Tag Archives: inequity

Wealth Inequality: Perception v. Reality

People in America drastically underestimate just how egregious this inequity of distribution is. And it is even further from the modest ideal that most of us want. This CCO public domain set of infographics does the best job of explaining these numbers.

Via politizane:

You don’t have to be an anarchist or socialist to realize that something is very, very wrong when the system looks this top-heavy. If enough Americans realize that the system is so far skewed away from their ideal (and is kept that way with dishonesty and social engineering), no pejorative labels or propaganda will sway them into accepting their austerity and serfdom.

See also Seattle’s Nick Hanauer’s TED Talk on Income Inequality.

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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?”

The Creeps

Tonight is bone-chillingly eerie in the Mission District, and diaphanous fingers of fog encircle the Bay Area, and in the nation and around the world notorious creeps keep their eyes on us from their platforms of power. On a dark Friday the 13th, we stare right back and hum merrily.

PLAYLIST
The Hall Of The Mountain Grill – Hawkwind
The Chill Of Death – Charles Mingus
The Devil’s Trill Sonata (With Piano) – Itzhak Perlman
Spooky Girlfriend – Elvis Costello
They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead – Sufjan Stevens
Djed – Tortoise
Fear – David Byrne
Fire Down Below – Nick Cave
Lovefingers – Silver Apples
Everyone Is Afraid Of Clowns – Kumquat
Safety Is The Cootie Wootie (Pt. 1-3) – The Residents
Rusty Metal – Aphex Twin
The Sheltering Sky – King Crimson
Third From The Sun – Chrome
Earth People Dr. Octagon
The Boogie Monster – Gnarls Barkley
Earth Died Screaming – Tom Waits

The first creep of the evening is presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

“Mitt Romney wants you to show your papers. But he won’t show us his.” Joe Biden

And Romney’s support for voter suppression laws disrespects the NAACP’s entire legacy. The only glimmer of hope is in the fact that Romney’s policies are so vague that they do not seem overly destructive… yet.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board tore into Romney last week for trying to “play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it’s Mr. Obama’s fault,” arguing instead that Romney needs to offer “some understanding of why the President’s policies aren’t working and how Mr. Romney’s policies will do better.”

Romney hasn’t identified a loophole he’d close, any specific federal programs he’d slash, how he would reduce the deficit, or been clear on his tax returns or full history at Bain.

His entire platform can be summed up as schoolyard name-calling.

No you’re the “outsourcer-in-chief.”

The Washington Post reports that Bain Capital invested in companies that were “pioneers” in outsourcing and offshoring, but Mitt Romney would rather shift blame, race-bait, and proclaim his opponent to be glue while he, himself, acts as rubber. On the health-care tax, layoffs… he even criticizes Obama for not taking a clear stand on the issues, while doing exactly that (much to the chagrin of his own party).

“Unlike President Obama, you don’t have to wait until after the election to find out what I believe in — or what my plans are,” Romney said in April.

So while being funded by the creepy Koch brothers, Mitt continues to get more radically right-wing and creepy himself. Granted, he was always creepy, going so far as to impersonate a police officer and pull over his friends while they were on dates.

So while the GOP notion of a small business encompasses “fabulously rich so-called small business owners like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton,” the Congressional Budget Office just released a very thorough update of their high quality household income series, adding data through 2009:

When it comes to federal taxation, there is just no case in the data to be made in any way, shape or form that we Americans are overtaxed. Not middle income, not high income—not the overall average. Not relative to other countries (figure 4 here), and not relative to our historical rates back to 1979.

By the end of the series, the average US household was paying 17.4% of their income in federal taxes, compared to 22% in 1979. The main culprit is the income tax; all the others in the figure stay relatively constant.

The bottom slide shows a long downward trend in the effective rate paid by the top 1% starting in the mid-1990s, and particularly large cyclical effects at the end of the series for middle and low-income households. At their peak average income in 2007 ($1.9 million), had the top 1% paid taxes at their mid-90s effective rate (35%) instead of their 2007 rate (28%), their tax liability would have been $134,000 higher.

The next creep on the list is Barack Obama, who defies states’ rights and individual civil liberties by crushing Medical Marijuana dispensaries, despite having partaken in them in the past himself.

Now, Barack Obama has quietly signed his name to an Executive Order allowing the White House to control all private communications in the country in the name of national security.

“Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions:

“The Federal Government must have the ability to communicate at all times and under all circumstances to carry out its most critical and time sensitive missions,” the president begins the order. “Survivable, resilient, enduring and effective communications, both domestic and international, are essential to enable the executive branch to communicate within itself and with: the legislative and judicial branches; State, local, territorial and tribal governments; private sector entities; and the public, allies and other nations.”

“Such communications must be possible under all circumstances to ensure national security, effectively manage emergencies and improve national resilience.”

Later the president explains that such could be done by establishing a“joint industry-Government center that is capable of assisting in the initiation, coordination, restoration and reconstitution of NS/EP [national security and emergency preparedness] communications services or facilities under all conditions of emerging threats, crisis or emergency,” calling from agents with the Department of Homeland Security, Pentagon, Federal Communications Commission and other government divisions to ensure that his new executive order can be implemented.

“Infrastructure includes wireline, wireless, satellite, cable, and broadcasting, and provides the transport networks that support the Internet and other key information systems,” suggesting that the president has indeed effectively just allowed himself to control the country’s Internet access. “The authority to seize private facilities when necessary, effectively shutting down or limiting civilian communications.”

The Pentagon is even considering awarding a Distinguished Warfare Medal to drone pilots who work on military bases often far removed from the battlefield, claiming it takes bravery to fly a U.A.V.” — unmanned aerial vehicle — “particularly when you’re called upon to take someone’s life

“Whatever one thinks of the justifiability of drone attacks, it’s one of the least “brave” or courageous modes of warfare ever invented. It’s one thing to call it just, but to pretend it’s “brave” is Orwellian in the extreme. Indeed, the whole point of it is to allow large numbers of human beings to be killed without the slightest physical risk to those doing the killing. Killing while sheltering yourself from all risk is the definitional opposite of bravery.” ~Glenn Greenwald

And as In These Times reports:

Reasonable minds can differ as to whether a person who commits a heinous crime deserves to die, but no one can dispute that rulers given extraordinary powers—such as the power to decide who lives and who dies—will sooner or later abuse those powers.

In contrast, support for the death penalty here in the U.S. is declining, with five states voting to abolish it in recent years. Americans have come to accept that the state can’t be trusted with the machinery of death. So why do we trust our elected officials to assassinate terrorists on foreign soil, where they act as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner?

Our government says that its drone strikes are only rarely killing civilians. But we the people cannot evaluate this claim because the Obama administration has classified all the evidence, only releasing information at its own discretion. As David Sirota recently noted, Congress is focused not on overseeing the assassination program, but on punishing those who leaked it to the press. The Obama administration is aggressively prosecuting the whistleblowers who reveal information about the disreputable acts it wants kept secret.

The New York Times reports that Pakistan and Yemen are becoming less stable and more hostile to the United States. The Washington Post reports that in Yemen, videos of dead children and furious tribesmen holding up American missile parts have flooded YouTube, breeding anger at the United States and sympathy for al Qaeda. The fact that the drone war keeps expanding—from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia to the Philippines—also suggests that the strikes are not “crippling al Qaeda,” as we are told.

In a functioning representative democracy, these issues would be investigated and debated. Such an investigation would be useful to the American people who pay for these wars. But it would not be useful to the military-industrial complex, which wants to see the drone war expanded, not curtailed.

All in the name of the corporate war machines filling Congress’ coffers and politicians’ pockets. The black budget is booming. And psychotic bank CEOs and conservative corpo-fascists are taking over every branch and party in government, including once-libertarian think tanks. The rich get richer and the evil go even more psychopathic, and now there’s scientific evidence to back it up.

Earlier this year, [psychologist Paul] Piff, who is 30, published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that made him semi-famous. Titled “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior,” it showed through quizzes, online games, questionnaires, in-lab manipulations, and field studies that living high on the socioeconomic ladder can make people less ethical, more selfish, more insular, and less compassionate than other people. It can make them more likely, as Piff demonstrated in one of his experiments, to take candy from a bowl of sweets designated for children.

Over and over, [professor Kathleen] Vohs has found that money can make people antisocial. She primes subjects by seating them near a screen-saver showing currency floating like fish in a tank or [showing them] words like ‘bill’, ‘check’, or ‘cash’. Then she tests their sensitivity to other people. In her Science article, Vohs showed that money-primed subjects gave less time to a colleague in need of assistance and less money to a hypothetical charity. When asked to pull up a chair so a stranger might join a meeting, money-primed subjects placed the chair at a greater distance from themselves than those in a control group. Vohs even found that money-primed people described feeling less emotional and physical pain: They can keep their hand under burning-hot water longer and feel less emotional distress when excluded from a ball-tossing game.

No better example of this can be seen than the massive scandal of all scandals, the interest-rate fixing Libor case.

We trust that the banking system is setting today’s rate based on its best guess about the future worth of the money. And we assume that guess is based on the cumulative market predictions of countless lenders and borrowers all over the world about the future supply and demand.

But suppose our assumption is wrong. Suppose the bankers are manipulating the interest rate so they can place bets with the money you lend or repay them – bets that will pay off big for them because they have inside information on what the market is really predicting, which they’re not sharing with you.

That would be a mammoth violation of public trust. And it would amount to a rip-off of almost cosmic proportion – trillions of dollars that you and I and other average people would otherwise have received or saved on our lending and borrowing that have been going instead to the bankers. It would make the other abuses of trust we’ve witnessed look like child’s play by comparison.

Sad to say, there’s reason to believe this has been going on, or something very much like it. This is what the emerging scandal over “Libor” (short for “London interbank offered rate”) is all about.

Robert Diamond, Jr., the former Barclays CEO who was forced to resign, said the emails made him “physically ill” – perhaps because they so patently reveal the corruption.)

But Wall Street has almost surely been involved in the same practice, including the usual suspects — JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America – because every major bank participates in setting the Libor rate, and Barclays couldn’t have rigged it without their witting involvement.

In fact, Barclays’s defense has been that every major bank was fixing Libor in the same way, and for the same reason. And Barclays is “cooperating” (i.e., giving damning evidence about other big banks) with the Justice Department and other regulators in order to avoid steeper penalties or criminal prosecutions, so the fireworks have just begun.

During questioning by British politicians over his role in the ongoing Libor-fixing scandal, the Bank of England’s Deputy Governor Paul Tucker admitted Monday that he couldn’t be sure that regulators had put an end to private sector manipulation of the key interest rate.

This is not to say that the charges that Barclays (and possibly many other banks) have been improperly influencing Libor — the London interbank offered rate — are unimportant. Libor is supposed to represent the cost at which banks are able to borrow money from other banks. As such, it is the linchpin of a vast galaxy of interest rates — globally, the price of around $350 trillion worth of home mortgages, car loans and credit card interest rates rises and falls according to the daily fluctuations of Libor. It’s bad and depressing news to learn that the big banks have been intentionally lying about what they think it costs them to borrow money, motivated either to boost their day-to-day trading profits or simply to represent that their bank’s bottom line is healthier than the true numbers would indicate.

Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic are expressing dismay. On Monday, San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank president John Williams acknowledged, reported Reuters, that Barclays’ behavior had eroded confidence in the integrity of the banking system. Which is bad news, he said, because “trust is absolutely critical to conduct any type of business.”

Robert Reich wonders whether “the unfolding Libor scandal will provide enough ammunition and energy to finally get the job [of breaking up the big banks] done.”

At Slate, Mathew Yglesias believes that the new revelations “should destroy the credibility of banks once and for all.”

On Monday, the Hill reported that the House of Representatives is expected to approve legislation that would end the requirement that bank ATMs include a physical sign warning that fees might be charged for bank withdrawals. Banking lobbyists claim that the change in the law is necessary because people are physically removing the signs and then “frivolously” suing the banks for not providing the legally mandated warning. the real motivation is obviously to boost fee income.

One of Mitt Romney’s biggest campaign finance “bundlers” is a lobbyist for Barclays — and before the scandal blew up, Romney was scheduled to attend a London fundraiser hosted by the (now-resigned) Barclays CEO Bob Diamond.

The rate of a loan consists of adding the “risk-free” rate to a risk-premium. If either the risk-free rate or risk-premium goes up, then the price of a loan goes up. If you are a particularly risky borrower, you will pay more for a loan. This is because your risk-premium, compared to other borrowers, is higher, and that is added into your loan rate. If the risk-free rate is 3 percent and your risk of not paying back a mortgage requires a 2 percent premium, then your mortgage rate is 5 percent. If your risk of not paying back unsecured debt on a credit card requires an 8 percent premium, then your interest rate on your credit card is 11 percent.

More complicated models include more types of risk-premia and other things, but this basic approach is how financial markets work. They all need a measure of what money costs independent of the risks associated with any specific loan. As a result, all the most complicated models have this “risk-free” rate at their core.

Now think of some of the scandals and controversies over recent loan pricing. Here’s a great Washington Post piece by Ylan Mui on African American homeowners scarred by the subprime implosion. There are cases where people with the same risk profiles were given different interest rates. Here’s a report from EPI by Algernon Austinarguing that African Americans and Latinos with the same credit risks as whites were charged a higher total interest rate for mortgages even though the risk-free rate and their risk-premium rate should have been the same. The data implies that an additional, illegitimate “+ race” was added to the equation above.

The reason it matters is because that tactic can’t work forever. You can manipulate prices and juke government stress tests and otherwise lie to make people believe your bank’s balance-sheet is healthier than it is, but eventually that system is going to collapse. And, crucially, if the primary objective is “delay,” then when the crisis actually hits, it hits in an overwhelming way with no plausible way to fairly allocate losses or take other actions. Take Lehman Bros as an example!

After Lehman Brothers went bust, banks started submitting “fake” numbers for fear that “real” numbers would make them look bad. Apparently everyone was doing it. Recently, the scandal caught up with British giant Barclays, which was forced to pay a fine for its misdeeds. Many more banks will be found out for manipulating LIBOR interest rates before this is over.

JPMorgan Chase admits that a trading goof earlier this year has helped earn the country’s biggest bank $5.8 billion in losses — nearly triple the original estimate.

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan, announced that billions of insured deposits at his bank had been invested in high risk derivatives and had sustained at least a $2 billion loss. The Department of Justice and FBI have commenced investigations.

Now it has emerged that not only was Dimon conflicted in his role on the New York Fed but the President and CEO of the New York Fed had an equally dubious conflict of interest,  paying_$190,000_annually_to_the spouse_of_bank’s_top_regulator!

And so while our beautiful nation may be put up for sale to the highest bidder, The Pew Economic Mobility Project has been tracking the economic status of thousands of families since 1968 — the data covered in the current report is through 2009. As Catherine Rampell summarized in the New York Times:

The median person in the poorest quintile has a family net worth that is 63 percent less than that of his counterpart a generation ago: $2,748, versus $7,439…

The median family in the top socioeconomic class today (i.e., the family at the 90th percentile) is worth $629,853, compared to $495,510 in the last generation. That’s a 27 percent increase in the size of the median fortune in the top income stratum.

If you’re scoring at home: Rich: richer; Poor: poorer.

Meanwhile, the police are outright lying about the full list of terrorists they say have “attempted to kill New Yorkers in 14 different plots.” Law enforcement is engaging in massive phone surveillance to the tune of 1.3 million requests for mobile phone data, revealing all manner of shadowy secrets. The corporations comply, with Verizon aiming for the right to edit your personal internet access in the name of “editorial discretion.” 

Add in a mega stun gun, police boots kicking down the doors of protestors, and prisoners on mind-altering drugs, and you’ve got one creepy show!

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-07-14: The Creeps by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Reaching Out Right

There are many things keeping the underemployed and oppressed people of both left and right at polar ends of the spectrum. Radicalizing extremist movements, manipulative systems of power and hard fought biases prevent the largest, most powerful populist movement in American History from emerging and meeting on the ground between their silos.

 It seems a little dismissive and condescending to assume that low-income, working class white America votes against its self interests. Democrats have done almost as much harm to the poor over the decades as Republicans have, and offer few strong, progressive solutions. Both sides understand that change is needed, but disagree on the details. The minds of those on the right are as complex as someone with any other ideological stance, and to think otherwise reveals a disturbingly close-minded bias. As for the conservative bias, however, research indicates a predisposition to obey authoritarian social orders and subtle cues.

Researcher Chris Mooney calls them “authoritarians,” those who are particularly allergic to uncertainty and fiercely refuse to modify their beliefs in response to new evidence. They “extol traditional values, are very conventional, submit to established leaders, and don’t seem to care much about dissent or civil liberties.”

Science is discovering that the brains of those who rely on belief and intuition shift away from analytical and critical thinking, and vice-versa. All it takes is a little movement over time towards the science-based facts, to being a more “open personality” than a close one, and people will begin to work with one another. There are always those out there who, deep down, value individual liberty more than conformity.
This may even result in conservatives seeming happier, by large. They may be unburdened with the worries of the social contract, and cheerfully resolute in their locked-in worldview. But it can also result in a nasty case of cognitive dissonance, since so many facts about the economy, business ethics, science and education are in direct opposition to the deceptive claims of the GOP leadership. When faced with such facts, research indicates that believers become more entrenched in their position, as all humans are wired to do. In fact, as conservatives get more educated or “informed” on an issue such as global warming, they end up more disconnected from the facts. While most people do not get their news from anywhere at all, repeated studies show that those that get theirs from FOX News are consistently the least well-informed.

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read then newspaper, you’re misinformed.” ~Mark Twain

The echo chamber of Big Conservative Media, and the center-right media bent on protecting the status quo of inequality, “frames” every argument in moral terms that benefit their side, of course. Their twisting of quotes, research, statistics and rhetoric have resulted in millions of Americans distrusting science, medicine, and even critical-thinking itself. Contrived controversies obscure the actual state of humanity’s knowledge at this point in history. Analytical people are all ignorantly cast as atheists, who are now the most hated subgroup in the country. (Interestingly, testing shows that those “primed” with reminders of America’s secular authority and history are less likely to distrust atheists).
False dichotomies have forced the conservative mind further to the right, as moderates were slowly ousted during the Gingrich era (and again today), and replaced by the fundamentalists who worship selfishness instead of a more morally responsible individualism. To get an idea of this devolution, one need only read the harshest words of William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater, then compare them to the most reactionary accomplishments of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, to the radical activism of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, to the angry language of the Tea Party. (For a thorough shock to the system, read some Abraham Lincoln for comparison).
“When you say “radical right” today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”
~Barry Goldwater
Much of this extremism was introduced so slowly that people did not even notice they were caving into it, like the fabled frog in the pot of boiling water. Things that would have been ghastly yesteryear are commonly accepted “best practices” today; spying on all domestic communications, suspending habeas corpus and due process, corporate bribery, assassinations and torture.
The social contract fails when the masses are enslaved and subjugated by a select, powerful few. This classist bias has existed since the beginning of our history, but so has the gradual, progressive march away from restrictive, totalitarian systems.
Ayn Rand’s psychotic philosophy has been shown to be a disaster. The super-rich prove to us that they cannot be trusted again and again. Trickle-down economics was a failed experiment for a long time, but it continues now as a virulent lie. Milton Friedman’s unregulated ‘free market’ principles have become religious tenets, both in their fundamentalist tone and faith-based refutation of facts. Many have suggested that the primary role of neoliberalism was as an ideological cover for capital accumulation by multinational corporations.

“The laws of commerce are the laws of Nature, and therefore the laws of God.” ~Edmund Burke

Their wealth is essentially no better than hoarding, and their risky banking as dangerous as drunk driving. Conservative think tanks have been corrupting data with bias, slowly overtaking think tanks, and lobbied for less regulation than we’ve had in 30 years.
The history of our Protestant work ethic has written these ideas into our culture, so we are painfully susceptible to being manipulated by them.

“At the unconscious level, Americans believe that good people succeed, that success is bestowed upon you by God, your success demonstrates that God loves you.”

~Clotaire Rapaille, author “The Culture Code”

Now, the dystopian visions of Upton Sinclair’s It Can’t Happen Here are coming true, with the rise of corpofascism helped along by right-wing activist courts, bought legislators, unleashed lobbying, propaganda, disenfranchising voters and silencing dissent. The rich are not particularly smarter, (though they can afford higher education without incurring crippling debt). Nor do they create more jobs, as corporations are always looking to downsize, outsource, automate or maximize profits by destroying the middle class. Consumerism has been shown, in fact, to be a driver of antisocial behavior, and the percentage of psychopaths in finance may be higher than the percentage of the general population.
The powers that have been growing have successfully engineered a false moral argument that all taxes are immoral, and that the rich are the infallible engines of the economy, when any reasonable mind knows that some taxation is needed to maintain and  grow an infrastructure as large as the United States, and that no group is without faults. The rich are all too quick to remind the populace that the working class are not the producers or job creators, and may even be leeches of the system. All in the hopes that the people will forget that we are The Public, the working class, the constituency, the consumers, and the voters of the United States of America.

“Democrats have moved to the right, and the Right has moved into a mental hospital!” ~Bill Maher

American democracy needs two strong, solid political parties, but currently one of the parties is just a mess – incapable of making coherent policy when it’s in office, and dangerously obstructionist when it’s out of office. It has also has the effect of energizing sovereign citizens, secessionists and white nationalists.

Though American democracy needs two strong political parties, one is just a dangerous, incoherent mess, and neither the president nor the voters are likely to change this. It will probably take interests within the party who are worried that the crazy will impede their ability to get things done, that will push to end it.

We’ve seen a little bit of this already. During the healthcare debate, many normally Republican-leaning groups chose to work with the Obama administration and cut their best deal, rather than sticking with the rejectionist GOP. Several companies quit the conservative state lobbying organization ALEC when it became controversial by lobbying for ideological and partisan goals. On the national security side, a break has emerged between the Department of Defense and movement conservatives; both conservatives who care about national security and (on some issues) businesses might choose to stick with the Pentagon. And it’s not quite the same thing, but there’s been a small but steady stream of defectors from the movement.

Many in the Republican party (or conservative or libertarian or center-right independents), are not happy about the destructive course the party is on.
Rep. Alan SimpsonFormer Chairman Jim GreerReagan-appointed Judge Richard PosnerFreshman Republican Richard Hannah, and others have decried the co-opting of their political philosophy by scheming conspirators. Though they are discounted as ‘moderates’ (as if it were an insult) or ‘RINOs’ (Republicans in Name Only). This fracturing creates opportunities for reform.
There have to be ways to amicably bring people in the Red States to a more rational and reasonable mindset, where even if real progress does not take hold, at least they won’t be working against the development of a civilized human race. A way for conscionable and socially-responsible citizens to declare, “Not in My Back Yard!”
There is even a small conservative town in Texas where the city’s mayor, police force and Tea Party movement support their local Occupy protestors.
Even within the Catholic church there are progressive elements and stirrings. Attacking religion is ignorant and counterproductive anyway.
The trends also show us some hope. For even though polls shoe that about 40 percent of Americans believe that God created the Earth less than 10,000 years ago, secularism is on the rise in America. The Millenials (the ‘digital native’ youth on the cusp of adulthood), are more science-minded and skeptical than ever before:

Polls and surveys, like this one from Pew or this one from the Center for American Progress, have helped paint a picture of the Millennials. They’re the most ethnically diverse generation in American history: just under 60% are white, a record low. They’re also one of the most politically progressive generations in decades: they voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by a 2-to-1 margin and opposed the Iraq war by 77% to 21%. They’re disinclined to prolong the culture wars: for the most part, they’re comfortable with gay marriage, immigration, racial and gender equality. They tend to marry later in life, to be highly educated,politically engaged and technologically savvy, and to place a high value on leisure and civic engagement. And they’re the least religious generation of Americans ever;  the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans now exceeds 1 in 4 among the Millennials, a record high.

Millenials also exhibit a new phenomenon, they are getting less religious as they get older. Most importantly, by 2020, the Millennials will represent almost 40% of all American voters.
Other trends in America include the record low approval ratings of government (where conservatives have always led the way) and distrust of organized religion.
But this should not just be a waiting game. Nor should it be a zero-sum game. There are many social issues that, we must all agree, will not be solved with consensuses reached, and will remain for each side to argue and debate for decades. But on many issues, we do agree, and are both amenable to compromise in the light of the truth and moral reality. A plurality of Americans support a tax hike on the rich, for example.

Most Americans oppose the Citizen’s United decision, and do not consider corporations to be people.

We agree on our rights and liberties being protected and protecting the constitution. We recognize the importance of community, family, social responsibility, the need for transparency and accountability in our leaders and the powerful, and the consequences of not planning for the future. We believe in freedom of speech, freedom from religious oppression, guarding against unreasonable searches and seizures, and supporting our patriots. Very few on the right are criticizing Obama for his murder of citizens without due process, violations of human rights, and suppression of the freedom of press. Instead, rabid demagogues condemn the president for wanting to take away guns, institute Maoist socialism, and kill babies, (none of which have come to pass).

 There are Ron Paulites who can be won over, libertarians who can be de-brainwshed, and Tea Partiers to be deprogrammed. The moderates must reclaim and recover the Republican party from the hawkish, neoconservative elites.
But there are many who refuse to let help each other to help each other. They cannot be reached, defying all reason and ethical pleadings for compromise. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” only works when the other party doesn’t also believe that “you’re either with us or against us.”
As for the stubborn power-mad elements within the GOP, it will be a slow, building process. Taking a cue from the very rise of the ‘New Right’, it will be a war by inches, death by a thousand cuts.
They have turned ‘liberal’ into a bad word, and shamelessly attempt to do the same to ‘progressive’. We can turn their own conservative tactics against them: projection (the ‘I-am-rubber-you-are-glue’ now employed by Romney), false polemics, shouting down opponents with ‘Gish Gallop‘ and sound bites, “framing” or changing the conversation, picking subjects made to look ridiculous, and perhaps even dirt-dishing perfected by the likes of Karl Rove. If facts and figures will not convince them, use their own tactics to steamroll over them, not on their terms, but on their own turf.
All while building a new progressive movement with the trust-busting powers to make Theodore Roosevelt proud. We can construct a new economy movement of worker-owned co-ops, small local banks and credit unions, “responsible banking” ordinances, and consumer protection laws. We can endeavor to put worker, consumer, environmental, or community representatives of “stakeholder” groups on corporate boards. In other words, democratizing the American infrastructure.

Other models fit into what author Marjorie Kelly calls the “generative economy”–efforts that inherently nurture the community and respect the natural environment.

We must wage a media war on all fronts, with “new” media transforming our world and providing key tools that help organize revolts and even revolutions. We must present literature, research, and viable solutions in every medium in order to influence the mainstream, open dialogues with other political camps and change the national conversation.

People of any ideology will be able to see that the lower classes (anything below rich or super-rich or ‘filthy stinking’ rich), that we are being branded as corporate slaves, cyber-terrorists, dissidents or ‘dead weight’ for simply living free as we always have, and exercising what were once inalienable rights.

The solutions and actions are many, and need not come from one camp, or one level of expertise, or mandate. We can utilize social justice hacks as readily as pranks and culture jamming, hard-boiled citizen journalism and activism as well as street art and theatre. Create apps that bring more into the fold. Create freeform political ads (endorsed by neither candidate) informing the electorate that they are being manipulated. We need flyers, mailers, transmission interrupts, piracy, co-sponsored DJ events, town hall meetings, flashmobs and boycotts! It may take decades. But despite where we may disagree on those one or two issues, despite what the elites try to peddle us, we are all in this together.

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:

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

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net