ivy League elite.

I think this was good for Gannett’s newspapers because a newsroom (unlike, say, an air traffic control tower) needs to be open to diverse viewpoints and backgrounds.

But “diversity” also gave Neuharth cover for paying wages below the standard for the industry and for being extremely anti-union, far beyond what devotion to the corporate bottom line would justify.

I remember what a waste of time the newspaper’s “diversity training” sessions were.   They seemed more like an exercise in divide-and-rule than anything else.

The extreme example of the contradiction I’m talking about is the celebration of Martin Luther King Day by the staff the Guantanamo Bay base, whose inmates are denied basic human rights.

I honor the struggle for equal rights for African-Americans, for women, for gays and for all the other groups who’ve been unfairly marginalized.  I see these struggles as part of an overall struggle for equal justice for all, which also is the struggle on behalf of the majority of the population for economic justice and basic civil liberties.

Without a vision of the common good and equal rights for all, and without a realistic strategy for achieving it, the disparate groups with their separate grievances will be played off against each other, and the powers that be will win.

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