Tag Archives: banks

Love and Destruction

heartPLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Funk United
Light My Fire – Minnie Riperton
The Atmosphere Routine – Mr. Dibbs
Love And Happiness – Al Green
Do Your Thing – Isaac Hayes
Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On – Leonard Cohen
New Comer – W. Rockman
Munchies for Your Love – Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Velvet Voyage – Klaus Schulze
Why – Gemini (Birthday Song)
Take It All Away – CAKE
I Blame You – They Might Be Giants
Debonair – Afghan Whigs
Djed – Tortoise
You To Thank – Ben Folds
Spent on rainy days – Bright Eyes
Options – Pedro The Lion
Hogin’ Machine – Les Baxter
The Dean And I – 10CC

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-16: Love Songs by The Stranger on Mixcloud

It’s a good thing Fox “News” credibility has been steadily dwindling, falling by 9 percent in three years, and is now at a four-year record-low. These are the idiots are are trying to kill jobs, keep the minimum wage low, and encourage the toxic philosophy of companies laying off employees to dodge taxes.

 makes an excellent point about those long lines in stores when the fat cats decrease hours and increase layoffs to avoid paying fair wages and health insurance:

Were they being “penny-wise and pound-foolish” and costing themselves business today as well as in the future?

Because this misunderstands taxes. Taxes are not a “cost” as Marco Rubio said. Taxes are on profits. A company pays taxes after all costs — including wages and salaries — are deducted from revenue. The fact of the company paying a tax at all means they have the right number of employees serving their customers and meeting demand so they make a profit.

It is the poorly-managed companies that employ too few people who are not going to do well enough to pay taxes. (I doubt very many companies are employing too many people. What are they doing, having them sit around reading the paper?)

Obviously being profitable — which means that they pay taxes — does not cause a business to lay people off or reduce hours. When Rubio says taxes make companies “pass the costs on to their employees through fewer hours, lower pay and even layoffs” he is just wrong.

For the minimum-wage employee an increase means an immediate increase in demand at all the places he shops. Millions of people with a bit more money to spend because of a minimum-wage boost would certainly mean more hiring, because more customers would be coming through the doors. A well-run business employs the right number of people, period.

And while the Republicans are so interested in the drummed up controversy over the public debt, it ignores the debt that Wall Street hasn’t paid back to the American taxpayers, despite their astounding bounce-back and profits. Of course they face no criminal charges, but what about the$245 billion of TARP funds spent on banks, with only $26 billion received in settlements. 

And while their predatory practices effect the poor, and people of color, the most, governments and private enterprise seem all too willing to collude on bringing back debtor’s prisons.

Via In These Times:

A 2010 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lays out the breadth of this problem. Titled “In For a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtor Prisons,” the report examines how “day after day, indigent defendants are imprisoned for failing to pay legal debts they can never hope to manage. In many cases, poor men and women end up jailed or threatened with jail though they have no lawyer representing them.”

Meanwhile, Obama is increasing domestic drone surveillance, and clamming up when asked any questions about these (or related) policies or programs.

Via Mother Jones:

During a Google+ “Fireside Hangout” Thursday evening, President Barack Obama was asked if he believed he has the authority to authorize a drone strike against an American citizen on US soil.

He didn’t exactly answer the question.

“First of all, I think, there’s never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil. And, you know, we respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside the United States. The rules outside the United States are going to be different then the rules inside the United States. In part because our capacity to, for example, to capture a terrorist inside the United States are very different then in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan.

But what I think is absolutely true is that it is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we are doing the right thing. I am the head of the executive branch. And what we’ve done so far is to try to work with Congress on oversight issues. But part of what I am going to have to work with congress on is to make sure that whatever it is we’re providing congress, that we have mechanisms to also make sure that the public understands what’s going on, what the constraints are, what the legal parameters are. And that is something that I take very seriously. I am not someone who believes that the president has the authority to do whatever he wants, or whatever she wants, whenever they want, just under the guise of counterterrorism. There have to be legal checks and balances on it.”

Even with Rand Paul on the job, so serious questions are being asked of John Brennan in his confirmation hearings, despite concerns about civil liberties killing Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA in 2008.

  • Why Did the President Kill a 16-year old American Teenager?
  • Are there ANY Qualifications for Authorizing Death Sentences?
  • Why did the Obama administration wait until election season to codify rules for assassinating people?
  • Do you see a problem with “signature strikes?”

So why didn’t Obama just say, “no, the president cannot deploy drone strikes against US citizens on American soil”? Because the answer is probably “yes.”

Even so-called “liberals” like Dianne Feinstein are dead wrong on the issue, both morally and factuallyShe stated that civilian casualties caused by U.S. drone strikes each year has “typically been in the single digits.”

According to an extensive report by researchers at NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School, disputed the line coming from the White House and from Feinstein on Thursday. The report cites statistics from the U.K. based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), which found that from June 2004 to September 2012 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan killed between 474 to 881 civilians, including 176 children. The BIJ relies on newspaper accounts and its own independent researchers in Waziristan.

The Stanford/NYU study backs up such figures with evidence of the trauma of living under drones strikes, based on “interviews with victims and witnesses of drone activity, their family members, current and former Pakistani government officials, representatives from five major Pakistani political parties, subject matter experts, lawyers, medical professionals, development and humanitarian workers, members of civil society, academics, and journalists.” Even if the BIJ’s lowest estimation of 474 civilians in Pakistan alone were accurate, Feinstein’s figures would still be far off the mark.

Washington Post offers data from the Web site Long War Journal, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen killed a combined 31 civilians in 2008, 84 in 2009, 20 in 2010, 30 in 2011  and 39 in 2012.

The New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, says that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone killed at least 25 civilians in 2008, 25 again in 2009, 14 in 2010, six in 2011 and five in 2012.

Hell, let’s give the drone pilots medals while we’re at it! They might get sore asses from sitting down all day!

Among self-described liberal Democrats, fully 77 percent endorse the use of drones against terrorist targets. On the question of killing Americans in drone strikes, Democrats approved of the use 58-33 percent, as did liberals, 55-35 percent.

A separate Pew study from October 2011 found that 87 percent of Americans support “increasing the use of unmanned drones,” including a majority of Democrats who said it was a “good thing.”

This is due to the false dichotomy of the blind theology set up by militant drone hawks. Either robot death from the skies, or boots on the ground?

“Drones are a lot more civilized than what we used to do. I think it’s actually a more humane weapon because it can be targeted to specific enemies and specific people.” ~Sen. Angus King’s (I-Maine)

[Drone strikes] inflict fewer civilian deaths than bombing campaigns, boots on the ground or any practical alternative.” ~New York Times columnist David Brooks

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes calls the other alternative.

“We can be a nation that declares its war over, that declares itself at peace and goes about rigorously and energetically using intelligence and diplomacy and well-resourced police work to protect us from future attacks”

But the dogma doesn’t allow for such creative problem-solving when singular destruction is narrowly employed. And secret, no less!

All the more reason that Yours Truly can’t wait for our civilization to be destroyed by alien life, life-destroying asteroids, or rather, exploding meteorites.

At least that wouldn’t be politically-motivated. It would be a mercy. A labor of love. Ahh.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-16: Love Songs by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

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Austere Warnings

sun ra

Danger signs abound reminding us of the context of our austere, violent, unequal world. Politically-motivated reasoning disenfranchises voters, consumers, workers, people of color, the impoverished, whistleblowers, dissenters, journalists, and any citizen who wants their free civil rights.

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Duke Ellington
Sunshine Of Your Love – Ella Fitzgerald
Other Planes of There – Sun Ra And His Solar Arkestra
Pinetops Boogie Woogie – Pinetops Perkins
Big Chief – Professor Longhair
I Smell A Rat – Big Mama Thornton
Drunk – Jimmy Liggins & His 3D Music
RL Burnside – Boogie Chillen
Bass Solo – Larry Graham
What About You (In The World Today) – Co Real Artists
fruitman – kool and the gang
Acid Lady – San Francisco T.k.o.’s
Message From 9 To The Universe – Jimi Hendrix & friends
Get Off Your Ass And Jam – George Clinton & Parliment Funkadelic
Look What You Can Get – Funky Nassau
Symphonic Revolution – Mandrill
It’s A New Day – The Skullsnaps
Do The Sissy – Albert Collins
Sunset – Yusef Lateef
Goodmorning Sunshine – Quasimoto
Crosshairs – DANGERDOOM
Chemical Calisthenics – Blackalicious
Spiritual Healing – Dälek
Bounce – Jay Dilla
Lazy Confessions – The Moldy Peaches
Lonlon (Ravel’s Bolero) – Angélique Kidjo

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-02: Austere Warnings by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Even the jobs numbers belie the myth, with Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz noting that “the jobs deficit—the number of jobs lost since the recession officially began plus the number of jobs we should have added just to keep up with the normal growth in the potential labor force—remains nearly nine million.” With certain politicians stamping out that growth to the labor and middle classes, the labor market will not fill that gap until the end of 2021.

The conservative-led drive in Congress for more federal budget-cutting will reduce demand, stifle growth and choke off job creation, at a time when we need much higher levels of investment and jobs growth.

This jobs deficit is directly affected by the blind austerity hysteria (or austeria, eh? eh?), with our U.S. economy lagging in response to the declining markets in Europe, suffering a costly recession inflicted by misguided austerity policies.

I can’t repeat it enough: cutting government spending in a weak economy costs jobs.

Via The Campaign for America’s Future:

  1. Austerity costs jobs. More than 20 million people are in need of full-time work.  While corporate profits are at record heights as a percentage of the economy, wages are at record lows and falling.  cuts in government spending and hikes in taxes on working people cost jobs.  Government workers and contractors get laid off.  Small businesses feel the pinch as the afflicted tighten their belts.  Interest rates can’t go lower; business doesn’t get any more confident.
  2. More austerity is already being inflicted. Last quarter’s decline took place before the tax hikes agreed to in December’s “fiscal cliff” deal.  The increase of tax rates on the top 1 percent will have little effect on demand, since someone making over $400,000 can afford the hit.  But the end of the payroll tax holiday cost the typical family 2 percent of their income, with the change visible in their January paychecks.  For a family earning $50,000, that represents a $1,000 loss of income
  3. Even more austerity will soon come. House Republicans devoted their retreat to reordering the fiscal hostage crises they have planned for the next five months. – the sequester, they believe, will give them greater leverage to extort deep and unpopular cuts in spending, particularly Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
  4. The deficit hawks are delusional. Out-of-control inflation hasn’t broken out.  Investors are not panicked.  They are still willing to park their money in U.S. bonds for essentially no real return. One reason is that the deficit isn’t out of control.  As the Congressional Budget Office reports, the annual deficit is down by 25 percent since 2009.    It is coming down faster than any time since the demobilization at the end of World War II.   Our mid-term debt is essentially stabilized as a percent of gross domestic product.  Our long-term debt projections are completely a question of fixing our broken health care system.
  5. Stop the austerity hysteria. Stop paying tribute to the austerity lobby. return to sensible governance.  Repeal the sequester – deep across-the-board cuts are idiotic. Commit to growing our way out of the hole we are in. Invest in areas vital to our economy and to our people.  Pay for those commitments in ways that makes sense.  Put people back to work and watch the deficits come down.  Crack down on overseas tax dodges. End the obscene subsidies to Big Oil, Big Pharma and Big Agra.

But Obama is not and will not be our savior on this subject. He has flip-flopped enough on the issue of Too-Big-to-Fail banks and money in politics enough to appear entirely culpable.

Like many presidents before him, he is using the guise of ‘nonprofits’ to turn what was once lucrative campaign cash into unlimited corporate donations. Just as he has ‘devolved’ on SuperPACs, Citizen’s United, special interests, and other contributions. At this point, it is no longer questionable or dodgy to call him a Wall Street co-conspirator, as the President rakes in massive Wall Streetcontributions and paying back donors with immunity from prosecution.

He hasn’t prosecuted a single banker and has appointed a scandal-plagued Wall Street defense lawyer to head the SEC. He has whined that he has been blocked by the intransigent Congress, but still refuses to exercise executive function (you know, his fucking job) in areas that he does have direct influence.

Via Salon:

A president, for instance, has the unilateral power to at least propose tough Wall Street regulations, even if Congress is too corrupt to pass them. A president, likewise, has the unilateral power to nominate genuinely independent regulators, even if a Wall Street-dominated Senate might try to halt such a nomination. In short, a president has the unilateral power to at least force a serious fight over these issues — and Obama has refused to even do that. Instead, he championed bailouts and a Wall Street “reform” package that let the banks off the hook, and he has appointed Wall Street pals like Lanny Breuer at Justice andMary Jo White at the Securities Exchange Commission.

The ‘President is weak and blocked’ defense doesn’t make much sense either in the context of one of the most powerful presidents in recent history, on leveraging reforms, increasing the surveillance state, national security and foreign policy.

In fact, this Treasury Department has approved excessive salaries for the very same executives of the very same financial firms that received taxpayer funds as part of the 2008 economic bailout of Wall Street.

The news comes in a report authored by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which said that “Treasury approved all 18 requests it received last year to raise pay for executives at American International Group Inc., General Motors Corp. and Ally Financial Inc,” according to the Associated Press.

14 of the requests for executive pay raises were over $100,000, and the biggest raise was $1 million. All this while employee and consumer protections are set adrift and ignored, or worse; the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are set upon and impugned by cruel Republicans. The unemployed are even cannibalized by the major banks taking their cut wherever they can get it.

Via AllGov:

A new report (pdf) from the nonprofit group National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) says Americans out of work are paying millions of dollars in unnecessary fees as part of receiving their unemployment payments. This is because many states encourage or even require the jobless to use bank-issued payment cards to access their funds.

The NCLC found that many states, like Arizona, make it difficult for residents to sign up for direct deposit with the state government. And in at least five states—California, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland and Nevada—direct deposit is not an option at all.

The consumer group contends that this situation is illegal under federal law prohibiting states from requiring benefits recipients to open an account with a specific bank, such as JPMorgan ChaseU.S. Bancorp and Bank of America.

But ignore the hypocrisy. Congress does whatever it wants, breaking the very laws it legislates, or at least, exempting themselves at the expense of the fleeced classes.

And while those Chief Execrable Officers in Congress “battle“, they hope to silence large swaths of the voting population. It isn’t enough that they overlook the poor and favor those who can afford hefty bribes, they still want to entirely disenfranchise the hated plebes with voter ID laws. There is much that can be done to prevent this tampering, but injustice is frequent.

Because the status quo machinery cannot be stopped. Even when outspoken cogs decry the monstrousness of it, they make such admonitions within the context of authoritative paradigms.

Via Danger Room:

Ben Emmerson wants to be clear: He’s not out to ban flying killer robots used by the CIA or the U.S. military. But the 49-year-old British lawyer is about to become the bane of the drones’ existence, thanks to the United Nations inquiry he launched last week into their deadly operations.

Emmerson, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for human rights and counterterrorism, will spend the next five months doing something the Obama administration has thoroughly resisted: unearthing the dirty secrets of a global counterterrorism campaign that largely relies on rapidly proliferating drone technology. Announced on Thursday in London, it’s the first international inquiry into the drone program, and one that carries the imprimatur of the world body.

If the facts show that the US is committing war crimes, then so be it, that is what he will unearth.

And AlterNet:

A military judge overseeing September 11 pre-trial hearings revealed Thursday the government had censored them from outside the courtroom, and angrily ordered that this stop immediately.

The proceedings at the high-security, high-tech courtroom due to host the trial of five alleged plotters in America’s worst terror attack are heard in the press gallery and in a room where human rights groups and victims’ families sit, with a 40 second delay.

This is done so a court security officer, or CSO, sitting next to the judge can block anything deemed classified.

On Monday part of the proceedings were censored when the discussion touched on secret CIA prisons where the suspects were held and abused.

The judge said he was surprised and angry that the censoring mechanism was activated from outside the court, without his knowledge.

And the only official who has been officially punished for the illegal CIA torture program was the whistleblower who talked about it.

Via Glenn Greenwald:

John Kiriakou is not a pure anti-torture hero given that, in his first public disclosures, he made inaccurate claims about the efficacy of waterboarding. But he did also unequivocally condemn waterboarding and other methods as torture. And, as FAIR put it this week, whatever else is true: “The only person to do time for the CIA’s torture policies appears to be a guy who spoke publicly about them, not any of the people who did the actual torturing.” Despite zero evidence of any harm from his disclosures, the federal judge presiding over his case – the reliably government-subservient US District Judge Leonie Brinkema – said she “would have given Kiriakou much more time if she could.” As usual, the only real criminals in the government are those who expose or condemn its wrongdoing.

This is why whistleblowing – or, if you prefer, unauthorized leaks of classified information – has become so vital to preserving any residual amounts of transparency.

“when our sources are prosecuted, the news-gathering process is criminalized, so it’s incumbent upon all journalists to speak up” 

~the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer

“People are feeling less open to talking to reporters given this uptick. There is a definite chilling effect in government due to these investigations.” ~Washington Post

“the president’s crackdown chills dissent, curtails a free press and betrays Obama’s initial promise to ‘usher in a new era of open government.'” ~Bloomberg report

So the powerful call for more cyber-warfare, more government surveillance of the citizenry, and to privatize that surveillance state the way they are privatizing everything else in our rapidly corporatizing fascist nation.

The comfy relations between the private sector and law enforcement poses a risk to the rights and freedoms of the individual. But authoritarians accept government power as inherently valid and government claims as inherently true. It’s easy for them to accept the secrecy, and to punish defiers as traitors.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-02: Austere Warnings by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Tropical Paradise

The stress and anger from the fast-paced world of current events and electoral mudslinging are getting to you, and since we can’t stop those, let us find our exotic escape. A quiet beach on a remote island, with sweet drinks and soft jungle sounds on a moonlit night, relax and melt into your adirondack chair, under your tiki hut near your cabana, and dream that this is how humbly the other half lives. Better yet, dream of the indigenous fauna.

Our problems will still be here when we get back.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-18: Tropical Paradise by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – The Mysterions
007 (Shanty Town) – Desmond Dekker
Ebb Tide – Al Caiola & His Islanders
Jungle Madness – Martin Denny
Tiare Anani – Webley Edwards
Chuncho (the Forest Creatures) – Yma Sumac
Island In The Sun – Harry Belafonte
Mucha Muchacha – Esquivel
Bongo Lesson – Jack Costanza
Lambada Timbales – Tito Puente
Corcovado (Quiet Nights) – Sergio Mendes, Cannonball Adderley
Brazil – Django Reinhardt
Agua De Beber – Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim
Irene – Caetano Veloso
The Warmth Of The Sun – Beach Boys
Double Naught Spy – Deke Dickerson
The Cannibal Village – Michael Land
Tropicando – Les Baxter
Exotic Guitars – Safari Ways
Pastime Paradise – Ray Barretto
Waves Within – Santana
War – Bob Marley
No Dub Island – Scientist
James Bond Theme – The Skatalites
SPY – Seatbelts
Spygame – Parov Stelar
Jungle Fresh – Gorillaz
Bongo Bong – Manu Chao
Vacation Island – Kid Koala
Manha De Carnaval – Louiz Bonfa
Mana Ma’ohi – Matato’a
Son Of A Son Of A Sailor – Jimmy Buffett

Now, it has officially been eight attacks on houses of worship in eleven days in this country, with distrust, bigotry and racism stirred up by the likes of Islamophobes Michele Bachmann and Peter King. And even demagoguery in the areas where violence would later occur against Muslims:

Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., sowed the seeds of mistrust and suspicion by alleging that “radical Islam” had made a home in the suburbs of Chicago; that ”It’s in Elk Grove, it’s in Addison, it’s in Elgin. It’s here”; and that radical Muslims are “trying to kill Americans every week.” Walsh’s warnings were met with applause.

According to FBI data, hate crimes against Muslims might be rising. The rate of anti-Muslim crimes fell from nearly 500 in 2001 to 107 in 2009. But in 2010 (the latest year for which the FBI has data) the total number of hate crimes jumped 50 percent to 160.

As we discussed last week, our intelligence agencies tasked to protect us have a massive blind spot in the area of homegrown terrorism, but they had been warned.

Daryl Johnson, architect of the infamous 2009 Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing extremism, made headlines last year, when he accused Homeland Security of ignoring the growing threat of right-wing violence due to political pressure. Johnson said DHS employed just one analyst to monitor all non-Islamic extremism, down from eight prior to the report’s release. In stark contrast, the department has at least two dozen personnel assigned to analyzing the threat of homegrown Islamic extremism.

DHS continues to turn a blind eye, says Johnson.

“Right around the time I went public last year, they hired a brand-new person with no experience and no law enforcement connections,” shortly thereafter the new hire was transferred to a different unit, again leaving just one analyst on the beat. A year later, Johnson says, “absolutely nothing has changed.” another former DHS analyst, there have been, at most, two DHS analyst on the non-Islamic extremism beat since he left the agency in 2010. During his time at DHS, he recalls a “3-to-1 ratio” of analysts assessing Islamic extremism versus those covering non-Islamic threats. According to the former analyst, “very few products have been released in the past several years [on right-wing extremism]. A couple, but not much at all.”

What’s worse is that other law enforcement groups rely on DHS threat assessments, and within the halls of power these groups are seen as inconsequential to nonexistent, while Muslims are seen as suspicious to radical. Ignorance has led to our agencies being led by a sham terror expert industry, exaggerating one threat and ignoring others.

Read John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart’s The Terrorism Delusion: America’s Overwrought Response to September 11, in the latest issue of International Security.

Mueller and Stewart analyze 50 cases of supposed “Islamic terrorist plots” against the United States, and show how virtually all of the perpetrators were (in their words) “incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational and foolish.” They quote former Glenn Carle, former deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats saying “we must see jihadists for the small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are,” noting further that al Qaeda’s “capabilities are far inferior to its desires.”

Expenditures on domestic homeland security (i.e., not counting the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan) have increased by more than $1 trillion since 9/11, even though the annual risk of dying in a domestic terrorist attack is about 1 in 3.5 million. Using conservative assumptions and conventional risk-assessment methodology, they estimate that for these expenditures to be cost-effective “they would have had to deter, prevent, foil or protect against 333 very large attacks that would otherwise have been successful every year.” Much of that money ends up going to private contractors.

These are the types of government spending and overreach that policymakers will never criticize Obama for. CIA-perfected torture is normalized as concept with impunity here in the states (by calling it “enhanced interrogation techniques”), and captives are sent face rendition abroad.

President Obama has closed the CIA’s “black sites,” its secret prisons where American agents once dirtied their hands with waterboarding and wall slamming. But via rendition — the sending of terrorist suspects to the prisons of countries that torture — and related policies, his administration has outsourced human rights abuse to Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere. In this way, he has avoided the political stigma of torture, while tacitly tolerating such abuses and harvesting whatever intelligence can be gained from them.

But pundits and politicians would rather focus on the ECONOMY, stupid.

When it comes to fiscal issues, Mitt Romney wants voters to know he’s disgusted by reckless government spending spree under President Obama the past three years, while at the same time also contending that Obama’s government hasn’t stepped in enough to help Americans.

Paul Ryan also slammed President Obama on Thursday for failing to rescue an auto factory in his Wisconsin district — one that closed in 2008, under President George W. Bush. Oopsie! Ryan also got caught misrepresenting his actions when it comes to his handling of Obama’s stimulus package. In an interview this week with WCPO, an ABC affiliate in Cincinnati, Ryan said, “No, I never asked for stimulus … I opposed the stimulus because it doesn’t work, it didn’t work” but it turns out that’s not true. In 2009 and 2010 Ryan sent at least five letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis seeking stimulus grants in the millions for two Wisconsin energy conservation companies.

And while avoiding the big deal over his own taxes, Romney attacked the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s finding that fulfilling his budget promises would require asking 95 percent of Americans to pay more in taxes. “They made garbage assumptions and they reached a garbage conclusion,” he said. He then used Simpson-Bowles to defend his vague formula, but the commission’s co-chair, Erskine Bowles, has repeatedly said it’s not mathematically possible to meet Romney’s goals without asking the middle class to pay more in taxes.

“The Romney plan, by sticking to revenue-neutrality and leaving in place tax breaks, would raise taxes on the middle class and do nothing to shrink the deficit,” Bowles wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week.

The Tax Policy Center responded to a number of Romney’s criticisms, claiming that none of the complaints affected the conclusions, which the group said were based on running simple numbers around Romney’s previously stated goal of revenue-neutral tax reform that would lower income tax rates while eliminating tax deductions, starting with those that benefit the wealthiest Americans.

“[I]t remains true — as we showed in our paper — that a reform proposal that meets the five goals stated above would have to raise burdens on middle-class households,” they wrote.

Surely many other scandals will come out concerning Romney’s moneyed storied past, but this week it was Joe Biden who was in the news for his “gaffes”

“Romney wants to let the — he said the first 100 days — he’s gonna let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street,” Biden said at an event in Danville, Va. “They gonna put y’all back in chains.”

Of course, the Republicans lashed out at his racial rhetoric, despite having been all-too-willing to play that card themselves in the past:

“They will put you in chains called ‘Obamacare,’ and you will never break away,” ~Sen. Rick Santorum

“[Obama] does not want you to have the self-esteem of getting up and earning and having that title of American. He’d rather you be his slave.” ~Florida Rep. Allen West

But the point still stands, that there are (some) wealthy elites who would reinstate the feudal state, the gilded age, and even serfdom. But what can we do?

Les Leopold, author of The Looting of America, proposes we turn the banks into public utilities. Via Alternet:

The simple truth is our giant banking system is metastasizing throughout our economy. It’s sucking away our wealth. And it’s out of control. We’ve seen our bankers commit every kind of financial crime imaginable. They trade on insider information. They manipulate markets. They rig bets. They fix prices. They sell securities that are designed to fail so that they can bet against them. They launder money for rogue nations. They create too-big-to-fail banks that gamble with impunity knowing that we will bail them out again and again. And they collectively crashed the economy causing 8 million workers to lose their jobs.

No bank CEO can effectively manage the empires they now preside over. No regulator can keep up with the financial games that are played right under their noses. It’s just not possible. Too-big-to-fail also means too-big-to-control. Banks are the predators and we are the prey. We need to end too-big-to-fail, instead of proposing reforms that are too little, too late.

He counters every criticism of his proposal, arguing that it isn’t necessary socialism (about as much as the police force is), that public trusts are more effective, and that losing the “best” Wall Street talent by drastically lowering salaries will be a good thing.

It’s all just in time, too, since privatization is ruining America:

  1. We spend lifetimes developing community assets, then give them away to a corporation for lifetimes to come.
  2. Private systems of health care, schools and prisons are failing us.
  3. Facts about privatization are hidden from the public.
  4. Privatizers have suggested that teachers and union members, public schools, are communists.
  5. Privatization often creates an “incentive to fail” for no-bid contractors.

And, amid journalist harassmentarrests, and criminalizing dissent, private contractors have now dedicated massive, nationwide surveillance networks to watching us.

Via RT:

In a 2005 interview with The Entrepreneur Center, Richard “Hollis” Helms, co-founder of TrapWire developers Abraxas, says the system “can collect information about people and vehicles that is more accurate than facial recognition, draw patterns, and do threat assessments of areas… The beauty of it is that we can protect an infinite number of facilities just as efficiently as we can one and we push information out to local law authorities automatically.”

Essentially, siphoning private surveillance camera footage to intelligence agents.  intelligence caught by TrapWire was being fed directly to these high-profile customers, including the NYPD (who lied in denying it), the Pentagon, the Secret Service and the White House. Stratfor, for its part, is keeping quiet about the revealing emails, and won’t comment enough to deny them. Mainstream media (*cough* NYTimes *cough*) whitewashes the facts behind the scandal, and all of this could be for good and more than just classified reasons. This could all be very illegal.

US v. Jones, the recent ruling by the Supreme Court, could mean that using Trapwire to track people is illegal without a search warrant, and would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment

“Regardless of the technology, the government should need a warrant for persistent tracking of individuals” ~The Electronic Frontier Foundation

Well, the government thinks it needs a lot of things, but warrants don’t seem to be among them.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-18: Tropical Paradise by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Prognosis

Problems progress, and so the solutions must be progressive, and so should the tunes. When we realize the cosmic scope of time and space and mind, we see our problems aren’t so grand.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-11: Prognosis by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Aunt Mary
Isn’t It Quiet And Cold? – Gentle Giant
Mastoul Alakefak – Aksak Maboul
Truth, Justice, And The American Way – 5uu’s
Starship Trooper – Yes
Vampire State Building – Alcatraz
Stagnation – Genesis
Symphonic Revolution – Mandrill
Variations on a Theme by Brian Smith – Ain Soph
A Time A Place – Brainchild
18 Variations On Sinister #3 – Frank Zappa
One of These Days – Pink Floyd
Night Illusion – Gong
Sechs Achtel – Aera
My House On Mars – Ayreon
Technopolis – Yellow Magic Orchestra
Backwash – Blodwyn Pig
Ork Alarm – Magma

The country reacts to even more hateful violence in this country, but a trend is revealing not Muslim terrorism, or even just those random acts of inscrutable psychotics, but a seething right-wing white nationalist domestic terrorism.

So while I applaud leaders like John McCain or the usually small-minded Chris Christie who are breaking party rhetoric to denounce the more vitriolic bigotry of Michelle Bachmann and others. More troubling are the endemic thinking of prejudice within the intelligence and military complexes, or the reluctant response to white supremacists and neo-Nazis who represent genuine, local threats.

Via Salon:

When Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano released a report in April 2009 identifying right-wing extremists as a threat to the country, conservatives howled. The general sentiment was expressed by Michelle Malkin, who declared the report a “piece of crap … propaganda … an Obama hit job.” Jonah Goldberg complained that the DHS report failed to stick “to the practice of describing these groups with more specificity and without the catchall, ideologically loaded descriptors.”
Now documents, which were collected by the invaluable National Security Archive and obtained partly through Freedom of Information Act requests, shed light on the problems coming from the extreme right. According to a 2004 FBI report, “right-wing terrorists pose a significant threat due to their propensity for violence”
These groups increased their recruitment efforts and rhetoric after 9/11, according to the report. White supremacists groups relied on broader anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the country to advance their efforts.
More disturbingly, neo-Nazis were trying to infiltrate law enforcement agencies, according to a 2006 FBI report devoted to the subject. “White supremacist presence among law enforcement personnel is a concern due to the access they may possess to restricted areas vulnerable to sabotage and to elected officials or protected persons, whom they could see as potential targets for violence,” it reads. One idea far-right terrorists proposed was to walk into police stations and offer information, in order to determine an agency’s interest in any given organization.

Apparently, this infiltration is part of what these groups refer to as the “fascist path of stealth” in which they must appear as “ghost skins” in order to gain paramilitary training and inside information. The FBI also claims that white supremacists have evinced interest in broader campaigns of suicide terrorism, according to the FBI. “These provide the movement with an ideal of self-sacrifice and a context for individuals to put themselves into fatal situations on behalf of its causes.” Terrorist acts could unify the movement and inspire others to carry out similar acts.

And while we lean right into either a corpo-fascist or theocratic or plutocratic state (or D. all of the above), the country, political parties and national dialogue becomes more radical, more fundamentalist, more anti-intellectual, and more insane. Valid arguments are now represented by invoking Godwin’s law, labeling opponents as reactionaries, communists, Maoists and yes, even nazis. Pretty harsh language to describe the process of giving citizens health care, or observe the constitutional separation of church and state.

But this is what we’ve come to expect from our elected do-nothings, compulsive liars and reprobates. And while our “leftist” commander-in-chief stomps out press and protest freedoms, the only things we could hope for from the GOP if elected is obstructionism, vindictiveness, delusions, hypocrisy, and pouting ineptitude. Hell, not only do they need SuperPACs to be citizens, not only do they need massive donor information to remain secret from the public, they are also blocking the Internal Revenue Service from tightening oversight of anonymous money groups misusing the tax code.

Speaking of tax fraud, even though this has been a hard month for Mitt Money Romney (down in the polls, hammered on his wealth and taxes, seen as a buffoon abroad), he has officially begun to outraise Obama. This does not even include the SuperPAC money dedicated to defeating Obama at all costs, no matter the Republican candidate.

Polls show voters see Romney in an increasingly negative light and Obama making progress in swing states, where he leads everywhere but North Carolina in the PollTracker Average.

Romney, whose predatory career has claimed the jobs of countless Americans while calling himself a “job creator” and “wealth creator.” Does he mean miserable jobs in Chinese factories? Wealth for the 1 percent? The cash hoarders? This all sort of runs counter to traditional American values. It seems a little, Idunno, detrimental to a decent society as a whole.

Look, I’m all for capitalism, but when people shout “more capitalism!”, it’s really a rallying cry for more sweatshop jobs, more child labor and more impoverishing of American workers so that offshoring and outsourcing entrepreneurs can make more millions and keep their incomes in offshore banks and out of the hands of the IRS.

Mitt, for example, currently owns three homes, and his entire entitled body language screams “boredom and contempt” for having to deal with so many of his lessers on the campaign trail (O, what the debates will hold!).

Mitt finds it far safer to express the passive side of his passive-aggressiveness: arms immobile at his sides (the better to not throttle you with); mouth closed (the better to not blurt insults); eyes dreamy (the better to not shoot daggers). It all goes with how he trained himself, consciously or otherwise, to not be as honest

Hey, meritocracy is back in style, polished, glossed over and unlubed.

Expect to see him attempt to lie his way into office, especially at the expense of everyone’s right to vote. Veterans in Ohio aren’t buying it, but we already know how Romney hates those ‘frivolous’ firefighters and cops. Why does the GOP hate our servicemen?
Scott Brown, for one, is outraged at the prospect of poor people voting:

Brown is outraged that his opponent’s daughter is working for an organization making it easier for people to legally vote. Because they’re poor.
“I want every legal vote to count, but it’s outrageous to use taxpayer dollars to register welfare recipients!”
It’s actually a “special effort” to comport with federal law. helping legally qualified citizens register to vote is now considered improper.

Brown did, after all, spend a ton of money to ensure that the voices of many could not be heard. Just drown them out with money. It’s all part of the GOP’s “only the better sort of people should be trusted with the vote” schemata. What does that remind us of?

Of course, there are people who claim that it doesn’t matter who you vote for anyway, it’s all rigged. The Candidates won’t address these important issues, such as net neutrality, or the drug war fueling racial caste systems in this country, or hurting democracy in Afghanistan and Mexico.

Instead, both sides of the political aisle agree, condemn whistleblowing, silence dissent, and spy on everybody.

Via RT:

Former senior intelligence officials have created a detailed surveillance system more accurate than modern facial recognition technology — and have installed it across the US under the radar of most Americans, according to emails hacked by Anonymous.

Every few seconds, data picked up at surveillance points in major cities and landmarks across the United States are recorded digitally on the spot, then encrypted and instantaneously delivered to a fortified central database center at an undisclosed location to be aggregated with other intelligence.

And while I had previously advocated the use of social justice bots, but considering the police state built up around us, I feel I should clarify… nothing illegal should be attempted without full acceptance of the consequences. Unless you’re in power already, of course.

But it’s entirely possible that Anonymous could hack, or otherwise somehow interfere with the presidential election. This would be as aggregious, in my eyes, as the political parties cheating, engineering and disenfranchisement.

As for those bots, well, they already have the power to take down Wall Street, rogue or otherwise. And it’s happened on a somewhat manageable scale already. We’re just waiting for something to go haywire, resulting in billions of dollars in losses in just minutes. It is clear that the big banks and financial industry at large cannot be trusted with their death grip on the economy.

Luckily, Stephen Lerner at Alternet proposes some alternatives:

  1. Renegotiate public and housing debt. It is estimated that banks have already sucked more than $50 billion out of local communities through toxic loans, fees and tricky deals that cities are locked into.
  2. Exercise eminent domain. There are 16 million underwater homes, worth $2.8 trillion, that are $1.2 trillion underwater. Resetting those mortgages to fair market value would save the average underwater homeowner $543 per month, $104 billion into the national economy every year. This would create 1.5 million jobs nationally. If just five of the most severely underwater cities used eminent domain they could seize $140 billion worth of underwater homes from banks, forcing banks to take a $30 billion haircut on underwater loans.
  3. Boycott big banks and move public money. One of the key profit centers for banks is their government business. And it isn’t just LIBOR they cheated on. There are investigations and growing scandals around price fixing on municipal bonds. banks are holding cities hostage on Letters of Credit (LOC’s) by ratcheting up the cost knowing if cities refuse to pay they may be forced to pay huge termination fees.
  4. Enact resolutions at local governments and pension funds.
  5. Litigate and legislate.

So, whether in the system or out of it, out of the box thinking is sorely needed. Innovative experiments and progressive action must be taken at every level, or this grand experiment we call America may be doomed to fail.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-11: Prognosis by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Solemnity

Now the politicians are giving us a moment of solemnity in the wake of tragedy, but will soon be bombarding us with sensational media bias, political opportunism, conspiracy theories, and reactionary reactions that astound me. Let’s try to remain undistracted, as many others are the victims of institutionalized violence every day. While I flip the news on its head, I’ll hope to inoculate you with the dissent of the street and classic hip-hop.

PLAYLIST
The Kind – Delinquent Habits
World Peace – KRS-One
Live at The Knitting Factory – Mr. Dibbs
Aspiring Sociopath – Atmosphere
The Sounds of Science – Beastie Boys
Astronomy (8th Light) – Black Star
Bonus Instrumentals – Awol One & Fat Jack
Downtime – Z-Trip
Artichristo – Dälek
Galaktika – MC Solaar
Cosmic Assassins – DJ QBert
Imagine – Cosmic and Optimus Rhymes
Babies With Guns – Aesop Rock
Potholderz (feat. Count Bass D) – MF DOOM
Skit 2 – DANGERDOOM
In-Flux – DJ Shadow
The Dark Side – US3
Electric Relaxation – A Tribe Called Quest
Cosmic Cleavage (feat. Awol One) – Busdriver
Spaces (feat. Quasimoto) – King Britt
Underground – Necro
Speechless – Jedi Mind Tricks
Looking For The Perfect Beat – Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force
Black Ego – Digable Planets
Corey’s Interlude – Felt (Murs and Slug)
Master Teacher – Erykah Badu

The military is admitting that Iran can’t fire their missiles, and certainly couldn’t reach us, perhaps a sign that the hawkish fervor has passed. Lawsuits threaten their militarized agenda of systemic, robotic murder, as survivors of those targeted without due process seek justice. Even whistleblowers are learning to fight back, with fired members of Academi (nee Blackwater) looking for their day in open court. This is bad news for the elites, considering Blackwater raked in millions of taxpayer dollars illegally.

Unfortunately, whistleblowers like Bradley Manning languish in prison, awaiting his kangaroo court, with his defense attorney astounded that terrorists fare better in American court than a US soldier is, and even a UN torture expert is banned from testifying, despite finding Manning’s deplorable conditions to be inhumane.

Maybe all this conservatism just keeps us happier?

In a 2006 Pew Survey, 47 percent of conservative Republicans said they were “very happy,” compared with just 28 percent of liberal Democrats. Reasons included a higher tendency towards marriage and religion, more dependence on the authoritarian orders of their ‘betters,’ less worry for the plights and injustices of others… It has been found that radicals, confident in their twisted worldview, are very happy, despite also often being angry. Perhaps ignorance is bliss.

But just because one group is happy, doesn’t mean they’re right. And it doesn’t make them smarter. In fact, the more educated Republicans or conservatives are, the wronger their claims of the science are. Those who say they know more about global warming are shown to be more in denial, and often more sure of themselves as well—and are confident they don’t need any more information on the issue. Tea Party members appear to be the worst of all.

With that in mind, Fox News dedicated two hours of programming, 42 segments, to the out-of-context Obama line, “you didn’t build that.”

Romney had to Frankenstein the quote, which is seen in it’s entirety here:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a GREAT TEACHER somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

Romney should know better, since this is exactly what happened with his, “I like being able to fire people” line.

Rush Limbaugh has told his audience that this means Obama hates America. In his version of America, only the rich are worth a damn. And apparently, expressing the opinion that the value of the economy is something that is created together is enough to hate America

The rich are, as people at the Mitt Romney fundraiser put it, “the engine of the economy” who all the other people “rely” on for their survival.

Well of course, the rich see themselves as ubermensch “job creators” in Ayn Rand’s psychotic philosophy. (Rand admired child murderer William Hickman’s quote “What is good for me is right,” as “The best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard,” she wrote.)

[Conservative] policies include no hint that the economy is stuck due to inadequate demand or the weak purchasing power of the middle and working classes and the delinking of wages and productivity. There’s no mention of the need to expand education and infrastructure to create the economy of the 21st century. There’s absolutely no sense that the economy encourages the most innovative or entrepreneurial when there is full employment and a portable social safety net that provides economic security. And it is light-years away from the observation that society is a system of cooperation in which the value in the economy is created together.

Despite some multimillionaires knowing that the system has helped them get where they are, like author Stephen King or CEO of Wind River Systems Jerry Fiddle, hypocritical conservatives decry the welfare state while benefitting themselves, and offering few viable, cheaper, more efficient alternatives

And the plans they do have a social net seem to benefit the rich, multinational corporations, who are recovering nicely anyway

Bush’s “ownership society” was as much a political failure as his faith-based initiative. His second-term push for the partial privatization of Social Security, a longtime goal of libertarians and Wall Street interests salivating at the prospect of the diversion of Social Security payroll taxes into the stock market casino, was so unpopular with Republican as well as Democratic voters that a Republican-controlled Congress never even brought the proposal to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote.

Ironically, the one great victory of the libertarian attempt to voucherize the welfare state is the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare. Its models were the conservative Heritage Foundation plan of the 1990s and Mitt Romney’s “Romneycare” in Massachusetts. Combining a mandate to buy private health insurance with means-tested subsidies, Obamacare, in effect, rejects the progressive alternative of universal public social insurance and replaces one conservative welfare state approach (employer-based benefits) with another conservative approach (Friedmanite welfare vouchers).

The GOP doesn’t even want you to know where all that corporate money comes from or is going, in the name of “free speech.”

Employees of Goldman Sachs Group alone have given almost $1 million to Romney Victory, a joint fundraising committee, over the past three months. Hedge fund guru Paul Singer’s company gave $818,000 to the fund, while Romney’s former company Bain Capital gave $802,000, and its sister Bain & Company gave $175,000.

Victims of Bain’s offshoring practices are pleading with Romney for help, a cool move considering that (regardless of when he actually left the company), “he designed the business model for that company.” Production associate Tom Gaulrapp says, “Venture capitalism, where they’re out for every last dollar, no matter what … that’s the attitude they still have.”

Progressives, of course, are asking the Romney campaign for more transparency in his tax history, as Democracy for America, MoveOn and DailyKos plan to deliver 224,000 signatures.

Even Republicans in his own party are theorizing that there’s something in Romney’s hidden records that may hurt him:

 “His personal finances, the way he does things, his record, are fair game.” ~Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)

“If there’s nothing there, there’s no ‘there’ there, don’t create a there,” ~Michael Steele

“The cost of not releasing the returns are clear. Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.” ~conservative columnist George Will, on ABC’s “This Week.”

“There’s obviously something there, because if there was nothing there, he would say, ‘Have at it,’” Dowd said. “So there’s obviously something there that compromises what he said in the past about something.” ~Republican strategist Matthew Dowd

But on Wednesday night, the DNC apologized for two web videos it launched earlier in the day featuring a dressage horse, after Ann Romney complained to ABC News. She said training show horses is “part of her therapy for multiple sclerosis.” No wonder the horse gets a $77,000 tax credit. No wonder Ann Romney thinks “you people” have seen enough of their tax records.

O BTW, speaking of taxes, Americans favor President Obama’s plan to let the Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000 expire at the end of the year by a 2-to-1 margin over over Republicans’ plan to preserve the tax cuts for all income brackets.

Even 55 percent of Republicans believe raising taxes on higher incomes “would either make the system more fair or have no impact.” Republican lawmakers have said they will block Democrats’ attempt to extend the tax cuts on income below $250,000, demanding that the upper-income cuts be extended too.

The Republican Party has stymied economic growth in many ways, in their efforts to make Obama look bad and benefit their rich buddies in the process. They’ve filibustered the American Jobs Act and killed jobs bills that the American public supports, they stonewalling monetary stimulus, they threaten a debt default to hold the country hostage to their idealogical whims, and cut discretionary spending in the debt ceiling deal and budget deals. They have lost America billions of dollars for the sake of power, greed, and vanity.

So while they appear unwilling to generate any revenue for the country, Republicans also spread false and dangerous myths about spending, keeping us austerely in our Recession longer than necessary.

Via Salon:

  • Spending Myth 1:  Today’s deficits have taken us to a historically unprecedented, economically catastrophic place.

This myth has had the effect of binding the hands of elected officials and policymakers at every level of government. It has also emboldened those who claim that we must cut government spending as quickly, as radically, as deeply as possible.

In fact, we’ve been here before.  In 2009, the federal budget deficit was a whopping 10.1% of the American economy, and back in 1943, in the midst of World War II, it was three times that — 30.3%. This fiscal year the deficit will total around 7.6%. Yes, that is big. But in the Congressional Budget Office’s grimmest projections, that figure will fall to 6.3% next year, and 5.8% in fiscal 2014. In 1983, under President Reagan, the deficit hit 6% of the economy, and by 1998, that had turned into a surplus. So, while projected deficits remain large, they’re neither historically unprecedented nor insurmountable.

More important still, the size of the deficit is no sign that lawmakers should make immediate deep cuts in spending. In fact, history tells us that such reductions are guaranteed to harm, if not cripple, an economy still teetering at the edge of recession.

  • Spending Myth 2: Military and other national security spending have already taken their lumps and future budget-cutting efforts will have to take aim at domestic programs instead.

The very idea that military spending has already been deeply cut in service to deficit reduction is not only false, but in the realm of fantasy.  The real story: Despite headlines about “slashed” Pentagon spending and “doomsday” plans for more, no actual cuts to the defense budget have yet taken place. In fact, since 2001, to quote former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, defense spending has grown like a “gusher.”  The Department of Defense base budget nearly doubled in the space of a decade. Now, the Pentagon is likely to face an exceedingly modest 2.5% budget cut in fiscal 2013, “paring” its budget down to a mere $525 billion – with possible additional cuts shaving off another $55 billion next year if Congress allows the Budget Control Act, a.k.a. “sequestration,” to take effect.

  • Spending Myth 3: Government health-insurance programs are more costly than private insurance.

Health spending is indeed growing faster than any other part of the federal budget. It’s gone from a measly 7% in 1976 to nearly a quarter today — and that’s truly a cause for concern. But health care costs, public and private, have been on the rise across the developed world for decades. And cost growth in government programs like Medicare has actually been slower than in private health insurance. That’s because the federal government has important advantages over private insurance companies when it comes to health care.

  • Spending Myth 4: The Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — will bankrupt the federal government while levying the biggest tax in U.S. history.

Wrong again. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this health-reform legislation will reduce budget deficits by $119 billion between now and 2019.  And only around 1% of American households will end up paying a penalty for lacking health insurance.

In fact, Rush Limbaugh think the poor aren’t suffering enough.

Now, more than ever, we need government to step up and address our problems.

via Next New Deal:

New insider trading convictions, most recently of the widely respected Goldman Sachs director Rajan Gupta, show how rampant trading on insider information really is. The $6 billion losses at JPMorgan Chase by a department that was supposed to neutralize risk showed that trading risk is too profitable to be foregone voluntarily.

Some may not realize that Barclays, which agreed to pay a $450 million fine, signed a Statement of Facts that admitted its traders rigged this key rate to make profits on positions, and collaborated with bankers/traders at other banks. Now we find outthat Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, while president of the New York Fed, was worried and even wrote British regulators about this. That’s nice. But why didn’t government — and Tim Geithner himself — actually do something about it?

The myths of austerity economics are paralyzing the government and keeping the nation from getting its house in order.

And via Big Think, on the science of economic inequity:

For Raghuram Rajan, a professor of finance at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, two facts stand out. “First, overall demand for goods and services is much weaker, both in Europe and the United States, than it was in the go-go years before the recession. Second, most of the economic gains in the US in recent years have gone to the rich, while the middle class has fallen behind in relative terms.” As the middle class no longer suited the expansion of businesses, demand associated with a consumption-based economy plummeted.

Unions are weakened, we have more debt than ever, are wages are being kept down, housing rates are falling, and the big boys are even gaming the basic interest rates that determine everything else!

“The key to recovery, then, is to tax the rich, increase transfers, and restore worker incomes by enhancing union bargaining power and raising minimum wages,” says Rajan. While it won’t be easy or quick, “the US should focus on helping to tailor the education and skills of the people being left behind to the available jobs.”

CEO pay crept up another 5 percent last year, once again far outstripping wage gains for middle-class workers.

via Alternet:

As it turned out, after conducting seven experiments they found that the narrow pursuit of self-interest at the top of the economic heap leads our elites to behave like complete dirtbags. As Bloomberg summarized, the researchers found that the richest among us “were more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiation, cheat to raise their odds of winning a prize and endorse unethical behavior at work.”

“It’s not that the rich are innately bad, but as you rise in the ranks — whether as a person or a nonhuman primate — you become more self-focused,” Paul Piff, the lead author of the study, told Bloomberg. It is their lust for wealth, paired with a lack of empathy for others – their disregard for the consequences of their actions on the “little people” – that makes them, at times, appear to simply be evil.

And it certainly helps explain why they didn’t think twice about the individual and institutional investors they ripped off: millions of ordinary people with credit cards, auto and home loans and other lines of credit.

As many as 20 other megabanks  are under investigation, including Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, UBS,  HSBC, and JPMorgan Chase. As one MIT authority on finance told CNN, “This dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scams in the history of markets.”

Many Wall St. executives openly claim that wrongdoing is necessary! Via Yahoo! News:

A quarter of Wall Street executives see wrongdoing as a key to success, according to a survey by whistleblower law firm Labaton Sucharow released on Tuesday. In a survey of 500 senior executives in the United States and the UK, 26 percent of respondents said they had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace, while 24 percent said they believed financial services professionals may need to engage in unethical or illegal conduct to be successful.

16 percent of respondents said they would commit insider trading if they could get away with it, according to Labaton Sucharow. And 30 percent said their compensation plans created pressure to compromise ethical standards or violate the law.

And those same banks that extended risky credit to families that couldn’t afford it in order to package their toxic debt as part of their scam, now won’t grant any to people who need it to genuinely survive and keep their homes.

Wall Street banks have hollowed out our communities with fraudulently sold mortgages and illegal foreclosures and settled the crimes for pennies on the dollar.  They’ve set back property records to the early 1900s, skipping the recording of deeds in county registry offices and using their own front called MERS.  They lobbied to kill fixed pension plans and then shaved a decade of growth off our 401(K)s with exorbitant fees, rigged research and trading for the house.

So when the Supreme Court announced it would not reconsider Citizens United, right-wing partisans were crowing about the advantage they now own, an advantage not due to ideas or personalities but to the sheer force of money.

On the one hand, conservatives declare that corporations and the super-rich can spend all they want on exercising their First Amendment rights, but on the other, they demand to keep it secret so the rest of us can’t exercise our First Amendment rights to fight back. Have you ever heard of anything more cowardly?

This is all a sham for invalidating democracy in the name of democracy. It’s the trick authoritarians always use to hide their real intentions, which in this case is absolute power over our public life and institutions: the privatization of everything.

It’s not just that the corporations have taken control over our government. It’s also that they’ve taken control over — and put serious limits on — our choices regarding what we buy, where we work, how we live, and what rights we have.

25% of groceries are bought from the elites, WalMart in this country, and The Walmart Heirs Now Have As Much Wealth As The Bottom 40 Percent Of Americans. Just like in the Soviet Union classism (which we are rapidly approaching):

  • Education is based on testing, not on teaching.
  • Our food supply is dominated by Soviet-style government-mandated (but privately run) monoculture.
  • Our voting system is increasingly restricted to people who are acceptable to the party hierarchy, just as the Soviet system limited Communist Party membership to a small percentage of the population (and corporate-owned machines count our votes).
  • Our increasingly privatized and militarized law enforcement is starting to owe a lot to the brutal Soviet policing style, too. We have gulags now — and the corporations are running them, too.
  • Pseudo-science like Lysenkoism is taking hold, with science denial in the face of facts threatening our future regarding economics and climate change.
  • The Kafkan runaround we get trying to reason with our elected officials, police and corporate overlords to get consumer rights or protection.
  • We are being spied on by government agencies, who admit “on at least one occasion,” collecting intelligence was “unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”
  • Our government is even spying on its own scientists, with journalists, businessmen and other citizens caught in the net.

This kind of faceless, brutally inhuman bureaucracy used to be the stuff of totalitarian nightmares. Now, it’s everyday reality for tens of millions of American homeowners.

Within the next year or two, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will instantly know everything about your body, clothes, and luggage with a new portable laser-based molecular scanner fired from 164 feet (50 meters) away. From traces of drugs or gun powder on your clothes to what you had for breakfast to the adrenaline level in your body.

Once the government is able to monitor everything we do and say, we will be unable to fight back.

The Surveillance State hovers over any attacks that meaningfully challenge state-appropriated power. It doesn’t just hover over it. It impedes it, it deters it and kills it. That’s its intent. It does that by design.

And so, understanding what the Surveillance State, how it operates — most importantly, figuring out how to challenge it and undermine it, and subvert it — really is, I think, an absolute prerequisite to any sort of meaningful activism, to developing strategies and tactics for how to challenge state and corporate power…

~Glen Greenwald, Salon

Luckily, Americans aren’t buying it.

A United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll found that 63% of those polled believed government and businesses should not be allowed to share information because it would hurt privacy and civil liberties.

In fact, the United Technologies/National Journal poll found that Americans were concerned about cybersecurity—67% of those surveyed were worried about the country’s computer networks—but that didn’t translate into support for proposals that could undermine online privacy rights.

Stay vigilant. The news is pretty somber.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-07-21: Solemnity by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

“why so serious?”

Cool Dark Rock

06-09-12

I wanted to play something cool, something a little dark, and something that rocks tonight. Perhaps I was inspired by the politicians in the news, and all the pernicious trash that seems to be poking out from every cool, dark rock around.

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Sounds Incorporated
I´ve Loved You – The Music Machine
Instrumental Duet – Bela Fleck
Ray Gun Suitcase – Pere Ubu
The Darker Days Of Me & Him – PJ Harvey
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Elvis Costello
I Wanna Rule The World – 10cc
2/1 – Brian Eno
All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands – Sufjan Stevens
She Is Staggering – Polaris
Fools – The Dodos
Change My Life – Spoon
Rumble – Link Wray
Baby, Please Don’t Go – Them
Bloodstains (Darkness Version) – Agent Orange
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Red Right Hand – Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
Guitar Solo 6 from ‘Dead Man’ – Neil Young
Bad Trip – Bo Diddley
Insanity Creeping – The Flow
Castles Made Of Sand – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Sittin’ On Top Of The World – Howlin’ Wolf
Free Ride – The Illinois Speed Press
Overture – The Collectors
White Room – Cream
When I Was Young – Eric Burdon & The Animals
Cool It Down – The Velvet Underground
Évasion de Julien – Miles Davis
The Old Revolution – Leonard Cohen

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-09: Cool Dark Rock by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Even though Money Romney is trying to distract you from his social issues, he and his champagne campaign neglect the American voter’s intellect by implying that social issues and economic issues are not intertwined.

“Mitt Romney is pro-life,” senior campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said. “He’ll govern as a pro-life president, but you’re going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people’s attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election.”

via In These Times:

But the distinction between “economic” issues and “social” ones is inherently false, particularly as it pertains to reproductive choice. The economy isn’t separate from issues of choice, nor is it separate from any issue we might refer to as a “woman’s issue.” (Which, one hopes, extends beyond the simple matter of whether to have a baby.)

An economic downturn can alter the course of even a planned pregnancy. Since the recession, more people have been demanding contraceptive services, and more of them have been seeking abortions.

Poor women are more likely to terminate unintended pregnancies than their more well-to-do counterparts,” explains one study.” As more women and families fall below the poverty line and are otherwise constrained by financial circumstances, abortion rates can be expected to rise.”

Economic violence is real violence. It impacts people. It changes lives. And it’s what conservative fiscal policies enact. Cutting social programs such as domestic violence shelters (which are actually needed more often during times of economic strain), denying necessary insurance coverage for reasons of personal religious belief, or attacking institutions like Planned Parenthood that provide affordable reproductive health care, doesn’t strengthen the economy in any way. What it does is penalize the poor, making them less able to access contraception, and more likely, if they are pregnant, to need the abortions that Romney, as a potential “pro-life President,” would claim to abhor.

But as we’ve seen, Romney likes to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to court both Santorum-covered Bible Belters and critical-thinking independent moderates (some might point out that these are mutually exclusive). He wants to put aside social issues in favor of economic ones, but can’t seem to defend himself on either. He wants to get credit for good business sense running a private equity firm and earning capital gains, but can’t withstand criticism about his affluent, privileged status, low effective tax rate, or corporate-raiding, job-cutting image. He wants to claim that his programs as governor or Massachusetts created jobs, but that Obamacare (modeled on his own Romneycare) destroys jobs. It’s all a classic case of projection.

via TPM:

On Sunday, the campaign defended the former Massachusetts governor’s jobs record, arguing that the state’s 47th in job creation ignores the improvement made between the beginning and end of Romney term. But when it comes to attacking President Obama’s jobs record, the Romney campaign doesn’t always apply the same standard.

For example, the campaign’s press secretary Andrea Saul sang a different tune last month:

“President Obama hasn’t created a net single new job … Since he started his presidency, he has not created any jobs. Not when you look at the full picture of the economy.”

It’s a fine line for the campaign to walk, as it simultaneously uses averages and “net” jobs numbers to insist that Obama’s jobs record is sub-par. Romney adviser Kerry Healey said “Averages are an unfair measure of a chief executive’s record.”

And surely the Obama administration gets none of that benefit of the doubt, despite the bleeding having stopped, and some minor-if-not-exactly-celebratory progress being made, all despite the best efforts of the Republican party. Many are now charging economic sabotage at the hands of the GOP.

“I don’t have any doubt at this point — the Republicans are clearly rooting for recession as hard as they can,” said veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, who believes the Obama campaign should aggressively make the argument. “People need to know what’s happening and there’s nothing wrong with explaining it. Republicans’ actions give more and more credibility to [the notion], and if independent voters become convinced of it they’ll be furious.”

Lately the charge has taken on a new vigor, from progressive commentary to the highest echelons of the Democratic totem pole. Obama’s senior campaign adviser David Axelrod last Sunday said Republicans have been “high-fiving each other on days when there is bad news.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Tuesday pointedly accused House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) of seeking to sabotage the economy for partisan gain.

Survey data from late last year suggest the public can be sold.

Proponents have pointed to the broader GOP lock-step opposition to Obama’s agenda, to Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) “Waterloo” remark and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s infamous 2010 quote, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Economics writers also question why Republicans have turned sharply against deficit spending to boost the economy since Obama took office, after having historically supported the concept while in power. Last year’s self-inflicted debt ceiling near-crisis shook confidence in Congress’s ability to carry out its most basic functions, and Republicans are signaling a return to the same brinkmanship as early as later this year.

But of course, despite all their madness, some Republicans are going off-message (or: ‘Gone Clinton‘) on the economy.

Conservative Utah Republican Liljenquist voiced support for the Glass-Steagell bank regulation. Liljenquist said he is a “huge Mitt Romney supporter” and vowed that he would “use every ounce of my training at Bain Consulting and in the private sector to dive into the financial issues of our time.”

“When you take the downside of that behavior away, then people engage in riskier and riskier and riskier behavior,” he said. “And that’s what happened with Wall Street. They got away from all good lending practices, they got away from all rationality, they leveraged themselves up 42 to 1 on the dollar thinking, you know what, if this goes south, we’ll get ours and everything will be fine.”

And the former (conservative) justice who led the dissent says he’s increasingly convinced that Citizen’s United won’t stand the test of time.

In a speech at the University of Arkansas, retired Justice John Paul Stevens argued that events since the decision “provide a basis to expect that the Court already has had second thoughts about the breadth of the reasoning” and will likely return to its 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

Stevens noted that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion did not explicitly address the possibility that the decision could open up the floodgates for foreign entities to bankroll U.S. elections. It’s a notion that President Obama warned of in his 2010 State of the Union.

When the justices carve out exceptions, argued Stevens, they will “create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion.”

“[T]he Court must then explain its abandonment of, or at least qualify its reliance upon, proposition that the identity of the speaker is an impermissible basis for regulating campaign speech,” Stevens said. “It will be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to the campaign speech of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters.”

“I think it necessarily follows that such speech made or financed by the terrorist organization itself would receive no constitutional protection,”  If foreign entities are barred from bankrolling U.S. elections, then the court is conceding that “the identity of some speakers may provide a legally acceptable basis for restricting speech.” Not only would that require the court to explicitly explain why corporations meet the standard (Stevens argues they shouldn’t because they can’t vote), it would also bring into question the blurring of lines between issue advocacy and campaign speech in Citizens United.

In other words, politics has changed fundamentally: the old style bosses are out and a new style media system driven in. Politics is now a business with advertising specialists, market researchers and pollsters all fostering polarization and continuing crisis so that their counsel will be solicited more often. Increasingly, political campaigns are run like military commands with centralized top-down direction, defensive and offensive strategies and tactics as well as psychological warfare.

Campaign gurus are well schooled in the techniques of perception management. This same techniques are also used to sell war, concrete proposals and results are less important than perception and image. Politics is now a growing industry with money and politics more joined at the hip than ever and an interest in keeping the big money flowing into its bank account.

This has been a slow and nefarious evolution going back to Reagan, or even Nixon. As economist Paul Krugman points out, as America may be entering another Depression, it’s time to stimulate, not enact austerity (which will wreak havoc in Europe), or ‘Keynesian economics.’ And historically, conservatives like Reagan have been all-too-happy to spend on big government, when they control the White House, of course. Now they are using the crisis to their benefit.

“After there was a recession under Ronald Reagan, government employment went way up. It went up after the recessions under the first George Bush and the second George Bush,” Obama said last month on the campaign trail. “So each time there was a recession with a Republican president, we compensated by making sure that government didn’t see a drastic reduction in employment. The only time government employment has gone down during a recession has been under me.”

More broadly, federal spending growth under Obama has been remarkably low by historical standards. The pressure from the GOP and D.C. political elites, who have been hostile to Keynesian economics in recent years, has put the administration in a tough spot.

Reagan, not Obama, was the big spender. While there was a brief burst of government spending early in the Obama administration — mainly for emergency aid programs like unemployment insurance and food stamps — that burst is long past. Indeed, at this point, government spending is falling fast, with real per capita spending falling over the past year at a rate not seen since the demobilization that followed the Korean War.

Here’s the truth. America has a huge budget deficit hanging over our heads. America is currently suffering from a classic case of debt deflation. This is exactly the situation in which government spending should temporarily rise to offset the slump in private spending and give the private sector time to repair its finances.

If the rich don’t pay their fair share, the rest of us have to pay higher taxes — or do without vital public services like Medicare, Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps, child nutrition, federal aid to education, and more.

Republicans say we shouldn’t raise taxes on the rich when the economy is still in the dumps. This is a variation on their old discredited trickle-down economic theories. The fact is, the rich already spend as much as they’re going to spend. Raising their taxes a bit won’t deter them from buying, and therefore won’t hurt the economy.

In reality, Romney and the GOP are pushing an agenda that has nothing whatever to do with reducing the budget deficit. If they were serious about deficit reduction they wouldn’t demand tax cuts for the very wealthy.

We should have learned by now. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were supposed to be temporary. Even so, they blew a huge hole in the budget deficit. Millionaires received a tax cut that’s averaged $123,000 a year, while the median-wage worker’s tax cut has amounted to no more than a few hundreds dollars a year. Bush promised the tax cuts would more than pay for themselves in terms of their alleged positive impact on the economy. The record shows they didn’t.

Romney and the Republicans are pushing a reverse-Robin Hood plan that takes from the middle class and the poor while rewarding the rich.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Romney’s tax plan would boost the incomes of people earning more than $1 million a year by an average of $295,874 annually.

Meanwhile, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Romney’s plan would throw ten million low-income people off the benefits rolls for food stamps or cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or both. “These cuts would primarily affect very low-income families with children, seniors and people with disabilities,” the Center concludes.

Americans still hate the rich, according to yet another poll. Pew’s major Trends in American Values poll shows class resentments bridging the partisan divide:“Majorities in all educational and income groups agree that ‘today it’s really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.’ In the current survey, 76% of the public agrees with this statement, about the same as the 74% that agreed in 1987.”

Even the moderate pundit crowd’s beloved independents agree: Our ruling classes are worthless parasites. A mere 22 percent of “swing voters” “admire the rich.” (How many Romney supporters “admire the rich,” you ask? Thirty-eight percent. No one likes rich people.)

via Joseph Stiglitz:

Inequality in America has been widening for dec­ades. Warren Buffett put it well, “There’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years and my class has won.” The rich do not exist in a vacuum. They need a functioning society around them to sustain their position. Widely unequal societies do not function efficiently and their economies are neither stable nor sustainable. There comes a point when inequality spirals into economic dysfunction for the whole society, and even the rich pay a steep price.

When one interest group holds too much power, it succeeds in getting policies that help itself in the short term at the expense of the rest of society in the long time.

Periods in which the broadest cross sections of Americans have reported higher net incomes – when inequality has been reduced, partly as a result of progressive taxation – have been the periods in which the U.S. economy has grown the fastest. It is no accident that the current recession, like the Great Depression, was preceded by large increases in inequality. When too much money is concentrated at the top of society, spending by the average American is necessarily reduced – Moving money from the bottom to the top lowers consumption because higher-income individuals consume, as a fraction of their income, less than lower-income individuals do.

The relationship is straightforward and ironclad: as more money becomes concentrated at the top, demand goes into a decline.

In a society in which inequality is widening, fairness is not just about wages and income, or wealth. It’s a far more generalized perception. Do I seem to have a stake in the direction society is going, or not? Do I share in the benefits of collective action, or not? If the answer is a loud “no,” then brace for a decline in motivation whose repercussions will be felt economically and in all aspects of civic life.

There is no good reason why the 1 percent, with their good educations, their ranks of advisers, and their much-vaunted business acumen, should be so misinformed. The 1 percent in generations past often knew better. They knew that there would be no top of the pyramid if there wasn’t a solid base – that their own position was precarious if society itself was unsound. Henry Ford, not remembered as one of history’s softies, understood that the best thing he could do for himself and his company was to pay his workers a decent wage, because he wanted them to work hard and he wanted them to be able to buy his cars. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a purebred patrician, understood that the only way to save an essentially capitalist America was not only to spread the wealth, through taxation and social programs, but to put restraints on capitalism itself, through regulation. Roosevelt and the economist John Maynard Keynes, while reviled by the capitalists, succeeded in saving capitalism from the capitalists.

According to Politico.com, the so-called “mega-donors,” unleashed by Citizens United and pouring boundless big bucks into this year’s political campaigns, are upset that their massive contributions are being exposed to public view, ignoring the right of every one of us to know who is giving money to candidates — and the opportunity to try to figure out why.

“Quit picking on us” is part of Politico‘s headline. Their article says that the mega-donors’ “six- and seven-figure contributions have… bought them nothing but grief.”

Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive… America’s barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded, even!

Frank VanderSloot and his wealthy pals went ballistic and cried intimidation. “You go back to the Dark Ages,” VanderSloot said, “when they put these people in the stocks or whatever they did, or publicly humiliated them as a deterrent to everybody else — watch this — watch what we do to the guy who did this.”

Conservatives described the Obama ranking of Romney contributors as an “enemies list,” conjuring images of Nixonian wiretaps and punitive tax audits.

“Most of the megadonors backing [Romney’s] candidacy are elderly billionaires,” Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone. “Their median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and they will all profit from Romney’s pledge to eliminate inheritance taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy — and then slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent.” As at least one of them has said, they view these cash infusions as an “investment,” plain and simple.

Not that Democrats are pure of heart and innocent. In fact, Adam Bonica, an associate political science professor at Stanford has put together a database indicating that since 1979, 377 members of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans have given almost half a billion dollars to candidates of both parties, most of it in the last decade. The median contribution was $355,100 each.

And this, via Salon:

The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality has put together a new package of easy-to-digest “educational materials on trends in inequality.”

The slides now available at www.inequality.com are divided into 14 categories: debt, education, employment, family, gender, health, immigration, income, mobility, politics, poverty, race, violent crime, and wealth.

If you are poor, you are more likely to be in debt and have health problems, and less likely to get a quality education or have your priorities reflected in politics. Of course, that’s always been true, not just in the U.S., but everywhere.

What’s alarming is how, as the wealthiest Americans get a bigger and bigger share of the income pie, U.S. society is stratifying in dangerous, self-reinforcing directions.

For example, in 1972, families in the top income quintile spent an average of $3,536 annually on “enrichment expenditures” to “supplement their children’s opportunities to learn and develop.” The bottom quintile spent $835. Twenty-five years later, spending by the top quintile had more than doubled, to $8,872, while spending by the bottom quintile had only risen by about 50 percent, to $1,315, and had hardly budged at all since the early 1980s.

This may partially explain why college completion rates for richer Americans have risen faster than for poorer Americans.

Over the same time period in which the private sector unionization rate for men fell from 35 percent to 10 percent, the average CEO went from earning 25 times as much as the average worker in compensation to 262 times as much.

“Researchers who study mobility have consistently found that there is less mobility in the United States than in most other European and English speaking countries.”

So there’s the American Dream for you.

http://www.rt.com/s/swf/player5.4.swf

via In These Times (which I recommend all of you immediately subscribe to)

When a democracy functions properly, media revelations of executive branch misconduct typically result in an investigation by the legislative branch. Watergate epitomized this healthy dynamic— So when the New York Times this week ran the headline “Senate Will Investigate National Security Leaks About Terrorism ‘Kill List,’” it was a frightening sign that something has gone horribly wrong since the Woodward-and-Bernstein days.

Last week, the Times published an expose detailing how President Obama personally orders the execution of American citizens and foreigners that he labels “terrorists.” According to theTimes, this program deems “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants”; allows the president to be judge, jury and executioner; and operates wholly outside of the law. Indeed, the Times reports that the administration justifies such dictatorial power by insisting that the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process can now “be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”

However, the memo laying out this utterly preposterous legal theory is secret—and, of course, hasn’t been ratified by any court.

As the Times noted in that subsequent follow-up story, Congress is focused not on shutting down—or even overseeing—the assassination program. It is instead focused on making sure those who blew the whistle on it are punished. Why? Because that will ensure that other such unauthorized programs can continue. As Sen. John McCain (R) made clear, he wants revelations of illegal activity halted and possibly prosecuted specifically because “such disclosures can only undermine similar ongoing or future operations.”

Rather than celebrating the heroes who expose wrongdoing and then stopping the illegal acts, the government is shooting the messengers in order to let the crimes continue.

That’s why this war on whistleblowers is not just some theoretical problem only for academics to debate or for foreigners to worry about. It represents a genuine domestic threat to democracy itself. If through our silence and complacency we allow that threat to expand, we shouldn’t be surprised when more of us are in the government’s crosshairs.

And if war-crime whistleblowers like Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, or the countless others to be named are brought up on trumped up conspiracy, espionage, aiding the enemy, or treason charges, the penalties could be death.

In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that after the U.S. kills people with drones in Pakistan, it then targets for death those who show up at the scene to rescue the survivors and retrieve the bodies, as well as those who gather to mourn the dead at funerals: “the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals.” As The New York Times summarized those findings: “at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile” while “the bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals.”

This repellent practice continues. Over the last three days, the U.S. has launched three separate drone strikes in Pakistan: one on each day. As The Guardian reports, the U.S. has killed between 20 and 30 people in these strikes, the last of which, early this morning, killed between 8 and 15. It was the second strike, on Sunday, thattargeted mourners gathered to grieve those killed in the first strike:

At the time of the attack, suspected militants had gathered to offer condolences to the brother of a militant commander killed during another US unmanned drone attack on Saturday. The brother was one of those who died in the Sunday morning attack. The Pakistani officials said two of the dead were foreigners and the rest were Pakistani.

Note that there is no suggestion, even from the “officials” on which these media reports (as usual) rely, that the dead man was a Terrorist or even a “militant.” He was simply receiving condolences for his dead brother. But pursuant to the standardsembraced by President Obama, the brother — without knowing anything about him — is inherently deemed a “combatant” and therefore a legitimate target for death solely by virtue of being a “military-age male in a strike zone.”

Although as the New York Times points out, two-thirds of the most frightening post-9/11 plans for attacks on American soil were stings orchestrated by government agents. Typically, a bumbling, gullible, down on their luck “potential terrorist” with no history of violence is coaxed into some sort of involvement and then arrested, followed by news media trumpeting the “narrowly foiled plot”:

The United States has been narrowly saved from lethal terrorist plots in recent years — or so it has seemed. A would-be suicide bomber was intercepted on his way to the Capitol; a scheme to bomb synagogues and shoot Stinger missiles at military aircraft in Newburgh, N.Y.; and a fanciful idea to fly explosive-laden model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol hatched in Massachusetts.

But all these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects naïvely played their parts until they were arrested.

Typically, the stings initially target suspects for pure speech — comments to an informer outside a mosque, angry postings on Web sites, e-mails with radicals overseas — then woo them into relationships with informers, who are often convicted felons working in exchange for leniency, or with F.B.I. agents posing as members of Al Qaeda or other groups.

Some targets have previous involvement in more than idle talk. But others seem ambivalent, incompetent and adrift, like hapless wannabes looking for a cause that the informer or undercover agent skillfully helps them find.

For more things you probably didn’t know about how the world actually works, subscribe to Lee Camp’s Moment of Clarity series:

And, of course, follow the Stranger in a Strange Land on Mutiny Radio!

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-09: Cool Dark Rock by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net