Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Posted by Robalini on May 10, 2012
I remember reading long ago an article about how man's own psychological and sociological biases can shape how they view scientific phenomenon. (Sadly, as this was in the pre-Internet days, I can't locate it anywhere on the Web, so forgive me if the details are vague or off a bit.) Perhaps the best example: when the biological process of impregnation is usually presented, the model is a valiant army of noble sperm battling waves of defenders to the egg as it lays helpless from the attack without the surrounding protections.
This image evokes the idealized fantasies of the Age of Chivalry, turning the act of conception into a battle between knights and warriors over a chaste and passive queen. (Talk about a Holy Grail.) It also squares with the gender roles that dominate society, that of the male aggressor and the female as his prey.
It is also, biologically speaking, completely wrong. Or at least that is what many biologists argue after looking at the evidence. The conclusion of these biologists: the more accurate model is of an egg, eager to become fertilized, utilizing all its energies to attract and capture the sperm, which would otherwise wander cluelessly and aimlessly to their pointless self-destruction. And even then, with the millions of sperm released in each ejaculation, the egg is lucky to acquire even one lucky duck in the batch of losers. Suddenly, conception looks less like a Camelot romance and more like a Judd Apatow comedy.
I don't pretend to be an expert in biology, so I don't have a side in this debate if in fact any debate still exists. What I do understand is human psychology, and thus I do understand that our own biases can create a paradigm that frames our vision of reality, a paradigm that can trump the evidence itself
With this as a backdrop, it becomes quite quite understandable that when dinosaur bones were first discovered, it would immediately evoke images of lizards. The creatures revealed by the remains were quite large and thus intimidating, and lizards are quite intimidating as well. (That the dinosaur could evoke mythological visions of dragons certainly didn't hurt either.) It is quite understandable looking at their skeletons to immediately equate them with giant reptiles, covered with scaly hides.
Slowly, however, a dissenting view of the dinosaur has developed and evolved, a scientific argument based on observation. The dinosaur, these intellectual renegades have argued, have less in common biologically with reptiles and more in common with birds, which are direct descendants of the dinosaur. Given that lineage, it would be more likely that dinosaurs would be covered with feathers.
As evidence has slowly been uncovered of dinosaurs that did indeed have feathers, what was once dismissed without comment has been included in the officially sanctioned view of reality. Yes, some dinosaurs did have feathers, at least the smaller ones. Still, as the creatures got larger, the lower the percentage of the creatures that would have feathers. Thus, the establishment view of prehistoric reality could continue with only minor modifications.
This vision has taken a major blow recently with the discovery of Yutyrannus huali, a name that translates into "beautiful feathered tyrant." As MSNBC reports: "A team of Chinese and Canadian scientists analyzed three well-preserved fossil skeletons — an adult and two juveniles — recovered from a quarry in China's Liaoning Province by a private fossil dealer. Most striking were remains of downlike feathers on the neck and arm. Though coverage was patchy, scientists suspected the species had feathers over much of its body."
Granted, Yuty-hu wasn't quite as big as T. rex, but it was big enough in its own right, 30 feet long and weighing over a ton. So the obvious question that MSNBC asks: "If a T. rex relative had feathers, why not T. rex?" As Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County summarized: "People need to start changing their image of T. rex."
But perhaps this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Rather than ask if T. rex had feathers, shouldn't it be asked if ALL dinosaurs had feathers? Granted, perhaps this is an assertion that is absurdly false, and one that is almost impossible to prove to boot. But somehow I suspect that just by asking this absurd little question, one may get a closer view of prehistoric reality than what has dominated our belief system.
To read more:
Scientists find the king of the feathered dinosaurs
20 Million Could Lose Employer Coverage
Posted by Robalini on May 9, 2012
In all the hand-wringing over the last two months for Obamacare by “liberal” apologists, little has actually been said about the actual effects of the law. True, whether or not Obamacare is beneficial has little if anything to do with its constitutionality. (And the actual Constitutional issues involved, however valid, have little to do with the cynical politics behind the Supreme Court’s right-wing block in the case.) But you’d think if someone was gonna go to bat for a law, they’d at least acknowledge the law’s merits.
Hence one story that caught my eye in March: “20 million could lose employer coverage under Obama health care overhaul.” The source, the World Socialist Web Site, may not be acceptable to the media establishment, but the primary source for the WSWS certainly is: the Congressional Budget Office. Here’s what the CBO concludes:
As many as 20 million Americans could lose their employer-sponsored coverage in 2019 under the health care legislation signed into law by President Obama in March 2010…The CBO’s most optimistic estimate, which the federal agency says is subject to a “tremendous amount of uncertainty,” is that 3 million to 5 million could lose their employer health coverage each year from 2019 through 2022.The new projections for loss of employee coverage are a substantial increase over last year’s estimates, when the CBO’s best prediction was that only 1 million people would lose employer-sponsored coverage.The new study is the latest indication that the health care overhaul will result in a deterioration of health care for the majority of Americans, and not the improvement touted by the Obama administration. Working families and those in low-wage jobs stand to suffer the most from companies eliminating coverage.
As many as 20 million Americans could lose their employer-sponsored coverage in 2019 under the health care legislation signed into law by President Obama in March 2010…
The CBO’s most optimistic estimate, which the federal agency says is subject to a “tremendous amount of uncertainty,” is that 3 million to 5 million could lose their employer health coverage each year from 2019 through 2022.
The new projections for loss of employee coverage are a substantial increase over last year’s estimates, when the CBO’s best prediction was that only 1 million people would lose employer-sponsored coverage.
The new study is the latest indication that the health care overhaul will result in a deterioration of health care for the majority of Americans, and not the improvement touted by the Obama administration. Working families and those in low-wage jobs stand to suffer the most from companies eliminating coverage.
Of course, this one very disturbing study is hardly the Alpha or Omega on Obamacare. But it certainly shows one major part of the sales job for the bill was a complete con. In June 2009, President Obama declared before the American Medical Association: “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.” This declaration wasn’t an aberration but the decided norm. When pressed, Obama would admit even then the statement was only true using weasel talk: that he meant Obamacare wouldn’t require anyone be dropped from a health plan. But as the CBO now concludes, the framework of Obamacare will certainly encourage — and pretty much subsidize — businesses dumping their workers into inferior health care plans for profit.
Perhaps you have a different conclusion of Obamacare based on the evidence. (The CBO itself oddly declares “a sharp decline in employment-based health insurance as a result of the ACA is unlikely” when summarizing its own findings.) Fair enough. But even if you do, a CBO study warning 20 million Americans could lose their health plan shouldn’t be ignored, and for the most part, it has. The de facto censoring of this report is part of a larger pattern of deception: while Obamacare has been sold as supposed universal healthcare program, in reality it is a gigantic windfall for the already crooked and bloated insurance companies at the expense of the public at large. The irony is this masquerade is promoted by progressives that will be left holding the bag as Obamacare continues to be a unpopular political disaster.
Two anniversaries, same story...
"Open sores. Parasitic infections. Chewed-up-looking fins. Gashes. Mysterious black streaks. Two years after the drilling-rig explosion that touched off the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, scientists are beginning to suspect that fish in the Gulf of Mexico are suffering the effects of the petroleum."
"After the deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan, airborne radiation levels from the Fukushima nuclear power plant are expected to remain at or close to dangerous levels at least until 2022, according to a government report."
“Politics is weird, and creepy, and now I know lacks even the loosest attachment to anything like reality."
Shepard Smith, showing once again why he's the best thing about Fox News.
Looking for a cheap home? In Detroit, the median price for a home is $84,900, $13K less than any city in the USA. But with minimal effort, you can find gems like a 750-foot three bedroom home from $500:
Stoner Cooking: McDonald's Style French Fries
6 Idaho russet potatoes
Peel and square off potato ends. Cut into 3/8" batons. Soak for two hours changing water after an hour. Dry thoroughly with paper towels. Heat about an inch of oil (or enough to cover potatoes) in a large, heavy bottomed pot to 290 degrees. Blanch potatoes gently for about two minutes until cooked through but still completely pale. Place on a paper-towel lined sheet pan and cool in the refrigerator to stop cooking process.
Re-heat oil to 370 degrees. Cook fries until golden and crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes. If necessary, agitate gently with a spatula to prevent sticking. Remove from pan and toss with salt to taste (Myers doesn't blot but you can if you want less fat). Serve immediately. Recipe serves 4 to 6.
Burger King announced that all its eggs and pork will come from cage-free chickens and pigs by 2017:
Dubai Capitalism is back! Deep Ocean Technology has plans for a spaceship-shaped hotel with underwater rooms offering views below the sea surface. It looks less like a hotel and more like a lair for a James Bond villain:
Konformist Book Club: The Passage of Power
The Years of Lyndon Johnson
Written by Robert A. Caro
Published by: Knopf
On Sale: May 01, 2012
Pages: 736 | ISBN: 978-0-679-40507-8
Book Four of Robert A. Caro’s monumental The Years of Lyndon Johnson displays all the narrative energy and illuminating insight that led the Times of London to acclaim it as “one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age. A masterpiece.”
The Passage of Power follows Lyndon Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career—1958 to 1964.
It is a time that would see him trade the extraordinary power he had created for himself as Senate Majority Leader for what became the wretched powerlessness of a Vice President in an administration that disdained and distrusted him. Yet it was, as well, the time in which the presidency, the goal he had always pursued, would be thrust upon him in the moment it took an assassin’s bullet to reach its mark.
By 1958, as Johnson began to maneuver for the presidency, he was known as one of the most brilliant politicians of his time, the greatest Senate Leader in our history. But the 1960 nomination would go to the young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. Caro gives us an unparalleled account of the machinations behind both the nomination and Kennedy’s decision to offer Johnson the vice presidency, revealing the extent of Robert Kennedy’s efforts to force Johnson off the ticket. With the consummate skill of a master storyteller, he exposes the savage animosity between Johnson and Kennedy’s younger brother, portraying one of America’s great political feuds. Yet Robert Kennedy’s overt contempt for Johnson was only part of the burden of humiliation and isolation he bore as Vice President. With a singular understanding of Johnson’s heart and mind, Caro describes what it was like for this mighty politician to find himself altogether powerless in a world in which power is the crucial commodity.
For the first time, in Caro’s breathtakingly vivid narrative, we see the Kennedy assassination through Lyndon Johnson’s eyes. We watch Johnson step into the presidency, inheriting a staff fiercely loyal to his slain predecessor; a Congress determined to retain its power over the executive branch; and a nation in shock and mourning. We see how within weeks—grasping the reins of the presidency with supreme mastery—he propels through Congress essential legislation that at the time of Kennedy’s death seemed hopelessly logjammed and seizes on a dormant Kennedy program to create the revolutionary War on Poverty. Caro makes clear how the political genius with which Johnson had ruled the Senate now enabled him to make the presidency wholly his own. This was without doubt Johnson’s finest hour, before his aspirations and accomplishments were overshadowed and eroded by the trap of Vietnam.
In its exploration of this pivotal period in Johnson’s life—and in the life of the nation—The Passage of Power is not only the story of how he surmounted unprecedented obstacles in order to fulfill the highest purpose of the presidency but is, as well, a revelation of both the pragmatic potential in the presidency and what can be accomplished when the chief executive has the vision and determination to move beyond the pragmatic and initiate programs designed to transform a nation. It is an epic story told with a depth of detail possible only through the peerless research that forms the foundation of Robert Caro’s work, confirming Nicholas von Hoffman’s verdict that “Caro has changed the art of political biography.”
For his biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, Robert A. Caro has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, twice won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year, and has also won virtually every other major literary honor, including the National Book Award, the Gold Medal in Biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Francis Parkman Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians to the book that best “exemplifies the union of the historian and the artist.” In 2010, he received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama.
To create his first book, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Caro spent seven years tracing and talking with hundreds of men and women who worked with, for, or against Robert Moses, including a score of his top aides. He examined mountains of files never opened to the public. Everywhere acclaimed as a modern classic, The Power Broker was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the hundred greatest nonfiction books of the twentieth century. It is, according to David Halberstam, “Surely the greatest book ever written about a city.” And The New York Times Book Review said: “In the future, the scholar who writes the history of American cities in the twentieth century will doubtless begin with this extraordinary effort.”
To research The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Caro and his wife, Ina, moved from his native New York City to the Texas Hill Country and then to Washington, D.C., to live in the locales in which Johnson grew up and in which he built, while still young, his first political machine. He has spent years examining documents at the Johnson Library in Austin and interviewing men and women connected with Johnson’s life, many of whom had never before been interviewed. The first volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power, was cited by The Washington Post as “proof that we live in a great age of biography . . . [a book] of radiant excellence . . . Caro’s evocation of the Texas Hill Country, his elaboration of Johnson’s unsleeping ambition, his understanding of how politics actually work, are–let it be said flat out–at the summit of American historical writing.” Professor Henry F. Graff of Columbia University called the second volume, Means of Ascent, “brilliant. No review does justice to the drama of the story Caro is telling, which is nothing less than how present-day politics was born.” And the London Times hailed volume three, Master of the Senate, as “a masterpiece . . . Robert Caro has written one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age.”
“Caro has a unique place among American political biographers,” according to The Boston Globe. “He has become, in many ways, the standard by which his fellows are measured.” And Nicholas von Hoffman wrote: “Caro has changed the art of political biography.”
Caro graduated from Princeton University and later became a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He lives in New York City with his wife, Ina, an historian and writer.
Robert Caro is represented by Random House Speakers Bureau (http://www.rhspeakers.com).
'The Scream' sold for nearly $120 million:
A new look at a 425-year-old map has yielded a tantalizing clue about the fate of the Lost Colony, the settlers who disappeared from North Carolina's Roanoke Island in the late 16th century.
Experts from the First Colony Foundation and the British Museum in London discussed their findings Thursday at a scholarly meeting on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Their focus: the "Virginea Pars" map of Virginia and North Carolina created by explorer John White in the 1580s and owned by the British Museum since 1866.
"We believe that this evidence provides conclusive proof that they moved westward up the Albemarle Sound to the confluence of the Chowan and Roanoke rivers," said James Horn, vice president of research and historical interpretation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and author of a 2010 book about the Lost Colony.
"Their intention was to create a settlement. And this is what we believe we are looking at with this symbol — their clear intention, marked on the map..."
U.S. minorities now represent more than half of America's population under the age of 1, the Census Bureau said, a historic demographic milestone with profound political, economic and social implications:
YouTube Clip of the Week:
Nine Inch Nails - March Of The Pigs
"Closer" & "Hurt" are better remembered, but the opening single to The Downward Spiral perfectly represents the ferocity of the best album of the 90s:
Audio Short Story of the Week:
"- All You Zombies-" by Robert A. Heinlen
One of the greatest short stories of all time:
Maxim's 2012 Hot 100 List
1. Bar Refaeli.
2. Olivia Munn
3. Mila Kunis
4. Katy Perry
5. Olivia Wilde,
Stephen Colbert came in at #69...
New Planet Found in Our Solar System? Odd orbits of remote objects hint at unseen world, new calculations suggest:
Kool Website: Room & Board
As a Minnesota-based, privately owned company, we've been designing home furnishings for more than 30 years. Reflected in every piece of our assortment, you'll see the principles that have guided us from the very beginning.
As you browse our collection you will find beautiful, thoughtful designs. You will find natural materials shaped, welded and woven by dedicated craftspeople across the United States. And you will find all these things at an exceptional value. But most importantly, we hope you find inspiration. Because helping you create your ideal home is the cornerstone of our business. You are the reason we do what we love.
The top 20 baby names of 2011:
It was a pretty good spring for movies, with a hilarious reboot of The Three Stooges & the Indonesian action film The Raid leading the way. Two other noted films: John Cusack playing Edgar Allen Poe in The Raven, and the Jason Statham action film Safe, described by Salon as possessing "Charlie Bronson, bullet-in-the-teeth authenticity" that is "trashy, bloody, riveting":
Meanwhile, the summer opened with The Avengers making a record $207.4 million in it's first weekend:
Representatives of Chinese company Wanda signed a deal in Beijing Monday morning to buy AMC, the second-largest theater chain in the USA:
A doctor claims to have found the G-spot. And he's so confident, he's putting ads in the back pages of Penthouse, Maxim and High Times touting his discovery, with the promise of sharing the details in a manual costing only $19.95 plus shipping & handling:
An Australian billionaire has signed up with a Chinese shipyard to create a replica of the Titanic:
The top two picks in the NFL draft are Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin:
Josh Hamilton hits 4 home runs in a game:
The NFL Pro Bowl could be gone for good:
LeBron James wins his 3rd NBA MVP. It should've gone to Kevin Durant:
From Ken Segall's new book, Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success, illustrating Steve Jobs' genius in plans to celebrate the millionth iMac sold:
"Steve's idea was to do a Willy Wonka with it. Just as Wonka did in the movie, Steve wanted to put a golden certificate representing the millionth iMac inside the box of one iMac, and publicize that fact. Whoever opened the lucky iMac box would be refunded the purchase price and be flown to Cupertino, where he or she (and, presumably, the accompanying family) would be taken on a tour of the Apple campus.
Steve had already instructed his internal creative group to design a prototype golden certificate, which he shared with us. But the killer was that Steve wanted to go all out on this. He wanted to meet the lucky winner in full Willy Wonka garb. Yes, complete with top hat and tail."
Microsoft's $300 million investment in Barnes & Noble for its Nook e-reader should allow it to survive and compete against the Amazon & Apple:
Notorious 1980s drug dealer James Corley arrested in NYC:
The "99.9% Positive" Guy Is Wrong
Ball Park "99% Sure" Commercial
Am I the first guy so obsessed with obscure baseball stats to realize the guy who is "99.9% positive" in this commercial is actually wrong? Nobody hit .386 in 1938. He may be referring to Arky Vaughan, who in 1935 (the same year as the first guy alleged) hit .385. This may be the strangest baseball geek inside joke in history...
Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory comes out. Between Parsons, Neil Patrick Harris & Jane Lynch, the best three actors on TV now are openly gay actors...
That Junior Seau, a 12-time NFL Pro Bowler and likely first ballot Hall of Famer who spent the majority of his career with the San Diego Chargers, chose to take his own life at the age of 43 is an absolute tragedy.
But if Mr. Seau’s passing is eventually linked to depression-like symptoms stemming from brain trauma incurred over a lifetime of repeated hits, then this tragic tale acts as yet another signal that the NFL’s biggest challenge in the foreseeable future is dealing with the task of minimizing head trauma in the game today while fighting off lawsuits from retired players dealing with mental and emotional illnesses which are a byproduct of their football past.
Glory days on the gridiron seem to be increasingly turning into gory days for NFL retirees. And the evidence of the ties between football, “hit counts”, and brain trauma is mounting...
Adam Yauch, aka MCA of The Beastie Boys, 47:
Though he isn't dead, Mariano Rivera, the greatest relief pitcher in MLB, may have ended his career at 42 after a torn anterior cruciate ligament. I'm sure Adam Yauch would be honored to have his obit next to the Yankee great's farewell, so we'll include it here:
Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things Are fame:
Donna Summer, Queen Of Disco:
Robin Gibb, Bee Gees co-founder:
Hairdresser Vidal Sassoon:
Carroll Shelby, creator of the Shelby Cobra:
Duck Dunn, bassist for Booker T. and the MG's:
Meow, the 39-pound cat:
Desperate Housewives & House end their TV runs:
Kerry Wood, who in his rookie season became one of three MLB pitchers to strike out 20 hitters in nine innings, has retired after 15 seasons:
Last but not least, the lovable George Lindsey, Goober Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry RFD from 1964-71 and a regular on Hee Haw from 1971-73:
The costs are high, the benefits to students are low, argues Buzz Bissinger. And academics pay the price
May 4, 2012
In more than 20 years I've spent studying the issue, I have yet to hear a convincing argument that college football has anything do with what is presumably the primary purpose of higher education: academics.
That's because college football has no academic purpose. Which is why it needs to be banned. A radical solution, yes. But necessary in today's times.
Football only provides the thickest layer of distraction in an atmosphere in which colleges and universities these days are all about distraction, nursing an obsession with the social well-being of students as opposed to the obsession that they are there for the vital and single purpose of learning as much as they can to compete in the brutal realities of the global economy.
Who truly benefits from college football? Alumni who absurdly judge the quality of their alma mater based on the quality of the football team. Coaches such as Nick Saban of the University of Alabama and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma University who make obscene millions. The players themselves don't benefit, exploited by a system in which they don't receive a dime of compensation. The average student doesn't benefit, particularly when football programs remain sacrosanct while tuition costs show no signs of abating as many governors are slashing budgets to the bone.
If the vast majority of major college football programs made money, the argument to ban football might be a more precarious one. But too many of them don't—to the detriment of academic budgets at all too many schools. According to the NCAA, 43% of the 120 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision lost money on their programs. This is the tier of schools that includes such examples as that great titan of football excellence, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers, who went 3-and-9 last season. The athletic department in 2008-2009 took in over $13 million in university funds and student fees, largely because the football program cost so much, The Wall Street Journal reported. New Mexico State University's athletic department needed a 70% subsidy in 2009-2010, largely because Aggie football hasn't gotten to a bowl game in 51 years. Outside of Las Cruces, where New Mexico State is located, how many people even know that the school has a football program? None, except maybe for some savvy contestants on "Jeopardy." What purpose does it serve on a university campus? None.
The most recent example is the University of Maryland. The president there, Wallace D. Loh, late last year announced that eight varsity programs would be cut in order to produce a leaner athletic budget, a kindly way of saying that the school would rather save struggling football and basketball programs than keep varsity sports such as track and swimming, in which the vast majority of participants graduate.
“If you want to establish a minor league system that the National Football League pays for—which they should—that is fine.”
Part of the Maryland football problem: a $50.8 million modernization of its stadium in which too many luxury suites remain unsold. Another problem: The school reportedly paid $2 million to buy out head coach Ralph Friedgen at the end of the 2010 season, even though he led his team to a 9-and-4 season and was named Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year. Then, the school reportedly spent another $2 million to hire Randy Edsall from the University of Connecticut, who promptly produced a record of 2-and-10 last season.
In an interview with the Baltimore Sun in March, Mr. Loh said that the athletic department was covering deficits, in large part caused by attendance drops in football and basketball, by drawing upon reserves that eventually dwindled to zero. Hence cutting the eight sports.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are the medical dangers of football in general caused by head trauma over repetitive hits. There is the false concept of the football student-athlete that the NCAA endlessly tries to sell, when any major college player will tell you that the demands of the game, a year-round commitment, makes the student half of the equation secondary and superfluous. There are the scandals that have beset programs in the desperate pursuit of winning—the University of Southern California, Ohio State University, University of Miami and Penn State University among others.
I can't help but wonder how a student at the University of Oregon will cope when in-state tuition has recently gone up by 9% and the state legislature passed an 11% decrease in funding to the Oregon system overall for 2011 and 2012. Yet thanks to the largess of Nike founder Phil Knight, an academic center costing $41.7 million, twice as expensive in square footage as the toniest condos in Portland, has been built for the University of Oregon football team.
Always important to feed those Ducks.
I actually like football a great deal. I am not some anti-sports prude. It has a place in our society, but not on college campuses. If you want to establish a minor league system that the National Football League pays for—which they should, given that they are the greatest beneficiaries of college football—that is fine.
Call me the Grinch. But I would much prefer students going to college to learn and be prepared for the rigors of the new economic order, rather than dumping fees on them to subsidize football programs that, far from enhancing the academic mission instead make a mockery of it.
—Mr. Bissinger is the author of "Friday Night Lights."
A version of this article appeared May 5, 2012, on page C3 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Why College Football Should Be Banned.
Honda says the Uni-Cub is a competitor for the Segway, but judging by this photo, its real target audience is the Sybian...
Friday, May 4th, 2012
Here's a free song for you:
It's my contribution to "Occupy This Album", a compilation CD (99 songs!) featuring David Crosby & Graham Nash, Steve Earle, Tom Morello, Willie Nelson, Ani DiFranco, Third Eye Blind, Immortal Technique and Jackson Browne to be released Tuesday, May 15th. All proceeds from this album will go to fund the Occupy Wall Street movement (all the musicians and songwriters have donated their time and music).
They asked me if I'd like to record a poem or maybe make a music video of some of the songs. I said, "I could just sing a song."
When the laughter died down, I recorded this.
I hope you enjoy my first try at this new profession (though I have no intention of giving up my day job).
And thank you, Bob Dylan, for your contribution, and for approving this, my debut.
Los Angeles riots: Gangsta rap foretold them and grew after them
Toddy Tee and N.W.A were a ready-made soundtrack in April 1992. Ice Cube's and Dr. Dre's albums that year explained the feelings in South L.A. neighborhoods. Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur and more followed.
Ernest Hardy and August Brown, Los Angeles Times
May 2, 2012
In 1985, Los Angeles rapper Toddy Tee released what could be considered West Coast hip-hop's opening salvo against police brutality in black neighborhoods. The electro-grooved "Batterram," named for the battering ram that then-LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates used to smash into homes of suspected drug dealers, was a hit on local radio station KDAY-AM.
The track went on to become a protest anthem in minority neighborhoods around the city where the device was often deployed against homes that were later proved drug-free: "You're mistakin' my pad for a rockhouse / Well, I know to you we all look the same / But I'm not the one slingin' caine / I work nine to five and ain't a damn thing changed …" rapped Toddy Tee.
The L.A. riots of 1992 arrived with its soundtrack in place. Sanctioned police brutality, a grim job market, gang life, a decimated school system, the toll of crack on poor neighborhoods and racial tensions were all being documented by West Coast rappers long before Rodney King's beating by Los Angeles Police Department officers was documented on tape. Inner-city kids were infusing hip-hop — a genre that arose out of the Bronx in the last '70s — with hard-core, L.A.-centric rhymes about gangs and the crack-addled neighborhoods around them.
"Even before the riots … voices in L.A. hip-hop were foretelling what was to come," said director John Singleton, whose 1991 film "Boyz n the Hood" was one of the first empathetic looks at South L.A. life for many Americans. "So many people who didn't grow up black and poor couldn't understand why it happened. You can live in a different part of L.A. and never understand that frustration. But if you listen to 'F— tha Police,' you hear where they're coming from."
The riots gave marginalized music from the hood a global stage and sudden mainstream legitimacy. The music born of the very conditions that precipitated the riots now transcended South L.A., and major labels began signing and promoting West Coast artists like Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur. For better or for worse, the Southland style that became known as gangsta rap changed the trajectory of pop music by becoming the '90s definition of cool.
For suburban fans who'd been consuming N.W.A's music as a race-music expression of white teenage angst, the televised revolution in L.A. made it clear that the lyrics weren't just outlandish fiction set to hard beats. They were rooted in bitter truths, a hard reality that L.A. was a two-tier city with gross inequities in both wealth and possibility.
In addition, references from the riots permeated pop music culture like no other medium — from rapper Biz Markie name-checking Rodney King to rockers Rage Against the Machine screaming songs about the uprising.
Though gangsta rap eventually lost touch with the very streets it came from thanks to heavy commercialization, its initial promise has not been lost on a new generation.
Kendrick Lamar was just 4 when the riots broke out, yet many credit the Compton rapper with reviving those early strains of West Coast rap. "When I talk about what people are going through, all it's doing is letting people know what's going on in the community," said the 24-year-old. "There's nothing new under the sun. I just got a different spin on it. It's about looking at all angles of the person growing up in Compton, not just the shooter but the victim."
If L.A.'s rappers seemed prescient in the face of the riots, it was nothing compared with how fast they reacted in the days that followed. Before the National Guard even pulled out of L.A., underground freestylers at South L.A.'s Good Life Cafe were rapping about the uprising, and N.W.A's Ice Cube was recording "The Predator." The album was released seven months after Florence and Normandie exploded: "Started they investigation / No driver's license, no registration / When I stepped out the car they slammed me / … y'all, who got the camera" he rapped in "Who Got the Camera."
"Creatively, the rhetoric may have got a little higher" after the riots, says Ava DuVernay, who directed the documentary "This Is the Good Life," about South L.A.'s underground Good Life rap scene of the late '80s and '90s. She is the first African American woman to win the directing award at Sundance, with her recent film "Middle of Nowhere."
"It wasn't like the content was changing, maybe just the style got a little more aggressive," she said. "People were mad, but there wasn't a change in what people were talking about — just the manner in which it was being expressed."
Ironically, though, it was seemingly an ode to smoking pot — recorded during the riots and released in December 1992 — that would change the course of rap. The new, laid-back sound belied the fact that the record was tackling some of the toughest subject matter around.
"When talking about music that really defines and captures that moment," says Sheena Lester, former editor in chief for XXL and Rap Pages magazines, "the only one that matters is Dr. Dre's 'The Chronic.' Not only did it capture the essence of pre-riot, during-the-riots and post-riot energy in the neighborhoods, it actually featured excerpts from filmmaker Matthew McDaniel, who captured [the reactions of] people outside of First AME Church right after the verdicts were announced. Those excerpts are what give 'The Chronic' its resonance."
"I don't know what kind of album 'The Chronic' would have been without the riots," said Kurupt, who rapped on the record when he was 19. He recently appeared in the VH-1 documentary "Uprising: Hip Hop and the L.A. Riots."
"It was coming from the middle of it all, saying this is what happened. Not only did the streets feel it, America felt it. It was a blueprint and a map through the emotions and situations that transpired over those three days," he said.
Major record labels began to cash in on this new twist on the rap narrative, and that gave rise to a new breed of superstar MC in the form of Snoop and Tupac. But like most music co-opted by the mainstream, the style dubbed "gangsta rap" quickly devolved into very profitable self-parody while claiming to "keep it real." Enter MTV's"Cribs," "Pimp My Ride" and Ja Rule's gold-toothed grill.
It also paved the way for a far more commercial style of hip-hop that largely dropped the subject of social ills in favor of bragging about bling. Still, that early West Coast rap alerted the mainstream — and a post-civil rights generation — that all was not well in America.
But today a younger generation of rappers outraged by the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the ways in which socioeconomic conditions for minorities remain much the same as they did 20 years ago, are still harnessing the potential power of rap.
Lamar, who performed with Snoop and Dr. Dre at the Coachella festival and is on Dre's forthcoming album, recently began talking about the resonance of the track "Batterram" in interviews. He recalls living in Compton when the riots erupted.
"That was just us in the community giving a cry for help, letting the world know that we weren't gonna take no more, even if we gotta do some off-the-wall … for people to understand it," said Lamar, who's working on his own album.
"Looking back, it just taught me the responsibility of doing something I actually believed in. People believed that situation wasn't right, so they took a stand for it, you know?"
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Thursday, May 3, 2012
Death will be easy here. Ravines, runnels, ridges and the valley itself will funnel the miscreants in. Tweak whacked trash, guided by a revenant Jack rabbit we call The Messenger, will someday climb this high and break through the gate. Haunts me all the time now. Guy got three bullets in his head down the road last year. Not that far down from here I guess. Raven radar helps though, even in the fog shroud. Perk of canine ears in any direction has me reaching for a fire arm I don’t even have.
What drives them is easy to figure for they’re on the same death march as over 150 years ago. Whose hand the ace is in is still hard to tell though.
The abyss is my own gravestone, epitaph being a bottomless marl plummet right through the collective ravage down on the rez.
Eulogy a somber report some deputy far below can gauge the caliber of as he muses on the ensuing investigation and if it would be worth it going all the way to the top of Quail ridge. The Messenger may not even take any interest in it either, answering to some other blood or an earthquake echo or some vaporous release of the blackness the soil here still holds. Not enough shovel power to shed light on it though. Only the plants can break through it ,given they are the right strain.
Now, the clouds suck into some riverine foliage below a revealing alpine expanse on the other ridge, some lime light after burn, ignored by two legged pack mule ghosts clambering back into the past en route to Bloody Run creek. My host complains about the cost of potato salad and a distant Costco retribution over 2.5 hours away and that keeps me together. My penned and remembered bible quotes are tenuous in this kind of atmosphere.
Did some Job suffering in the barren and iced trailer this morning, 90’s décor conspiring betrayal, spelled out mostly in the wall paper, little paintbrush arcs of cold grey and brown, intended to break up the interior monotony but only rousing the absoluteness of the context itself which the sunlight sealed into ersatz permanency. My skeletal system, utterly racked by my sorrowed and quivering flesh, bore most of the brunt.
The resident Mockingbird provides counterpoint though via a prolix and doubled medley, a repertoire potpourri that only Messiaen himself could transcribe. The composition would be only be barked at the auction of this property after the Feds seized the composition, their helicopters smacked down by clouds turned into concrete via some umbrage mantra uttered by one of the birds completing a migration all the way from Columbia. It makes a nest egg out of the debris field, albeit inaccessible from this vantage. It would be a nice prize to snatch and dash away with and sell in town for sufficient gas money to escape.
Artists would freeze in this kind of light, unable to acclimate to such a mystique confine.
Still can't help from being wowed by the idea that Steve Ditko, the artistic genius who gave Spiderman to every baby boomer's youth, continues to produce original comics much better than those found in the comics shops. His latest, Sixteen, includes several full page takes on "The Celebrity," a generalized caricature that surely has in part Stan Lee as its inspiration. Much as he does with Jack Kirby, Lee relies on a professed bad memory to give Ditko short shrift when it comes to the creation of Spiderman. Ditko's over that certainly, although it's something to remember now that Hollywood plans a reboot of the Spiderman movie franchise, but he has generalized a celebrity type that certainly includes Lee--who still rides Ditko and Kirby creations to fame and fortune via movie cameos and interviews. The likes of the shallow celebrity are legion in the media and they all fit on Ditko's skewer. Mad quotes fall over the pages depicting him: "We want...a new...different... change...same...better...keep...ad...why...who is...where...have to...why that... why not...who did you swipe that from.?" Sixteen also has a character called "The Madman-"-deriving inspiration perhaps from that current television hit about the advertising world set in the time of Ditko's creative zenith. Ditko long ago went down philosophical paths that went places where many of his readers can only wave to, but how can anyone not be fascinated by what this elder statesman of the comics industry still has to say? Four dollars from Robin Snyder and Steve Ditko, 3745 Canterbury Lane #81, Bellingham, WA 98225-1186. As for Stan Lee, his memory may be poor but he hasn't forgotten how they do business in the comics industry.
Paul Craig Roberts
Institute for Political Economy
April 10, 2012
Growing up in the post-war era (after the Second World War), I never expected to live in the strange Kafkaesque world that exists today. The US government can assassinate any US citizen that the executive branch thinks could possibly be a “threat” to the US government, or throw the hapless citizen into a dungeon for the rest of his or her life without presenting any evidence to a court or obtaining a conviction of any crime, or send the “threat” to a puppet foreign state to be tortured until the “threat” confesses to a crime that never occurred or dies at the hands of “freedom and democracy” while professing innocence.
It has never been revealed how a single citizen, or any number thereof, could possibly comprise a threat to a government that has a trillion plus dollars to spend each year on security and weapons, the world’s largest navy and air force, 700 plus military bases across the world, large numbers of nuclear weapons, 16 intelligence agencies plus the intelligence agencies of its NATO puppet states and the intelligence service of Israel.
Nevertheless, air travelers are subjected to porno-scanning and sexual groping. Cars traveling on Interstate highways can expect to be stopped, with traffic backed up for miles, while Homeland Security and the federalized state or local police conduct searches.
I witnessed one such warrantless search on Easter Sunday. The south bound lanes of I-185 heading into Columbus, Georgia, were at a standstill while black SUV and police car lights flashed. US citizens were treated by “security” forces that they finance as if they were “terrorists” or “domestic extremists,” another undefined class of Americans devoid of constitutional protections.
These events are Kafkaesque in themselves, but they are ever more so when one considers that these extraordinary violations of the US Constitution fail to be overturned in the Supreme Court. Apparently, American citizens lack standing to defend their civil liberties.
Yet, ObamaCare is before the US Supreme Court. The conservative majority might now utilize the “judicial activism” for which conservatives have criticized liberals. Hypocrisy should no longer surprise us. However, the fight over ObamaCare is not worth five cents.
It is extraordinary that “liberals,” “progressives,” “Democrats,” whatever they are, are defending a “health program” that uses public monies to pay private insurance companies and that raises the cost of health care.
Americans have been brainwashed that “a single-payer system is unaffordable” because it is “socialized medicine.” Despite this propaganda, accepted by many Americans, European countries manage to afford single-payer systems. Health care is not a stress, a trauma, an unaffordable expense for European populations. Among the Western Civilized Nations, only the richest, the US, has no universal health care.
The American health care system is the most expensive of all on earth. The reason for the extraordinary expense is the multiple of entities that must make profits. The private doctors must make profits. The private testing centers must make profits.The private specialists who receive the referrals from general practitioners must make profits. The private hospitals must make profits. The private insurance companies must make profits. The profits are a huge cost of health care.
On top of these profits come the costs of preventing and combatting fraud. Because private insurance companies resist paying and Medicare pays a small fraction of the medical charges, private health care providers charge as much as they possibly can, knowing that the payments will be cut to the bone. But a billing mistake of even $300 can bankrupt a health care provider from legal expenses defending him/her self from fraud accusations.
The beauty of a single-payer system is that it takes the profits out of the system. No one has to make profits. Wall Street cannot threaten insurance companies and private health care companies with being taken over because their profits are too low. No health-provider in a single-payer system has to worry about being displaced in a takeover organized by Wall Street because the profits are too low.
Because a single-payer system eliminates the profits that drive up the costs, Wall Street, Insurance companies, and “free market economists” hate a “socialized” medical care system. They prefer a socialized “private” health care system in which public monies flow into private insurance companies.
To make the costs as high as possible, conservatives and the private insurance companies devised ObamaCare. The bill was written by conservative think tanks and the private insurance companies. What the “socialistic” ObamaCare bill does is to take income taxes paid by citizens and use the taxes to subsidize the private medical premiums charges by private health care providers in order to provide “private” health care to US citizens who cannot afford it.
The extremely high costs of ObamaCare is not “socialistic medicine.” ObamaCare is high-cost privatized medicine that guarantees billions of dollars in profits to private insurance companies.
It remains to be seen whether such a ridiculous health care scheme, nowhere extant on earth except in Romney’s Massachusetts, will provide health care or just private profits.
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following.
Apr 9, 2012
The debate surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act illustrates the impoverishment of our political life. Here is a law that had its origin in the right-wing Heritage Foundation, was first put into practice in 2006 in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Mitt Romney and was solidified into federal law after corporate lobbyists wrote legislation with more than 2,000 pages. It is a law that forces American citizens to buy a deeply defective product from private insurance companies. It is a law that is the equivalent of the bank bailout bill—some $447 billion in subsidies for insurance interests alone—for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. It is a law that is unconstitutional. And it is a law by which President Barack Obama, and his corporate backers, extinguished the possibilities of both the public option and Medicare for all Americans. There is no substantial difference between Obamacare and Romneycare. There is no substantial difference between Obama and Romney. They are abject servants of the corporate state. And if you vote for one you vote for the other.
But you would never know this by listening to the Democratic Party and the advocacy groups that purport to support universal health care but seem more intent on re-electing Obama. It is the very sad legacy of the liberal class that it proves in election cycle after election cycle that it espouses moral and political positions it will not pay a price to defend. And since we have no fight in us, since we will not punish politicians like Obama who betray our core beliefs, the corporate juggernaut rolls forward with its inexorable pace to cement into place our global neofeudalism.
Protesting outside the Supreme Court recently as it heard arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act were both conservatives from Americans for Prosperity who denounced the president as a socialist and demonstrators from Democratic front groups such as the SEIU and the Families USA health care consumer group who chanted “Protect the law!” Lost between these two factions were a few stalwarts who hold quite different views, including public health care advocates Dr. Margaret Flowers, Dr. Carol Paris and attorneys Oliver Hall, Kevin Zeese and Russell Mokhiber. They displayed a banner that read: “Single Payer Now! Strike Down the Obama Mandate!” They, at least, have not relinquished the demand for single payer health care for all Americans. And I throw my lot in with these renegades, dismissed, no doubt, as cranks or dreamers or impractical by those who flee into the embrace of empty political theater and junk politics. These single payer advocates, joined by 50 doctors, filed a brief to the court that challenges, in the name of universal health care, the individual mandate.
“We have the solution, we have the resources and we have the money to provide lifelong, comprehensive, high-quality health care to every person,” Dr. Flowers said when we spoke a few days ago in Washington, D.C. Many Americans have not accepted the single payer approach “because people get confused by the politics,” she said. “People accept the Democratic argument that this [Obamacare] is all we can have or this is something we can build on.
“If you are trying to meet the goal of universal health coverage and the only way to meet that goal is to force people to purchase private insurance, then you might consider that it is constitutional,” Flowers said. “Our argument is that the individual mandate does not meet the goal of universality. When you attempt to use the individual mandate and expansion of Medicaid for coverage, only about half of the uninsured gain coverage. This is what we have seen in Massachusetts. We do, however, have systems in the United States that could meet the goal of universality. That would be either a Veterans Administration type system, which is a socialized system run by the government, or a Medicare type system, a single payer, publicly financed health care system. If the U.S. Congress had considered an evidence-based approach to health reform instead of writing a bill that funnels more wealth to insurance companies that deny and restrict care, it would have been a no-brainer to adopt a single payer health system much like our own Medicare. We are already spending enough on health care in this country to provide high-quality, universal, comprehensive, lifelong health care. All the data point to a single payer system as the only way to accomplish this and control health care costs.”
Obamacare will, according to figures compiled by Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), leave at least 23 million people without insurance, a figure that translates into an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths a year among people who cannot afford care. Costs will continue to climb. There are no caps on premiums, including for people with “pre-existing conditions.” The elderly can be charged three times the rates provided to the young. Companies with predominantly female workforces can be charged higher gender-based rates. Most of us will soon be paying about 10 percent of our annual incomes to buy commercial health insurance, although this coverage will pay for only about 70 percent of our medical expenses. And those of us who become seriously ill, lose our incomes and cannot pay the skyrocketing premiums are likely to be denied coverage. The dizzying array of loopholes in the law—written in by insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists—means, in essence, that the healthy will receive insurance while the sick and chronically ill will be priced out of the market.
Medical bills already lead to 62 percent of personal bankruptcies, and nearly 80 percent of those declaring personal bankruptcy because of medical costs had insurance. The U.S. spends twice as much per capita on health care as other industrialized nations, $8,160. Private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume 31 percent of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single, nonprofit payer would save more than $400 billion per year, enough, the PNHP estimates, to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.
But as long as corporations determine policy, as long as they can use their money to determine who gets elected and what legislation gets passed, we remain hostages. It matters little in our corporate state that nearly two-thirds of the public wants single payer and that it is backed by 59 percent of doctors. Public debates on the Obama health care reform, controlled by corporate dollars, ruthlessly silence those who support single payer. The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Max Baucus, a politician who gets more than 80 percent of his campaign contributions from outside his home state of Montana, locked out of the Affordable Care Act hearing a number of public health care advocates including Dr. Flowers and Dr. Paris; the two physicians and six other activists were arrested and taken away. Baucus had invited 41 people to testify. None backed single payer. Those who testified included contributors who had given a total of more than $3 million to committee members for their political campaigns.
“It is not necessary to force Americans to buy private health insurance to achieve universal coverage,” said Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action. “There is a proven alternative that Congress didn’t seriously consider, and that alternative is a single payer national health insurance system. Congress could have taken seriously evidence presented by these single payer medical doctors that a single payer system is the only way to both control costs and cover everyone.”
Monday, March 26, 2012
Not surprisingly, today’s debut Supreme Court argument over the so-called “individual mandate” requiring everyone to buy health insurance revolved around epistemological niceties such as the meaning of a “tax,” and the question of whether the issue is ripe for review.
Behind this judicial foreplay is the brute political fact that if the Court decides the individual mandate is an unconstitutional extension of federal authority, the entire law starts unraveling.
But with a bit of political jujitsu, the President could turn any such defeat into a victory for a single-payer healthcare system – Medicare for all.
The dilemma at the heart of the new law is that it continues to depend on private health insurers, who have to make a profit or at least pay all their costs including marketing and advertising.
Yet the only way private insurers can afford to cover everyone with pre-existing health problems, as the new law requires, is to have every American buy health insurance – including young and healthier people who are unlikely to rack up large healthcare costs.
This dilemma is the product of political compromise. You’ll remember the Administration couldn’t get the votes for a single-payer system such as Medicare for all. It hardly tried. Not a single Republican would even agree to a bill giving Americans the option of buying into it.
But don’t expect the Supreme Court to address this dilemma. It lies buried under an avalanche of constitutional argument.
Those who are defending the law in Court say the federal government has authority to compel Americans to buy health insurance under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which gives Washington the power to regulate interstate commerce. They argue our sprawling health insurance system surely extends beyond an individual state.
Those who are opposing the law say a requirement that individuals contract with private insurance companies isn’t regulation of interstate commerce. It’s coercion of individuals.
Unhappily for Obama and the Democrats, most Americans don’t seem to like the individual mandate very much anyway. Many on the political right believe it a threat to individual liberty. Many on the left object to being required to buy something from a private company.
The President and the Democrats could have avoided this dilemma in the first place if they’d insisted on Medicare for all, or at least a public option.
After all, Social Security and Medicare require every working American to “buy” them. The purchase happens automatically in the form of a deduction from everyone’s paychecks. But because Social Security and Medicare are government programs financed by payroll taxes they don’t feel like mandatory purchases.
Americans don’t mind mandates in the form of payroll taxes for Social Security or Medicare. In fact, both programs are so popular even conservative Republicans were heard to shout “don’t take away my Medicare!” at rallies opposed to the new health care law.
There’s no question payroll taxes are constitutional, because there’s no doubt that the federal government can tax people in order to finance particular public benefits. But requiring citizens to buy something from a private company is different because private companies aren’t directly accountable to the public. They’re accountable to their owners and their purpose is to maximize profits. What if they monopolize the market and charge humongous premiums? (Some already seem to be doing this.)
Even if private health insurers are organized as not-for-profits, there’s still a problem of public accountability. What’s to prevent top executives from being paid small fortunes? (In more than a few cases this is already happening.)
Moreover, compared to private insurance, Medicare is a great deal. Its administrative costs are only around 3 percent, while the administrative costs of private insurers eat up 30 to 40 percent of premiums. Medicare’s costs are even below the 5 percent to 10 percent administrative costs borne by large companies that self-insure, and under the 11 percent costs of private plans under Medicare Advantage, the current private-insurance option under Medicare.
So why not Medicare for all?
Because Republicans have mastered the art of political jujitsu. Their strategy has been to demonize government and seek to privatize everything that might otherwise be a public program financed by tax dollars (see Paul Ryan’s plan for turning Medicare into vouchers). Then they go to court and argue that any mandatory purchase is unconstitutional because it exceeds the government’s authority.
Obama and the Democrats should do the reverse. If the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate in the new health law, private insurers will swarm Capitol Hill demanding that the law be amended to remove the requirement that they cover people with pre-existing conditions.
When this happens, Obama and the Democrats should say they’re willing to remove that requirement – but only if Medicare is available to all, financed by payroll taxes.
If they did this the public will be behind them — as will the Supreme Court.
May 6, 2012
The French are revolting. The Greeks, too. And it’s about time.
Both countries held elections Sunday that were in effect referendums on the current European economic strategy, and in both countries voters turned two thumbs down. It’s far from clear how soon the votes will lead to changes in actual policy, but time is clearly running out for the strategy of recovery through austerity — and that’s a good thing.
Needless to say, that’s not what you heard from the usual suspects in the run-up to the elections. It was actually kind of funny to see the apostles of orthodoxy trying to portray the cautious, mild-mannered François Hollande as a figure of menace. He is “rather dangerous,” declared The Economist, which observed that he “genuinely believes in the need to create a fairer society.” Quelle horreur!
What is true is that Mr. Hollande’s victory means the end of “Merkozy,” the Franco-German axis that has enforced the austerity regime of the past two years. This would be a “dangerous” development if that strategy were working, or even had a reasonable chance of working. But it isn’t and doesn’t; it’s time to move on. Europe’s voters, it turns out, are wiser than the Continent’s best and brightest.
What’s wrong with the prescription of spending cuts as the remedy for Europe’s ills? One answer is that the confidence fairy doesn’t exist — that is, claims that slashing government spending would somehow encourage consumers and businesses to spend more have been overwhelmingly refuted by the experience of the past two years. So spending cuts in a depressed economy just make the depression deeper.
Moreover, there seems to be little if any gain in return for the pain. Consider the case of Ireland, which has been a good soldier in this crisis, imposing ever-harsher austerity in an attempt to win back the favor of the bond markets. According to the prevailing orthodoxy, this should work. In fact, the will to believe is so strong that members of Europe’s policy elite keep proclaiming that Irish austerity has indeed worked, that the Irish economy has begun to recover.
But it hasn’t. And although you’d never know it from much of the press coverage, Irish borrowing costs remain much higher than those of Spain or Italy, let alone Germany. So what are the alternatives?
One answer — an answer that makes more sense than almost anyone in Europe is willing to admit — would be to break up the euro, Europe’s common currency. Europe wouldn’t be in this fix if Greece still had its drachma, Spain its peseta, Ireland its punt, and so on, because Greece and Spain would have what they now lack: a quick way to restore cost-competitiveness and boost exports, namely devaluation.
As a counterpoint to Ireland’s sad story, consider the case of Iceland, which was ground zero for the financial crisis but was able to respond by devaluing its currency, the krona (and also had the courage to let its banks fail and default on their debts). Sure enough, Iceland is experiencing the recovery Ireland was supposed to have, but hasn’t.
Yet breaking up the euro would be highly disruptive, and would also represent a huge defeat for the “European project,” the long-run effort to promote peace and democracy through closer integration. Is there another way? Yes, there is — and the Germans have shown how that way can work. Unfortunately, they don’t understand the lessons of their own experience.
Talk to German opinion leaders about the euro crisis, and they like to point out that their own economy was in the doldrums in the early years of the last decade but managed to recover. What they don’t like to acknowledge is that this recovery was driven by the emergence of a huge German trade surplus vis-à-vis other European countries — in particular, vis-à-vis the nations now in crisis — which were booming, and experiencing above-normal inflation, thanks to low interest rates. Europe’s crisis countries might be able to emulate Germany’s success if they faced a comparably favorable environment — that is, if this time it was the rest of Europe, especially Germany, that was experiencing a bit of an inflationary boom.
So Germany’s experience isn’t, as the Germans imagine, an argument for unilateral austerity in Southern Europe; it’s an argument for much more expansionary policies elsewhere, and in particular for the European Central Bank to drop its obsession with inflation and focus on growth.
The Germans, needless to say, don’t like this conclusion, nor does the leadership of the central bank. They will cling to their fantasies of prosperity through pain, and will insist that continuing with their failed strategy is the only responsible thing to do. But it seems that they will no longer have unquestioning support from the Élysée Palace. And that, believe it or not, means that both the euro and the European project now have a better chance of surviving than they did a few days ago.
Liberals’ defense of Obama fails to withstand scrunity
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Let me begin with a thought exercise. In 2008, you face a choice between two candidates to vote for. You happen to have a crystal ball that tells you that, if one of the candidates is elected, he will escalate one ongoing war in the Middle East, begin another, step up deportations and extraordinary renditions, attack our social safety net and vastly step up the war on the racial undercaste laughingly referred to as “the War on Drugs.” An unsavory choice, but you can’t vote for the other candidate, because he is a Republican.
It is with this in mind that I read last week’s opinion column in The Misc by Mr. Jack Mullan, who claimed my reasoning was as “artificial as it is absurd” in my column on the subject of the 2012 presidential election published two weeks ago.
It seems that anytime someone on the left has the temerity to point out how disastrous the Obama presidency has been to the vast majority of Americans, a response takes one of the following forms: (1) The Republicans, evil and powerful, stopped Obama from doing everything he really wanted very badly to do, (2) He actually has accomplished very much (insert reference to healthcare/Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or some other supposed accomplishment as needed), or (3) The Republicans are so evil that you can’t possibly think of not supporting Obama, perhaps followed by (4), if you only vote for him one more time, Charlie Brown, it will really change things!
Our Mr. Mullan, sadly, follows these stages to a T—but that is perhaps not his fault, as Obama is so hard to defend at this point that his remaining champions are more or less forced to fall back on rote formulas. These defenses are similar to what I remember thinking as an altar boy when I would say the Nicene Creed—it was full of contradictions and just plain nonsense, but comforting in its vagueness and fluffy language.
Mr. Mullan’s first point, in an interesting variation on the theme, deals with the bank bailouts pilloried in the famed chant at so many Occupy events (Banks got bailed out!/We got sold out!). Normally this is something an Obama supporter would do well to forget ever happened, but Mr. Mullan makes a valiant effort to find something positive: “President Obama did enact a bailout, but did so in order to rescue the auto industry and preserve thousands of manufacturing jobs for the middle class.”
An interesting prospect! Obama helped to save the jobs of the middle class. Surely everyone could get behind that?
Everyone, that is, except the “middle class” autoworkers whose jobs were supposedly “saved” by the bailouts. Perhaps they have not been sufficiently grateful to Obama because, well, they are too busy getting screwed by the companies he stepped in to save. GM, for instance, has instituted wages for new hires that are less than half those of current employees, and is bent on shredding the pensions of retirees.
By the way, in case you are wondering where banks fit into the bank bailouts (which is what I actually addressed in my last article), it is because Mr. Mullan would seemingly prefer to not remember that $700 billion of taxpayers’ money was handed over to the banks that caused the financial crisis, gratis. Even where this money made the federal government primary shareholder, as in the case of AIG and others, Obama stepped in to make sure their management (as we must again remember, the ones who caused the crisis through insane speculation) would not be replaced.
Acts like this, combined with other matters such as the escalated war on Afghanistan and futile War on Drugs, the execution of foreign and a few American citizens by flying death robots, the record deportations of “illegal” immigrants, and the alarmingly severe restrictions on civil liberties including the continuation of the PATRIOT Act (matters so small they have escaped the notice of Mr. Mullan except for a small nod toward the end of his piece) should be enough to convince most of us that Obama is Bush’s spiritual successor on practically all the issues we care about. In which case, his supporters turn to the following helpful phrase: Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Mullan’s description of this magical piece of legislation is pretty typical. The ACA “represents a landmark reform that expands access to healthcare to millions of citizens while tackling the rising costs of insurance premiums.” The fact that it does not include a public option is unfortunate, but according to Mr. Mullan, “the votes for a public option simply did not exist in Congress at the time.”
I have to say I am a bit confused that Mr. Mullan chooses to write so much about a public option in a healthcare bill that, in accordance with the president’s wishes before Democrats lost a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, was actually written by the insurance corporations. The option of creating a sane healthcare system by putting them out of business was never even suggested by Obama, who caved on the weak “public option” as soon as it was suggested that he might face Republican opposition on it.
As for the ACA “expanding healthcare to millions of citizens,” well, I and many other citizens are less than thrilled about what it has to offer. Obamacare solved the problem of millions of uninsured by promising to enroll them in state-funded Medicare in a few years, the very same program that—wait for it—states are currently taking the hatchet to. What remains is a by the corporations, for the corporations law that forces most of us to purchase awful healthcare plans with the slight consolation that our premiums may not go through the roof—that is, unless our state governments find that such increases are “reasonable.”
Mr. Mullan finally has no other option than (3)—look at how evil the Republicans are! He writes, “The proposal coming from Romney and the Republicans is to cut, cut, cut: regulations, taxes, and vital social welfare programs would be severely slashed.” Excuse me? This from a supporter of the man who has kept the NLRB and OSHA on a starvation diet, and who stopped the sunset of the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy? Pot, meet kettle.
What are the prospects for Obama’s next term? Following his proposed budget for the next year, Mr. Mullan writes, “The president maintains strong support for the social safety net, invests in education, energy and infrastructure, and introduces new taxes not only on the wealthiest earners, but also on big banks…that would raise $60 billion over the next decade.”
Sounds good, right? Until you remember that Obama has promised big things along these lines before, namely, last time he was trying to get elected. But we’re still waiting for the Employee Free Choice Act, intended to help workers unionize easier, or the closing of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay.
As for Mr. Mullan’s other objections, they are so insincere that I hesitate to even address them. “It would be remiss to abandon a such a central civil right as voting because of dissatisfaction with one’s options,” he writes. Well, if it is a choice between sacrificing every principle I have as a socialist and exercising this “central civil right,” my rights will have to take one for the team this time around. Similarly, I do not pose a dichotomy between activism and voting. Some of my best friends vote. What I do argue is that voting in this presidential election is ineffective, and ultimately a scam.
If you have been paying attention to anything that has been going on in Washington rather than sticking your head in the sand ostrich-style, it should be perfectly clear that in all likelihood, four more years of Obama means another four years of broken promises as he drifts increasingly rightward.
Whoever wins the election will be the bought and paid for candidate of the one percent. Obama raised the most money from Wall Street of any candidate, ever, last time around, and he may yet have a chance to beat his own record. If you desire real change in this country rather than words, you belong outside the voting booths in November.