Flimsy Sanity: October 2007

Flimsy Sanity

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Giving and Taking by Chris Hedges

Bill Clinton has written a new book. It is called “Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World.” He will give a portion of the proceeds to charity. Giving, the former president informs us, gives us fulfilment in life and is “the fabric of our shared humanity.”

His book is the political equivalent of “Marley & Me” It is filled with a lot of vapid, feel-good stories about ordinary and wealthy Americans setting out to make the world a better place. It smacks of the philanthropy-as-publicity that characterized the largesse of the robber barons—the Mellons and the Rockefellers—and has become a pastime for our own oligarchic elite. Clinton’s call for charity is the equivalent of well-scrubbed prep school students spending a day in a soup kitchen, doling out food to the people whose jobs were outsourced by their mommies and daddies. It does little to alleviate suffering. But it is a balm to the conscience of the oligarchic class that profits handsomely from the impoverishment of the working class, globalization and our anti-democratic corporate state. The rich love to dine out on their own goodness.

The misery sweeping across the American landscape may have begun with Ronald Reagan, but it was accelerated and codified by Bill Clinton. He sold out the poor and the working class. And Clinton did it deliberately to feed the pathological hunger he and his wife have for political power. It was the Clintons who led the Democratic Party to the corporate watering trough. The Clintons argued that the party had to ditch labor unions, no longer a source of votes or power, as a political ally. Workers would vote Democratic anyway. They had no choice. It was better, the Clintons argued, to take corporate money and use government to service the needs of the corporations. By the 1990s, the Democratic Party, under Clinton’s leadership, had virtual fund-raising parity with the Republicans. In political terms, it was a success. In moral terms, it was a betrayal.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was sold to the country by the Clinton White House as an opportunity to raise the incomes and prosperity of the citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Goods would be cheaper. Workers would be wealthier. Everyone would be happier. I am not sure how these contradictory things were supposed to happen, but in a sound-bite society, reality no longer matters. NAFTA would also, we were told, staunch Mexican immigration into the United States.

"There will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home,” President Clinton said in the spring of 1993 as he was lobbying for the bill.

But NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, had the curious effect of reversing every one of Clinton’s rosy predictions. Once the Mexican government lifted price supports on corn and beans for Mexican farmers, they had to compete against the huge agribusinesses in the United States. The Mexican farmers were swiftly bankrupted. At least 2 million Mexican farmers were driven off their land from 1993 through 2002. And guess where many of them went? This desperate flight of Mexicans into the United States is being exacerbated by large-scale factory closures along the border as manufacturers leave Mexico for the cut-rate embrace of China’s totalitarian capitalism.

Clinton’s welfare reform bill, which was signed on Aug. 22, 1996, obliterated the nation’s social safety net. It threw 6 million people, many of them single parents, off of the welfare rolls within three years. It dumped them onto the streets without child care, rent subsidies and continued Medicaid coverage. Families were plunged into crisis, struggling to survive on multiple jobs that paid $6 or $7 an hour, or less than $15,000 a year. But these were the lucky ones. In some states, half of those dropped from the welfare rolls could not find work. Clinton slashed Medicare by $115 billion over a five-year period and cut $25 billion in Medicaid funding. The booming and overcrowded prison system handled the influx of the poor, as well as our abandoned mentally ill.

The growing desperation provided a pool of broken people willing to work for low wages and without unions or benefits. And while Clinton was busy selling out the poor, he lowered the capital gains tax from 28 percent to 20 percent, a reduction that permitted the wealthiest 1 percent of the population to derive 80 percent of the tax savings. Clinton, like George W. Bush, also provided lavish government funding for his corporate backers, including in 1998 a $200-billion highway and transportation package for the big construction companies and a $17-billion increase in the military budget. This was the largest increase in military spending since the end of the Cold War. Corporations, flush with government aid, saw their taxes dwindle. Amway, for example, had its taxes cut during the Clinton years by an estimated $280 million. The Clinton and Bush administrations, through tax breaks and corporate bailouts, have squandered billions of our tax dollars on corporate welfare.

The appreciative oligarchs and corporate class have made Bill rich. He is fond of boasting in public about how wealthy he has become. Hillary raised $26 million in the first quarter of the year, almost three times as much as any politician previously raised at that point in a presidential election.

We face the prospect of having two families govern the country for 16 years. The system is rigged. Our democracy is a consumer fraud. The government has given up any pretence of serving the interests of citizens. The corporations rule. And for all Clinton’s charm and talent for self-promotion, he is largely to blame.

Half a century ago, corporations paid 45 percent to 50 percent of the income tax. Today they pay 6 or 7 percent. This is why our infrastructure is crumbling, there is no universal health care, our public education is in crisis, regulatory agencies are impotent and our poor and working class are desperate.

The bottom line is that the Democrats, including John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, will never govern on our behalf. They are hostage to those who put them in power. And it is not us. Until we throw our weight behind fringe candidates such as Dennis Kucinich or Ralph Nader, if he runs, we will continue to be fleeced by corporate pawns such as the Clintons and the Bushes. It is no longer possible to argue between the lesser of two evils. The corporate state, which is carrying out a coup d’etat in slow motion and has already shredded most of our constitutional rights, is an unmitigated evil. We do not need charity. We need justice. And all of Bill Clinton’s heart-warming stories about giving are not going to save us from the corporations who sucked out his soul and seek to imprison the rest of us.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Why Politics and Religion Should Not Mix

Nation reporter goes to 2007 Conservative Political Action Conference annual convention and attends the Christians United for Israel section...and you thought they were only interested in free markets.

CIA fulfills fantasies

Tim Weiner author of Legacy of Ashes the History of the CIA was on C Span Book TV (I don't know when but the link leads to a video of the show). He defends the CIA because he says that all the bad things the CIA ever did was just following the direct orders of the President. He says Kennedy read James Bond books and saw himself in that role when he planned coups to overthrow countries. The ways the CIA planned to kill Castro were indeed 007 mentality, even the employing of Mafia members (can you ever get back out of bed with them?) and the author thinks the assassination of Kennedy may well have be retaliation by Castro. He didn't talk on air about Reagan using the CIA to sell drugs to finance the contras but his central theme was that the CIA directly serves the President and they never raise their hands to volunteer for illegal activities. My assumption is that Bush sees himself as a misunderstood cowboy saving the world and his fantasy life dictates the current techniques.

Tim Weiner is a journalist for the New York Times and has reported on the CIA for twenty years. Mr. Weiner received a Pulitzer Prize for his reportage of secret spending by the Pentagon in 1998 while working for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is the author of "Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget" and co-author of Betrayal: The Story of Aldrich Ames, an American Spy

Monday, October 29, 2007

Go Ahead and Die

Quiz: Who is the Better Speaker?

Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith . . . we need believing people. ~ Adolf Hitler (an avowed Roman Catholic), April 26, 1933

No, I don't know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.-George H.W. Bush, Presidential Nominee for the Republican party; Aug. 27,1987

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Our Country Needs More Innovators and Less Fund Managers

I think conservatives think liberals hate people with money. That is not true at all, we just hate people who steal money. If someone comes up with a new way of fraud or gets rich by stealing someone else's idea, or makes a million dollars a day because other desperate people make $1 a day, we hate him or her (or is it just me?). If someone comes up with a good, honest idea and profits from it, I think we all stand up and applaud. This guy has died but if anyone deserves to be a millionaire, it is he. He may be my new hero:

It all began about 16 years ago when Mike Yurosek of Newhall, Calif., got tired of seeing 400 tons of carrots a day drop down the cull shoot at his packing plant in Bakersfield. Culls are carrots that are too twisted, knobby, bent or broken to sell. In some loads, as many as 70% of carrots were tossed. And there are only so many discarded carrots you can feed to a pig or a steer, says Yurosek, now 82 and retired. "After that, their fat turns orange," he says.

Yurosek has always been a "think outside the carrot patch" guy. In the 1960s, Yurosek and Sons was selling carrots in plastic bags with a Bunny-Luv logo, a cartoon that got the farmers in trouble with Warner Bros., which was protective of its Bugs Bunny brand.

Instead of bringing in lawyers and spending a fortune, Yurosek recalls, "I said to my wife — she's a pretty good drawer — 'Hey, draw me up about 50 bunnies, would you? Then we'll send 'em to Warner Bros. and ask them to tell us which ones we can use.' "

The entertainment giant picked one, and Bunny-Luv lived on for the price of a pencil.

The farmer continued growing carrots — and throwing them out — for decades. But in 1986, Yurosek had the idea that would change American munching habits.

California's Central Valley is dotted with farms, fruit and vegetable processors, and freezing plants. Yurosek knew full well that freezers routinely cut up his long, well-shaped carrots into cubes, coins and mini-carrots. "If they can do that, why can't we, and pack 'em fresh?" he wondered.

First he had to cut the culls into something small enough to make use of their straight parts. "The first batch we did, we did in a potato peeler and cut them by hand," Yurosek says. Then he found a frozen-food company that was going out of business and bought an industrial green-bean cutter, which just happened to cut things into 2-inch pieces. Thus was born the standard size for a baby carrot.

Next, Yurosek sent one of his workers to a packing plant and loaded the cut-up carrots into an industrial potato peeler to take off the peel and smooth down the edges. What he ended up with was a little rough but still recognizable as the baby carrot of today.

After a bit of practice and an investment in some bagging machinery, he called one of his best customers, a Vons supermarket in Los Angeles. "I said, 'I'm sending you some carrots to see what you think.' Next day they called and said, 'We only want those.' "

The babies were an economic powerhouse. Stores paid 10 cents a bag for whole carrots and sold them for 17 cents. They paid 50 cents for a 1-pound package of baby carrots and sold them for $1. By 1989, more markets were on board, and the baby-carrot juggernaut had begun.
Digging the Baby Carrot, USA Today

He died of cancer in 2006. I found this on a blog:
A memorial service is planned for Sunday at 2 p.m. at blah blah blah. Services will be conducted in English, Spanish and Punjabi. (About 5,000 Grimmway Farms employees are Latino and an additional 1,000 are Sikh.)

I admire his family too for including the field workers at his funeral.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Lewis Black on Pseudo News

The Daily Show has all the old videos on their site. This is one Lewis Black I missed.

Good Luck to anyone who escapes North Dakota

Fugitive Caught

He once used lip balm to squeeze out of handcuffs. Another time, he crawled through a prison air vent. Last year, he slipped out with bags of mail.

On the lam, he found time to send a prison warden a Christmas card and used his name to apply for a cell phone.

Friday, October 26, 2007

How to survive the coming economic collapse


This is a really amusing book written by a young girl living with her divorced father in the 70's. Some of it is not so legal (fishing methods) or not so conventional (rabbits and chickens in the basement) but lots is good advice if your money doesn't stretch far enough or if things crash. Here is her take on education:

We read a lot and I pursue my studies. I quit school in seventh grade and now feel this compulsion to be constantly "improving my mind" (if any). How did it happen I quit school in seventh grade? Daddy thinks compulsory education is a fraud--nothing but glorified babysitting--and I hated it, so he simply told the principal we were moving to California, and I never went back. At the time, I thought the principal would find out and send the Gestapo to come at night and take Daddy out back and shoot a bullet through his head, but it never did happen. Mom didn't really approve of this, same as she didn't approve of other of Daddy's ways. She used to say that some day the truant officer, IRS auditors, the game warden, and revenooers would all show up at once.

Not having to go to school, I had time to actually learn something interesting and useful such as how to make moonshine, how to buy a house at a sheriff sale, how to make money in business, how to repair a house, and even how to read and write--these last two being more than you can say for 14.29% of the 1976 high school seniors of the Philadelphia, public school system. What would I have learned if I had stayed in school? Exactly what the slowest member of the class would have learned, because that's how they teach. And the subjects! Social studies, forsooth! And new math, where you learn all about "sets" and graduate not knowing how to balance a checkbook. And home economics, where they teach you to be as uneconomical as possible--Betty Crocker propaganda. We take a do-it-yourself approach to education same as any other subject. If we want to learn something, we go to the library, get a book on the subject, and study it. Or we ask questions of someone who really knows the subject, which leaves out most professional teachers.

Update Sept. 30, 2008: Also check out this link to a comparison between the Russian collapse and our own for some interesting tips on surviving.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Hello, N.S.A.
words and music by Roy Zimmerman © 2006 (Watunes)

Hello, N.S.A.
I just called you to say
I love you because you
Really listen

When I’m on the phone
Now I never feel alone
'Cause you’re out there with your headphones
And you really listen

Hush now, don’t say a word
It’s enough to know my words are being heard
And we’re fighting freedom here at home so we don’t have to fight it over there

Now, my own sweet Marie never listens to me
Not my brother or even my Mama
But when they're on the line, I know you hear me whine
Take that, Osama!

Won’t you please tell Condoleezza
I ordered extra cheese
And I love her 'cause she’s out there
Here’s how I know:

Not a stain on a dress
But a leak nonetheless
Tells me so
So, hello, N.S.A...men

Now, my own sweet Marie never listens to me
Not my brother or even my Mama
He's singing my song.

Jesus Loves Me

Jesus Loves me but he Can't Stand You
by the Austin Lounge Lizards

I know you smoke, I know you drink that brew
I just can't abide a sinner like you
God can't either, that's why I know it to be true that
Jesus loves me--but he can't stand you

I'm going to heaven, boys, when I die
'Cause I've crossed every "t" and I've dotted every "i'
My preacher tell me that I'm God's kind of guy; that's why
Jesus loves me--but you're gonna fry

God loves all his children, by gum
That don't mean he won't incinerate some
Can't you feel those hot flames licking you
Woo woo woo

I'm raising my kids in a righteous way
So don't be sending your kids over to my house to play
Yours'll grow up stoned, left-leaning, and gay; I know
Jesus told me on the phone today

Jesus loves me, this I know
And he told me where you're gonna go
There's lots of room for your kind down below
Whoa whoa whoa

Jesus loves me but he can't stand you . . .

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Paul Wellstone RIP 5 years ago today

The right wing attack machine still talks about Vince Foster's death but the death of Paul Wellstone is way more suspicious.

In a senate that is one heartbeat away from Republican control, Wellstone was more than just another Democrat. He was often the lone voice standing firm against the status-quo policies of both the Democrats and the Republicans. As such, he earned the special ire of the Bush administration and the Republican Party, who made Wellstone's defeat that party's number one priority this year.

Various White House figures made numerous recent campaign stops in Minnesota to stump for the ailing campaign of Wellstone's Republican opponent, Norm Coleman. Despite being outspent and outgunned, however, polls show that Wellstone's popularity surged after he voted to oppose the Senate resolution authorizing George Bush to wage war in Iraq. He was pulling ahead of Coleman and moving toward a victory that would both be an embarrassment to the Bush administration and to Democratic Quislings such as Hillary Clinton who voted to support "the president."

Then he died.

Wellstone now joins the ranks of other American politicians who died in small plane crashes. Another recent victim was Missouri's former Democratic governor, Mel Carnahan, who lost his life in 2000, three weeks before Election Day, during his Senatorial race against John Ashcroft. Carnahan went on to become the first dead man to win a Senatorial race, humiliating and defeating the unpopular Ashcroft posthumously. Ashcroft, despite his unpopularity, went on to be appointed Attorney General by George W. Bush. Investigators determined that Carnahan's plane went down due to "poor visibility."

Carnahan was the second Missouri politician to die in a small plane crash. The first was Democratic Representative Jerry Litton, whose plane crashed the night he won the Democratic nomination for senate in 1976. His Republican opponent ultimately captured the seat from his successor in November.

When I heard Wellstone's plane went down, I immediately thought of Panamanian General Omar Torrijos, who in 1981 thumbed his nose at the Reagan/Bush administration and threatened to destroy the Panama Canal in the event of a U.S. invasion. Torrijos died shortly thereafter when the instruments in his plane failed to function upon takeoff. Panamanians speculated that the U.S. was involved in the death of the popular dictator, who was replaced by a U.S. intelligence operative, Manuel Noreiga, who previously worked with George Bush Senior.

There is no indication today that Wellstone's death was the result of foul play. What we do know, however, is that Wellstone emerged as the most visible obstacle standing in the way of a draconian political agenda by an unelected government. And now he is conveniently gone.
AlterNet article points out that plane wrecks seem to always happen to liberals and people who are against the power.

War on Terror by Roy Zimmerman

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Noam Chomsky On Class War

The Sickest Generation

Are Our Kids the Sickest Generation?

ADHD: Up by a whopping 400 percent
Bipolar Disorder: A 40-fold increase among kids
Allergies: 40 percent of children now have allergies
Asthma: Up by 160 percent

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Real Suicide Terrorist Reward Awaiting in Heaven

World War III

(Thanks to Michael Greenwell)

I signed up to be notified of new Frontline productions and this came today:

This Week: "Showdown With Iran" (60 minutes),
Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 9pm on PBS (check local listings)
Live Discussion: Chat with producer Greg Barker, Wed., Oct. 24, at 11
am ET

Will there be another war in the Middle East -- a war between the U.S.
and Iran?

This Tuesday FRONTLINE traces the complex relationship between the two
countries since 9/1l. From cooperation during the war in Afghanistan to
confrontation today in Iraq, there appear to be hawks and doves in
both nations striving to control policy. However, Iran's determination to
continue with its nuclear program and its support of Shia militias who
are attacking U.S. forces in Iraq are the factors that could cause
President Bush to order military action.

Says former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, "I don't know what the
president will do between now and the end of the administration. He has said
repeatedly that it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons, and
if he means unacceptable, then I assume he would take military action
if he had to."

Such analysis doesn't seem to frighten the Iranians. Their Supreme
Leader has said, "The U.S. can't do a damn thing to us." And the deputy
head of Iran's National Security Council, Mohammad Jafari, tells FRONTLINE
in his first-ever television interview:

"You will not find a single instance in which a country has inflicted
harm on us and we have left it without a response. So if the United
States makes such a mistake, they should know that we will definitely
respond. And we don't make idle threats."

Jafari is senior commander of the Quds Force, the elite foreign
operations branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and a man the U.S. almost
caught with other Iranian operatives inside Iraq earlier this year.
Iranian hardliners are rarely seen on American television. But FRONTLINE
producer Greg Barker and co-producer Claudia Rizzi, were able to convince
some of the most senior players in Iran's power structure to speak
with them.

The Iranians display a profound distrust of the U.S., especially its
actions in Iraq. While welcoming the demise of their arch-enemy, Saddam
Hussein, they say the U.S. should now get out. Iran has great influence
with the Shia government in Iraq that the U.S. helped bring to power.
One expert in the program notes the irony: the U.S. action in Iraq has
inadvertently helped pave the way for a revival of Iran's historic
ambition to be the key power in the region.

To understand the context for the current U.S.-Iran stand-off, we
invite you to join us Tuesday night. And if you miss the program, it's
available for viewing on our Web site, along with the interviews with key
Iranian officials, more analysis of the issues, and a report by Barker on
the making of this film. And, we invite you to join in the discussion.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Economic Disaster as Potential for Change

The Alarming Parallels between 1929 and 1970Testimony of Robert Kuttner
Before the Committee on Financial Services, House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. October 2, 2007

Our first national economic disaster was the birth of social programs that created the middle class. What will the next one bring?

Bill Moyers and Jeremy Scahill

In case you missed Bill Moyer's last journal program, in which he interviewed Jeremy Scahill who wrote the book on Blackwater, PLEASE watch it. He talks about how the mercenaries endanger our troops and how their pay and treatment demoralizes our troops. Even more disgusting is how they subvert democracy. Here are just a few snippets:

Well, I think we're in the midst of the most radical privatization agenda in our nation's history. We of course see it in schools. We see it in the health care system, in prisons. And now, we're seeing it full blown in the war machine. What I ultimately see as the real threat here is that the system of the very existence of the nation state I think is at stake here. Because you have companies now that have been funded with billions of dollars in public money using that money to then build up the infrastructure of private armies some of which could take out a small national military. And the old model used to be if a company wants to go into Nigeria for instance and exploit oil, they have to work with the juntas forces in order to do that. Now, you can just bring in your own private military force.

I think it's really scary. I mean, I think that the U.S. government right now is in the midst of its most radical privatization agenda. Seventy percent of the national intelligence budget is farmed out to the private sector. We have more contractors than soldiers occupying Iraq. I think that what this does is it takes-- it sanitizes it also for the American people. There's not a draft.

You know, the Pentagon can't give campaign contributions. The State Department can't give campaign contributions. Blackwater's executives can give contributions. DynCore's, Ratheon, Northrop Grumman. And so what they're doing is, they're taking billions of dollars. And it's making its way back into the campaign coffers of the very politicians that make the meteoric ascent of these companies possible. I really view this through the lens of it tearing away at the fabric of American democracy as well.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Reasonable Health Plan

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bush talks to God

"When The President Talks To God"
Song by Bright Eyes

When the president talks to God
Are the conversations brief or long?
Does he ask to rape our women’s' rights
And send poor farm kids off to die?
Does God suggest an oil hike
When the president talks to God?

When the president talks to God
Are the consonants all hard or soft?
Is he resolute all down the line?
Is every issue black or white?
Does what God say ever change his mind
When the president talks to God?

When the president talks to God
Does he fake that drawl or merely nod?
Agree which convicts should be killed?
Where prisons should be built and filled?
Which voter fraud must be concealed
When the president talks to God?

When the president talks to God
I wonder which one plays the better cop
We should find some jobs. the ghetto's broke
No, they're lazy, George, I say we don't
Just give 'em more liquor stores and dirty coke
That's what God recommends

When the president talks to God
Do they drink near beer and go play golf
While they pick which countries to invade
Which Muslim souls still can be saved?
I guess god just calls a spade a spade
When the president talks to God

When the president talks to God
Does he ever think that maybe he's not?
That that voice is just inside his head
When he kneels next to the presidential bed
Does he ever smell his own bullshit
When the president talks to God?

I doubt it

I doubt it

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Spineless vs Evil

The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing. - Albert Einstein

Monday, October 15, 2007

Naomi Klein via Huffington Post

John Cusack: The Real Blackwater Scandal - Build a Frontier You Get Cowboys

I was just going to reference a little of this but it was hard to know where to stop. Please go and read the whole thing and buy her book.

You hear people complain about how Hezbollah is a "state-within-a-state" in Lebanon -- what about Blackwater in the USA? And that's just one company of hundreds, and a relatively small player compared to Lockheed and GE and Booz Allen. But once again, we can't keep being surprised by this shadow world -- it is an inevitable consequence of Rumsfeld's vision of an outsourced and contracted-out state. A right-wing journal in the U.S. called Blackwater "al Qaeda for the good guys" and it's a striking analogy. Wherever the disaster capitalism complex has landed, it has produced a proliferation of armed groupings outside the state. No surprise, really -- when countries are rebuilt by people who don't believe in government, the states they build are invariably weak, creating a market for alternative security forces, whether Hezbollah, Blackwater, the Mahdi Army or the gang down the street in New Orleans
Well the first place where we all saw this happen was in New Orleans after the flood. Within weeks, the Gulf Coast became a domestic laboratory for the same kind of government-run-by-contractors that was pioneered in Iraq. And the whole Green Zone gang was there: Halliburton, Blackwater, Parsons, Fluor, Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill.
But again, this is way more than just a story about shoddy work by contractors. These private companies were actually taking over state functions instead of rebuilding the public sphere. And in New Orleans, the supreme irony was that it was the very frail public sphere that caused the disaster in the first place when the levees broke and the public transit system couldn't handle the evacuation and FEMA was nowhere to be found.
This is the opposite of the New Deal, when public works created good jobs and strengthened society. In today's disasters, public money floods into corporate coffers and those corporations replace the public sphere. Look at New Orleans today: public schools have been converted into charter schools, public housing remains boarded up as condo developers circle, the levee system remains inadequate, and the city's largest public hospital -- Charity Hospital -- is still closed. Meanwhile, contractors are driving down wages and working conditions, with African-Americans virtually locked out of reconstruction jobs, and migrant Latino workers locked in, telling horror stories of modern day indentured servitude. This is what I mean when I say that disasters are dress rehearsals for a sci-fi vision of corporate rule -- it's not just that disaster response is being privatized, it's that in places like Baghdad and New Orleans, the public sphere is disappearing completely and there is no plan to bring it back. This is the warfare state you send up so brilliantly in War Inc [see the trailer here and a preview clip here] -- with the same company selling the bombs and the prosthetic limbs for the victims of those bombs. It's crazy, but we are really not that far off from your twisted imagination!
Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, but it was economically insignificant compared to today's disaster capitalism complex. Before 2001, wars and disasters only provided opportunities for a narrow sector of the economy -- the makers of fighter jets, for instance, or the construction companies that rebuilt bombed-out bridges. The primary economic role of wars was as a means to open new markets that had been sealed off and to generate postwar peacetime booms. Now wars and disaster responses are so fully privatized that they are themselves the new market; there is no need to wait until after the war for the boom -- the medium is the message.
It's the mother of all con jobs -- free market rhetoric is being used as the cover story for crony capitalism... They are the biggest welfare freaks on the planet.
it's most outrageous in Iraq. When I was in Baghdad, it was clear that this was one of the things that most enraged Iraqis -- watching the non-stop conveyor belt of corporate welfare going to western companies while having to listen to patronizing lectures about the free market. My favorite was from Michael Fleischer -- former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer's brother. In the kind of nepotism rampant in the Green Zone, Michael was put in charge of Iraq's "private sector development" during the first year of the occupation. At one point he told a group of Iraqi business leaders that they would have to lose all their subsidies and trade protections because "protected businesses never, never become competitive."
In fact, the Disaster Capitalism industry has been built almost exclusively with public resources: 90 percent of Blackwater's revenues come from state contracts and virtually its entire staff is made up of former soldiers, which means that the training also came at public expense. Yet this vast infrastructure is all privately owned and controlled. The citizens who have funded it have absolutely no claim to this shadow state or its resources.
So I've become quite cynical about the claim that the architects of this new system are free-market ideologues. They are in fact corporate supremacists. The proof is that they will betray their supposed libertarian beliefs at the slightest opportunity if that betrayal will turn a profit for a crony company. You see the hypocrisy most shamelessly in the mega-contracts handed out so private companies can help the Bush administration read our emails and data-mine our lives. It's a kind of triple whammy of hypocrisy: these are people who purportedly believe in restrained government spending, individual liberties, and getting government off our backs, yet without hesitation they will expand the reach of the state, gobble up public money, and violate individual privacy, so long as there is profit in it. Calling the Bush gang "ideologues" gives them way too much credit.

So Dumb I had to Laugh

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Simple Explanation

Democrats vs Republicans

It isn't like the democrats aren't obligated to lobbyists too!

I was watching an interview with some MIT professor who was talking about reciprocal altruism ( Wikipedia) which is hardwired into our brains as part of our biological evolution. "Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You" or "Tit for Tat" is as much unconscious as religious. Every time you give any gift, you expect an equal value or better one back and if this doesn't happen, you feel taken advantage of - watch anyone at a bar who buys his buddy or a woman drinks. It is one thing to use your own money to try and keep things equal, but incredibly easier if you use public money.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sad but True

Raising a secure daughter is a challenge, no doubt. This Dove ad on self-esteem is pretty powerful.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Jokes On You

Mark Crispin Miller, the author of “The Bush Dyslexicon,” once made a striking observation: all of the famous Bush malapropisms — “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family,” and so on — have involved occasions when Mr. Bush was trying to sound caring and compassionate.

By contrast, Mr. Bush is articulate and even grammatical when he talks about punishing people; that’s when he’s speaking from the heart. The only animation Mr. Bush showed during the flooding of New Orleans was when he declared “zero tolerance of people breaking the law,” even those breaking into abandoned stores in search of the food and water they weren’t getting from his administration.

What’s happening, presumably, is that modern movement conservatism attracts a certain personality type. If you identify with the downtrodden, even a little, you don’t belong. If you think ridicule is an appropriate response to other peoples’ woes, you fit right in.

And Republican disillusionment with Mr. Bush does not appear to signal any change in that regard. On the contrary, the leading candidates for the Republican nomination have gone out of their way to condemn “socialism,” which is G.O.P.-speak for any attempt to help the less fortunate.

So once again, if you’re poor or you’re sick or you don’t have health insurance, remember this: these people think your problems are funny.

Conservatives are Such Jokers by Paul Krugman

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Empire of Debt

The Empire of Debt
In 1972, wages reached their peak. According to the US department of Labor Statistics, workers earned $331 a week, in inflation-adjusted 1982 dollars. Since then, it’s been a downward slide. Today, real wages are nearly one-fifth lower – this, despite real GDP per capita doubling over the same period.

Even as wages fell, consumerism was encouraged to continue soaring to unprecedented heights. Buying stuff became a patriotic duty that distinguished citizens from their communist Cold War enemies. In the eighties, consumers’ growing fearlessness towards debt and their hunger for goods were met with Ronald Reagan’s deregulation the lending industry. Credit not only became more easily attainable, it became heavily marketed. Credit card debt, at $880 billion, is now triple what it was in 1988, after adjusting for inflation. Barbecues and TV screens are now the size of small cars. So much the better to fill the average new home, which in 2005 was more than 50 percent larger than the average home in 1973.

This is all great news for the corporate sector, which both earns money from loans to consumers, and profits from their spending. Better still, lower wages means lower costs and higher profits. These factors helped the stock market begin a record boom in the early ‘80s that has continued almost unabated until today.

These conditions created vast riches for one class of individuals in particular: those who control what is known as economic rent, which can be the income “earned” from the ownership of an asset. Some forms of economic rent include dividends from stocks, or capital gains from the sale of stocks or property. The alchemy of this rent is that it requires no effort to produce money.

Governments, for their part, encourage the investors, or rentier class. Economic rent, in the form of capital gains, is taxed at a lower rate than earned income in almost every industrialized country. In the US in particular, capital gains are being taxed at ever-decreasing rates. A person whose job pays $100,000 can owe 35 percent of that in taxes compared to the 15 percent tax rate for someone whose stock portfolio brings home the same amount.

Given a choice between working for diminishing returns and joining the leisurely riches of the rentier, people pursue the latter. If the rentier class is fabulously rich, why can’t everyone become a member? People of all professions sought to have their money work for them, pouring money into investments. This spurred the explosion of the finance industry, people who manage money for others. The now-$10 trillion mutual fund industry is 700 times the size it was in the 1970s. Hedge funds, the money managers for the super-rich, numbered 500 companies in 1990, managing $38 billion in assets. Now there are more than 6,000 hedge firms handling more than $1 trillion dollars in assets.

In recent years, the further enticement of low interest rates has spawned a boom for two kinds of rentiers at the crux of the current debt crisis: home buyers and private equity firms. But it should also be noted that low interest rates are themselves the product of outsourced labor.

America gets goods from China. China gets dollars from the US. In order to keep the value of their currency low so that exports stay cheap, China doesn’t spend those dollars in China, but buys us assets like bonds. China now holds some $900 billion in such US IOUs. This massive borrowing of money from China (and to a lesser extent, from Japan) sent us interest rates to record lows.

Now the hamster wheel really gets spinning. Cheap borrowing costs encouraged millions of Americans to borrow more, buying homes and sending housing prices to record highs. Soaring house prices encouraged banks to loan freely, which sent even more buyers into the market – many who believed the hype that the real estate investment offered a never-ending escalator to riches and borrowed heavily to finance their dreams of getting ahead. People began borrowing against the skyrocketing value of their homes, to buy furniture, appliances, and TVs. These home equity loans added $200 billion to the US economy in 2004 alone.

It was all so utopian. The boom would feed on itself. Nobody would ever have to work again or produce anything of value. All that needed to be done was to keep buying and selling each other’s houses with money borrowed from the Chinese.

On Wall Street, private equity firms played a similar game: buying companies with borrowed billions, sacking employees to cut costs, and then selling the companies to someone else who did the same. These leveraged buyouts inflated share values, minting billionaires all around. The virtues that produce profit – innovation, entrepreneurialism and good management – stopped mattering so long as there were bountiful capital gains.

But the party is coming to a halt. An endless housing boom requires an endless supply of ever-greater suckers to pay more for the same homes. The rich, as Voltaire said, require an abundant supply of poor. Mortgage lenders have mined even deeper into the ranks of the poor to find takers for their loans. Among the practices included teaser loans that promised low interest rates that jumped up after the first few years. Sub-prime borrowers were told the future pain would never come, as they could keep re-financing against the ever-growing value of their homes. Lenders repackaged the shaky loans as bonds to sell to cash-hungry investors like hedge funds.

Of course, the supply of suckers inevitably ran out. Housing prices leveled off, beginning what promises to be a long, downward slide. Just as the housing boom fed upon itself, so too, will its collapse. The first wave of sub-prime borrowers have defaulted. A flood of foreclosures sent housing prices falling further. Lenders somehow got blindsided by news that poor people with bad credit couldn’t pay them back. Frightened, they staunched the flow of easy credit, further depleting the supply of homebuyers and squeezing debt-fueled private equity. Hedge funds that merrily bought sub-prime loans collapsed.

More borrowers will soon be unable to make payments on their homes and credit cards as the supply of rent dries up. Consumer spending, and thus corporate profits, will fall. The shrinking economy will further depress workers’ wages. For most people, the dream of easy money will never come true, because only the truly rich can live it. Everyone else will have to keep working for less, shackled to a mountain of debt.
_Dee Hon is a Vancouver-based writer has contributed to The Tyee and Vancouver magazine.

This is a good part of the article and the comments were interesting. One said something to the effect that the rich will go down too when things eventually crash. I am quite sure they have converted their dollars to euros already.