28 December 2012

The Ghost of Christmas

Ooops, looks like Christmas distracted me so much I didn't get around to doing the traditional Christmas post. Well, our old friends know that for me, Christmas goes right on up through the 6th, and last year's post is much the same as what I would have posted this year, although I did find "Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime" with an American Sign Language interpretation by Stephen Torrence, and Mark Evanier has posted a photo of the setting of his wonderful Mel Tormé story, for those who've never seen the Farmer's Market in Hollywood.

And thanks to Digby for digging up this old classic on the War on Christmas. (Yes, there is a war on Christmas, and Bill O'Reilly is its general.)

Michael Moore tells you everything you really need to know about economics: "Celebrating the Prince of Peace in the Land of Guns [...] Clearly, we are no longer our brother's and sister's keeper. You get sick and can't afford the operation? Not my problem. The bank has foreclosed on your home? Not my problem. Can't afford to go to college? Not my problem. And yet, it all sooner or later becomes our problem, doesn't it? Take away too many safety nets and everyone starts to feel the impact. Do you want to live in that kind of society, one where you will then have a legitimate reason to be in fear? I don't."

EU accuses Samsung of patent abuse in Apple lawsuits

The Majority Report: Sam Seder's interview with Chrystia Freeland on Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.

Ten Reasons Why the Chained CPI Is Terrible Policy

Atrios: "But They Will Always Smash It On The Floor [...] But Republicans will inevitably see a balanced budget as an opportunity to give money to rich people (tax cuts and crony capitalism). The reward for liberals for this well done very important work? Tax cuts for rich people and unpaid for disastrous wars. Liberals should spend their time in office figuring out how to implement a sticky liberal agenda, one which is hard to dislodge, not figuring out how to create a pot of money for Republicans to steal when it is their turn."
"There's Another No Work Option: Laid Off [...] This isn't really mysterious stuff. Someone is 61, has a moderate disability, and loses his/her job. There is no work option." And yet, people act like the only reason you might not get a new job is that you'd rather skive off and collect that juicy disability check.

RIP Jack Klugman, last of the 12 Angry Men, who to some of us will always be Oscar Madison, (even though the first death notice I saw for him mentioned only Quincy); actor, and hero who beat Orrin Hatch.

Snow pic from Ruth Calvo.

An Irish boy band that rocks old school - The Strypes, with their first original track, "Blue Collar Jane." Of course, they do covers, too.

Damn You All to Hell. {A letter from Tom Hanks.}

Strax the Sontaran sings Christmas songs. (I have no idea what "The Red Red Robin" is doing in there.)

Watch Sita Sings the Blues - a free gift from the creator.

Posted, of course, while listening to Brian Brink's amazing performance of "The Carol of the Bells".

24 December 2012

I heard there was a secret chord

This week's panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays were Digby and David Waldman (KagroX).

Interviews by Sam Seder on The Majority Report:
David Dayen on the Raw Deal and how Obama is trying to raise your taxes and cut your Social Security and Medicare, and on David's hiatus from the blogosphere. (You can read all his FDL stuff here, and of course his final post.)
Matt Taibbi on the big bank drug money launderers.
Max Blumenthal live from Egypt

Another datum in why we need to get rid of the Department of Homeland Security: "U.S. government seizes artist's paycheck as suspected terrorist funds: The U.S. government reportedly has seized an advance payment to artist Tim Hamilton for his work on nonfiction graphic novel detailing the activities of notorious Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony in the Congo, claiming the money was being laundered for a terrorist organization. [...] Cartoonist Matt Bors, who edited Army of God, offers: 'OFAC hasn't responded to my request for comment yet, but their answering machine urged me to visit the U.S. Treasury's website. Comics wouldn't be a great way to fund terrorism. They don't pay very well. But now we know no one fighting terrorism knows how to use Google, which sure makes me feel safe.' Hamilton, who's worked on titles ranging from Green Lantern to Deadpool to MAD, illustrated the Eisner-nominated adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451."
Atkins, "If Congress is looking to save money, here's a place to start" - because Homeland Security is one expensive boondoggle.

Enacting Democracy: "After months of circular debate that never quite managed to result in meaningful action, the vast majority of the protesters were convinced that their concerns would not be addressed and their efforts were wasted, and simply went home. This would be significant enough if it was new; in point of fact, it's been the outcome of nearly every attempt at organized protest since the early 1980s, when the current suite of manipulative pseudoconsensus methods were adopted across most of the activist Left. If you want to know why the Left accomplished next to nothing for thirty years, while activists on the right were getting candidates into office and laws on the books, that's an important part of the reason. This is all the more embarrassing in that the toolkit of democratic process has been sitting on the shelf the whole time, waiting for somebody to notice that liberal and radical groups in the past used to use methods of organization that, however unfashionable they have become, actually work. There are a lot of details, and entire books in fine print have been written on the minutiae, but the core elements of democratic process can be described in a paragraph."

Richard Eskow Asks: Which Side Are You On? "This is a moment of moral clarity. Right now there are only two sides in the Social Security debate: the side that says it's acceptable to cut benefits - in a way that raises taxes for all income except the highest - and the side that says it isn't."

Right to Work for Less and the Destruction of Solidarity [...] Trade unions originally arose because workers understood that selling their labor on the open market only led to poverty. Unlike other 'things' that could be sold, human labor was indivisible from human beings. Workers could not simply store their labor until they could sell their labor for a better price. Capital of course wanted to pay as little for labor as possible, using competition between workers to drive the cost of human labor down. So of necessity, successful trade union efforts required stopping or altering the market in human labor. Unionists did that by asserting that an employer did not have the right to buy an individual's labor for cheaper than the union set standard, and relatedly that individual workers did not have the right to undercut union labor. The collective rights of workers outweighed the individual 'rights' of scabs and business owners. Unions fought for industry-wide agreements designed to take labor out of competition."

Naomi Wolf: "But were Chase, TD, Bank of America and others, which had been targeted by activists, actually now employing our police forces directly? The answer is yes."

Yves has more reasons to be doubtful about the Rolling Jubilee.

Dean Baker: "Fareed Zakaria is Unhappy That "The American Left" Chooses Arithmetic Over Peter Peterson: Fareed Zakaria is very unhappy that "THe American Left," by whom he means the vast majority of people across the political spectrum who oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare, insist on taking arithmetic seriously. They are refusing to join Peter Peterson and his wealthy friends in the Campaign to Fix the Debt in their crusade to cut these key social insurance programs."

As I've noted before, the groups most likely to commit the most odious crimes are the people we are least likely to acknowledge fit the profile. The people who believe most in profiling are the ones who scream the loudest when anyone points that out - it's heresy.

Do I understand this correctly? Obama is Time's Person of the Year for winning an election?

From Michael Rosenwald in Business Week, a Book Review: Against Thrift by James Livingston: "One key complexity in Livingston's argument is that private investment by business is not the kind of spending that creates jobs and spurs growth. All the clamoring about companies needing lower taxes because the resulting increase in profits will drive them to build more factories and create more jobs is, Livingston writes, a two-syllable word that includes the letters b and s. He argues that all the surplus profits - such as the ones still accruing on the books of America's biggest corporations - are really invested in speculative bubbles like the ones that helped cause the Great Depression and the current global crisis. (He has a 19-page appendix with numerous graphs to bolster his points.)" Noted with some amazement atCorrente.
Also, "Was the Sandy Hook Massacre a Failed Rebellion?" - rage killings don't just come from nowhere.

Krugman in 2007: "As a policy matter, I don't understand why Obama would choose to make a big deal of the small Social Security funding shortfall - which may not even exist. As a political matter, I don't understand why he would essentially try to undermine the first big victory progressives won against the Bush administration and the rightward tilt of the Beltway consensus. This isn't 1992. The DLC isn't the Democratic party's leading edge. The center isn't somewhere between Joe Lieberman and John McCain. I can't understand how Obama can be this out of touch."

It still baffles me that everyone doesn't want to learn how to do this.
How The Doctor Puppet Saved Christmas
Susie got a job that doesn't start paying for several weeks. In the meantime, maybe you could throw her a little dosh to tide her over.

And this just bites. I hate to think I've met all these nice people on the internet just to see them slowly get eaten by our rotten economy.

The Vanishing - gorgeous photos of the terrifying. (via)

Leonard Cohen's favorite cover of "Hallelujah"

I was completely unaware of "Christmas Time is Near Again".

"Stille Nacht", The Vienna Boys Choir

So I was trawling around for a decent version of the song, which is a popular (and powerful) piece of Christmas music, and all the versions I could find were, well, wimpy. In desperation, I clicked on the version by the famous singer whose work I find generally unmemorable, and... well, at first I couldn't be sure, but she was obviously starting way at the bottom of her range, where control is hard, so she could make full use of the rest later. It was worth it. "O, Holy Night", performed by Mariah Carey.

22 December 2012

If "everyone has to "sacrifice", why isn't Congress eating catfood?

Maya Rockeymoore of Global Policy Solutions and We Act Radio talked about bad policy like chained CPI - which represents a cut in benefits right now, by the way, not just to "future retirees" - and what it's like to talk to Steny Hoyer, on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd. (Background: Her open letter to Alan Simpson on selling out America's youth.)

Atrios: "Violating The Pledge: If we switch over to the chained-CPI, it isn't just about Social Security cuts. It'll impact other federally set things, including tax brackets, meaning it will be a tax increase on those earning less than $250,000 per year. Like Matt I don't really care about that, but it has been one of the few guiding principles of the administration, so..." Even Yglesias can figure out that it raises taxes on the non-rich, just aside from its other evil qualities. (More on chained CPI from Dean Baker.)

Jon Walker says, "Obama Again Proves Why the GOP Should Always Bet on Him Folding: During this fiscal cliff fight, the Obama team has only \drawn two lines in the sand. The first was on raising the tax rate for people making over $250,000 a year. The other was refusing to allow raising the debt ceiling to be used for political gain. On both of these demands Obama has already folded like a tissue in a rainstorm. A compromise on the tax rate is not that surprising. While the Obama team was firm on this point it always seemed more like a negotiation ploy than a real line in the sand. The fold on the debt ceiling, though, has basically destroyed any negotiating creditability Obama might had left with Congressional Republicans. President Obama repeatedly said he was not going to 'play that game.' His team said they see the debt ceiling issue has have historic significant. The White House claimed they had a duty to the future to break this dangerous habit. The President used the strongest possible language to say he would not hold on this issue, yet two weeks later he completely folds. This is just the latest in a long pattern of behavior by Obama. Obama always seems to blink first. By this point it would frankly be idiotic for any Congressional Republicans to believe Obama will hold firm during a negotiation." And it's a great tactic for Obama, who is plainly playing for the other team. And, yes, he really is. He has telegraphed this from the moment he entered the White House.

"A Different Kind Of Democrat-- A Republican Kind [...] That's what we're up against-- and Obama and his conservative allies have every intention of remaking the Democratic Party in their own image. Standing up to him and pressuring your two senators and your congressman to reject the Obama-Boehner sellout to the wealthy and their mania to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class is going to be very serious over the course of the next few weeks and months. Just think of Obama as Bush and proceed accordingly."

Glenn Greenwald: "Glenn Greenwald: Woman Imprisoned for Life for Minor Drug Offense; Banking Giant Immune to Justice for Massive Drug Laundering."

Erik Loomis used a metaphor. Apparently, the president of the University of Rhode Island doesn't know what one is. (via). Via Thers at Eschaton.

Guns don't kill people. Estrogen kills people.

No one could have predicted that Restrictive laws make it harder for teens to get abortions: "If a 17-year-old girl in the state of Virginia needs to have an abortion, she has the option to bypass the state's parental consent laws by obtaining written permission from a judge. But court employees in many parts of Virginia are overwhelmingly unprepared or unwilling to provide correct information on the judicial bypass option, a new report finds, making it exceedingly difficult for teen girls to exercise their right to abortion care."

Alex Gibney on Zero Dark Thirty's Wrong and Dangerous Conclusion

"Why the Pundits Are Wrong About Big Money and the 2012 Elections" - see, they both spent a lot of money.

Alex Pareen's 2012 Hack List is complete, with the top ten winners correctly skewered.

Were you wondering what would happen to the Olympic Stadium? Yes, it's just like in America - taxpayers pay for this stuff, and the rich guys get the benefit. (And finding this blog was a fascination - just the kind of local reporting I wish we were seeing more of and that we were paying more attention to. A bit disappointed to see the loopy Liberal Fascism as a recommended book on the sidebar, but glad to know someone is keeping an eye on the weird blurring between cops and not-cops, among other things.)

And, speaking of East London, Whitechapel Bell Foundry has put up a Christmas greeting with a click-through about the story of how that enormous bell got from their design boards to the Olympic Stadium.

There is more writing around than I realized about the Christmas Truce.

I enjoyed the Christmas Sermon On Not Believing in Canada (and boy was Molsen's a disappointment - no wonder!). And a nice little comment from Scott Martens that followed in the ensuing thread: "But as for the main point: Among the non-empirical arguments to be made on behalf Canadianism is the moral virtue of believing in the existence of place where people don't freak out so much about the terms of dispute between their various beliefs and mostly just try to get along. Even if no such place exists, it's better to assert its existence as an example to encourage moral virtue than to abandon virtue altogether. If people need to believe in a fictitious former British colony to do what is right, then arguing against their beliefs is incredibly counterproductive." (via)
Also: Tower Bridge forced to open for 50 foot rubber duck.
And: Dear Slate: Buy a map..

I am charmed to learn that Dan Savage bought Ann Landers' old desk.

NASA Johnson Style

Doctor Who Christmas special prequels:
1. The Great Detective
2. Vastra Investigates

Another Elf's Christmas Playlist

18 December 2012

People are talking

Avedon Carol and Dave Johnson (of Seeing the Forest) were the panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays. Background reading:
"What the 'right to bear arms' really means: As long as there have been guns in America, they have been regulated -- even in Dodge City."
Taibbi on banks in the drug war: "It doesn't take a genius to see that the reasoning here is beyond flawed. When you decide not to prosecute bankers for billion-dollar crimes connected to drug-dealing and terrorism (some of HSBC's Saudi and Bangladeshi clients had terrorist ties, according to a Senate investigation), it doesn't protect the banking system, it does exactly the opposite. It terrifies investors and depositors everywhere, leaving them with the clear impression that even the most "reputable" banks may in fact be captured institutions whose senior executives are in the employ of (this can't be repeated often enough) murderers and terrorists. Even more shocking, the Justice Department's response to learning about all of this was to do exactly the same thing that the HSBC executives did in the first place to get themselves in trouble - they took money to look the other way." People who've been caught holding two joints have suffered a great deal more than this. Let the law treat these bankers the way they treat ordinary Americans who get busted for drugs and then maybe they'll learn to behave.
"Where is Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy on Big Bank Crimes and Obama? Last week's big revelation on banking is that it is now official Department of Justice policy under Obama that big banks and their executives are above the law. HSBC was caught laundering money for both terrorists and drug dealers, and DOJ officials told the New York Times that they would not prosecute the bank under money laundering statutes, lest the financial system be destabilized. This was shocking, but consistent with policy made explicit by DOJ's Head of Criminal Division Lanny Breuer back in September. One key question is why it is that Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a former prosecutor, is utterly unwilling to do any investigation or oversight into this critical policy question? Leahy runs the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, and it would be impossible to find a more obvious topic for that committee to address."
"FCC Boss Julius Genachowski Has Been a Timid Failure: Engaged in Pro Consumer Theater, Folded When it Counted [...] Genachowski's biggest failing however was his timid failure to reclassify broadband operators as telecommunications carriers (against the advice of his staff), putting the agency on unsound legal footing for a generation of broadband battles to come. [...] The truly frightening part? Genachowski is the most consumer friendly FCC boss the agency has had during the entire lifespan of this website. With a long string of FCC chiefs who have ignored competitive issues, buckled to the whims of the biggest players, laughed off consumer interests, and jumped into posh telecom-industry lobbying gigs after their tenures ended, that's certainly not saying much."

Stephanie Kelton does MMT: "The U.S. government is not revenue constrained. The U.S. government is the only American economic agent that can act counter-cyclically. If the government did decide to act counter-cyclically, it could either increase spending or reduce taxes. Not employing people who want to work is wasteful. No one seems to understand this."

"Why You Can Kiss Public Education (and the Middle Class) Goodbye [...] But up until the Reagan "reforms," public education had avoided this same ghettoizing fate. Historically, our public education system was a marvel for the rest of the world, producing generations of scientists, doctors, and engineers from all races and socio-economic classes. Whether you came from a wealthy family or a poor family, the American public education system didn't discriminate. As much as possible, it was a multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-class public institution that produced great results. But as state governments embrace for-profit charter schools, traditional public schools will be neglected and see their funding cut until eventually they, too, will suffer the same fate that ghettoized public housing and public hospitals."

Atrios is Bringing It Old School: "Time for this little blog to do a bit of activism like the old days. Get your dialing fingers ready for tomorrow. White House, Reid's office, your senators, and your member of Congress. No cuts to Social Security. There will be a list, we will be checking it twice, and it will be called The Social Security Shit List."

Good for Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who said of the Medicare eligibility age, "We should be lowering the age, not raising it." That's exactly right. Good for America's economy, good for Americans. (via)

"UK record industry seeks to financially ruin leaders of the Pirate Party: Rather than seeking an injunction against the proxy, or suing the party, it has individually sued the party's executives, seeking to personally bankrupt them and their families. It's an underhanded, unethical, and unprecedented threat to democracy -- essentially a bid to use their financial and legal might to destroy a political party itself."

Susie asks: "What's the rationale? Here's the really puzzling thing about this whole fiscal-cliff, 'let's sacrifice a virgin on the mountain top' adventure we're on. No one really wants this, except rich people and the politicians they own. No one. Tell me one good reason why non-profits should, in effect, slit their own throats - particularly at a time when we really need them, because of that aforementioned ritual sacrifice to the austerity gods. It's like a giant game of Whack-A-Mole - as soon as they try to cut one thing, people rise up and say, 'No way, pal!' That's because we still want clean air, safe food and prescription drugs, trains that run, roads without giant potholes, good schools with enough books, and programs that help the vulnerable. You know what we don't want? A massive black hole of a military budget. You want to talk about austerity? The Pentagon owns over 200 golf courses around the world - 234, the last time a reporter counted. (They hide the numbers, just because of stories like this.) Four-star generals live like kings."

"I am Adam Lanza's Mother [...] A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan - they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me. That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn't have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist. We still don't know what's wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He's been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work."
Roger Ebert on how the press reports mass killings
Garry Wills on Moloch
A Carefully Measured Response from tristero.

"This pre-Internet chatroom conversation between Jim Henson, Ayn Rand, Yoko Ono and Sidney Nolan is fake.."

Christmas Caroling with the Roches.

16 December 2012

Jack Frost nipping at your nose

David Atkins (thereisnospoon) was the guest on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd. I was interested to see how he would acquit himself, and actually, he wasn't bad. And what he says about getting involved in local politics is absolutely true, and people ought to pay attention. Seriously, if you clean up nice and have not been convicted of anything more serious than marijuana possession, you should consider putting your skills to work in local politics. There's a huge rats nest infesting the Democratic party and it needs to be cleaned out. You won't fix that just by staying home and blogging, even though staying home and blogging may have its virtues.

Robert Scheer on The Shameful Exploitation of Bradley Manning: "Keep an American soldier locked up naked in a cage and driven half mad while deprived of all basic rights, and you will be instantly condemned as a barbaric terrorist. Unless the jailer is an authorized agent of the U.S. government, in which case even treatment approaching torture will go largely unnoticed. Certainly if a likable constitutional law professor happens to be president, all such assaults on human dignity will easily pass muster." And The New York Times, which published many stories based on the Wikileaks material that Manning allegedly passed to them, just as they did when they earned their "credibility" with Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, couldn't be bothered to send a reporter to cover Manning's first public testimony. "What is protected in the First Amendment is not the right of commercial enterprises to exploit the news for profit, but rather of citizens to become informed. That requires the courage of heroic sources, including Bradley Manning."

The Sad Saga Of The Estate Tax: "So, here we are, two years later, at another lame-duck session and with the same Barack Obama working with the same congressional Republicans on the estate tax again. A post-election poll for Americans for Tax Fairness found that by a margin of 58 to 32%, people support 'increase[ing] the estate tax, also called the inheritance tax, on estates of more than seven million dollars for a couple.' Obama is, as usual, aiming very low and asking for way too little. Even as much of a corporate shill as former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, currently cochairman of Goldman Sachs, thinks Obama should step up his proposal. 'A substantial estate tax," explained this week, "can provide revenues at a time when our federal government badly needs additional revenues." " Of course, revenue isn't the real reason for the estate tax - it's about preventing individual families from building dynasties that become more powerful than government. From becoming, as the Waltons and the Kochs have, so powerful that their whims can overwhelm the needs of the entire country.

"How Organizing for Change Is Very Different Than Winning Elections: [...] The point I'm really trying to raise is that the Democratic Party has way too much control over what the AFL-CIO and the other unions are doing. Instead of labor telling the Democratic Party what they're going to do, the Democratic Party scripts out for labor what they're going to do. Which isn't really working for unions very much at all." (This called to mind an interesting thing Becky Bond said to Sam Seder on The Majority Report the other day, about how when Chris Van Hollen 's office calls complaining about how they've got their members screaming at them to say the right thing, the answer was basically: If you're not going to say the right thing, then we're going to keep screaming. She also refers to "the fiscal bluff" - a neat pun and probably one we should all start using. That show is also worth listening to for the interview with Ken Burns about the documentary he's made with his daughter about The Central Park Five.)

Peter Maass says, "Don't Trust Zero Dark Thirty [...] Much of the pre-release debate about the movie has focused on whether it portrays torture as effective, in the sense of prying information out of al Qaeda suspects. Yes, the movie conveys that view, and I think it's inaccurate. Many experts, including key senators who oversaw an extensive congressional investigation, have concluded that torture did not play a significant role in finding bin Laden, and that torture in general is a counter-productive way to get information from prisoners. But the heated debate on torture misses what's far more important and troubling about a film that seems destined for blockbuster and Academy Award status. Zero Dark Thirty represents a new genre of embedded filmmaking that is the problematic offspring of the worrisome endeavor known as embedded journalism. [...] The fundamental problem is that our government has again gotten away with offering privileged access to carefully selected individuals and getting a flattering story in return. Embeds, officially begun during the invasion of Iraq, are deeply troubling because not every journalist or filmmaker can get these coveted invitations (Seymour Hersh and Matt Taibbi are probably not on the CIA press office's speed dial), and once you get one, you face the quandary of keeping a critical distance from sympathetic people whom you get to know and who are probably quite convincing. That's the reason the embed or special invitation exists; the government does its best to keep journalists, even friendly ones, away from disgruntled officials who have unflattering stories to tell." And there goes the value of the 1st Amendment. Add that to the already disturbing fact that Hollywood has been increasingly willing, over the last two or three decades, to tell stories that encourage us to be callous toward others and to punch our better angels in the face, and you have an ugly brew bubbling up from our entertainment industry.

Here's Riverdaughter on the STEM-worker shortage scam and a number of other things she may not realize I've bitched about before. Yes, I'd rather have them get real green cards (not just the carrot that never reaches the teeth) and the same real rights that US citizens are supposed to have to act against abusive employers than have them here as pure guest-workers. But, right now, the idea that there is a dearth of educated Americans who can fill those jobs just infuriates me. As I've said before, I know far too many out-of-work people with experience and good degrees to believe any of this nonsense about how we just need to "educate ourselves to compete". They don't want us competing for good jobs and good wages, they want us competing with slave labor, and to do that they need to keep us away from jobs and other sources of income. The H1B visa exists for jobs where there are genuine labor shortages or there are only a tiny, tiny handful of experts and a few people who get paid not so much for what they do but for being who they are, and yet it's used to replace people who could easily be found in the US in their thousands. You don't need to hire a random foreign mathematician from a foreign country when we've already got plenty of them; you do need to hire Whit Diffie to be Whit Diffie (certainly not for mathematics skills which he himself describes as "indifferent"). If you decided that what we really needed were musicians, you wouldn't have to go to a foreign country to hire unknown musicians to fill slots on the bill of a place that just needed some music time filled up, but you have to hire Mike Jagger to be Mick Jagger, because he's the only The Mick Jagger there is. If the only true expert in the world on the cultivation of a certain plant that we just discovered can cure cancer is an African, it makes sense to give him a special visa to come to America and work on it (and teach Americans to do that same work), but when it's a gig where literally thousands of people already have the training and experience you need and are available to work right at home, then by the gods you'd better be hiring those people instead of complaining that you can't find them and need to import foreigners.

Tom Tomorrow on the bipartisan adventures of Simpson & Bowles

"The Christmas Song", performed by the Temptations

14 December 2012

Weather report

It's cold and rainy and grey, which means, it's London, only colder.

Bill Black (among other things, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One) was the guest on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd, but technical difficulties in the early minutes of the show led to Albert Gainsborough stepping in to fill some airtime with a few words about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Both are worth listening to. Black explains the argument the Very Serious People are having: We have to impose austerity to avoid austerity. (BTW, Bill and Jay have missed the boat on the difference between "outsourcing" and "privatization". Both involve paying other entities to do your institution's job, but privatization is when the government does it while pretending they have simply sold the entire enterprise to a private firm while continuing to subsidize it, largely by continuing to take responsibility for the things that make it work. It should also be noted that Margaret Thatcher's "selling" of utilities involved practically paying commercial entities to take them off "the government's" hands. There is simply a limit to how many sweeteners you can lard a deal with before it becomes obvious that your goal has nothing to do with trying to make money. And much of "privatized" industry in the UK is still directly subsidized; they just don't admit it.)
Cliff Schecter and David Dayen were panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays. (And Why Neil Borofsky should be made head of the SEC - and won't be.)

Kristof took a break from bemoaning the sad fate of people in foreign lands to tell us the sad fate of Americans who are helped by the US government. This earned him Atrios' coveted Wanker of the Day award and The Worst Person In The World on the same day, thanks to these stunning words: "Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire. Some young people here don't join the military (a traditional escape route for poor, rural Americans) because it's easier to rely on food stamps and disability payments." More from Pierce. Kristof made my skin crawl even before there was an internet.
"Nobody Has To Own It: The real reason for bipartisan deals is so Congress can pass horrible things that the public hates and it isn't clear who you can blame. Throw in a bunch of retiring members of Congress in a lame duck session, and you have a recipe for accountability-free democracy. Otherwise known as not democracy." - Atrios
Also: State lawmakers find out why people use birth control.
Why the US is so far behind on solar power. Even in Britain people are powering their entire homes with solar, and it's not like we get all that much sunlight here. But protecting the energy monopolies is more important to Americans' "representatives" in government, lately, so they make it as hard as possible for you to do that.

Michael Hoexter at Naked Capitalism, "Obama and Boehner's Grand Bargain: : Gullible Democrats are Falling for the Ol' 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' Routine." (And don't forget to click this link.)

Obama's quest for bipartisanship has been in part the quest for a 'bad cop' who would push his agenda in a manner so that his 'good cop' image could remain relatively unsullied in the view of the public and perhaps even to himself. It is likely that Obama thinks of himself as essentially a pragmatist without political allegiance to a fundamental ideology or vision, a man who simply moves society and its constellation of social forces along as they seem to tend rather than push them according to commitments to abstract principles that would bend the trajectory of society. However to be this pragmatist and also a political leader, he has the need to be perceived by others as representing 'larger than self' ideals, even though he himself may not share those ideals.

The Republicans, now led by Boehner, have been fairly consistent in playing the 'bad cop' role, as least as regards the Democratic base. They carry with them so many signifiers of 'political enemy' to liberals that they can be easily blamed for whatever is considered objectionable. We still have left of center bloggers who are attributing to Republicans all of the animus against social programs, thereby exonerating Obama of any of this desire. Howard Dean's Democracy for America just sent me a fundraising email in which he attributes the interest in cutting Medicare to Republicans, which is misleading and naïve to say the least. The current media landscape on the supposed political left in the US results from a triumph of misdirection by Obama and his handlers. He is experiencing very little pressure at this late date from progressives, in a situation where he has a number of 'outs' out of the fiscal 'cliff' he has gotten himself into but instead pursues his quixotic 'Grand Bargain'

Another function of Republicans as 'bad cop', is that Obama needs a foil against which to agitate for what ultimately is a relatively lightweight concession of higher taxes on the rich that, in our economy overreliant on high-end good sales, could in isolation do economic harm. The 'good cop, bad cop' routine provides the appearance of conflict and displaces political conflict away from where the conflict of interests really are, between the Washington and Wall Street establishments and the American people and businesses tied to the real economy. In economic terms, the discussion is at a complete remove from what Modern Money school economists and consistent Keynesians are pointing out: that both cutting spending and raising taxes drains demand from the already-weak economy, slowing it and pushing it back into recession.

A lot of people need to go to school on what "right to work" laws are really about, but I'm not so sure they don't know what they're doing. This is, after all, just the sort of thing the Powell Memo prescribed.

Yeah, What Athenae said.

This is important. We had people all during the health insurance "negotiations" telling us to calm down, 11-dimensional chess and blah blah blah, and anyway the PPACA was wonderful and would give millions of people health insurance. And of course, since the outcry from the public was muted at best, we got just what Obama wanted - a shoddy piece of crap that people still can't afford. So, the more people tell you that all this Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security cutting is "just an unsourced rumor", the more you know they are trying to mute the push-back so they can get it done. Which means it's a really good idea to scream bloody murder about how unacceptable it is. Ditto when Jonathan Chait and any other nitwit tries to tell you that it's no big deal to do it (in exchange for a tiny adjustment in tax rates on the rich that actually ends up being another tax cut for the rich). There are no right-wing plans that save money, and these "concessions" the Third Way New Dem Centrist DLC "moderates" keep touting are just expensive ways to steal from and murder Americans. Of course you should be "shrill". Digby also talked to Sam Seder about this on The Majority Report.

"If We Did Not Share in the Prosperity, Why Should We Have to Share in the Sacrifice?"

"Ready To Kiss The Social Contract Bye-Bye?

How the Territorial Tax Cut Destroys Jobs: There is a little-discussed proposal that was introduced into the 'fiscal cliff' discussions by the CEOs of the 'Fix the Debt' campaign. This is for a 'Territorial Tax System' idea that lets multinational companies off the hook for taxes on offshore profits. This plan is particularly dangerous to American wages and jobs - YOUR wages and job - as well as any American companies that don't export their profit centers. This threat is not limited to the blue-collar jobs that have been disappearing, it also threatens the professionals, 'knowledge workers,' designers, innovators and others who contribute to corporate profits here in the US.

DCblogger noticed that AEI actually noticed the idea of minting a trillion dollar platinum coin enough to dismiss it.

Xylitol: Should We Stop Calling It Natural?

"Anarchy in the U.S.A." - on books about Emma Goldman and her sweetie.

"Am I Free to Go?" - a new short story by Kathryn Cramer, free online at Tor.com. "The line between utopia and dystopia...is, often, who you are. Or who your neighbors think you are."

Maybe it's the BBC's cut for the merchandising license that makes this computer so overpriced, but it's a cute idea if you were looking to design your own case - or maybe a Christmas present - for someone who geeks that way.

A new one for my list: "Carol of the Bells" performed by Pentatonix.

07 December 2012

One seems to hear words of good cheer

A bit late out of the gate, but I just can't get started without "Carol of the Bells." (Yes, it's true: I play that particular version over and over while I do the Advent list.) Now, let's see who still has Advent calendars....
Electric December
Christmas Magazine
Busted Halo Woodlands Junior School
North Pole
St. Mary Margaret
Your Punk Rock Advent Calendar
Chris' Invincible Super-Blog's Advent posts aren't strictly an Advent Calendar, but it's great fun and you really shouldn't miss December 6th.

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My thanks to commenter someofparts for tipping me off to this chilling article that traces the predictable rise and fall of empire and reminds us what "irredentism" means, among other things. And how Toynbee tipped us on what our future may look like:

The first phase of that unfoldment begins with the rise and successful expansion of the imperial power. That expansion quite often involves the conquest of lands previously owned by less wealthy and powerful nations next door. For some time thereafter, neighboring societies that are not absorbed in this way are drawn into the imperial power's orbit and copy its political and cultural habits - German tribal chieftains mint their own pseudo-Roman coins and drape themselves in togas, people very far from America copy the institutions of representative democracy and don blue jeans, and so on. A successful empire has a charisma that inspires imitation, and while it retains its ascendancy, that charisma makes the continued domination of its borderlands easy to maintain.

It's when the ascendancy fails and the charisma crumbles that things start to get difficult. Toynbee uses a neat if untranslatable Latin pun to denote the difference: the charisma of a successful imperial power makes its borderlands a limen or doorway, while the weakening of its power and the collapse of its charisma compels it to replace the limen with a limes, a defensive wall. Very often, in fact, it's when a physical wall goes up along the border that the imperial power, in effect, serves notice to its historians that its days are numbered.

Once the wall goes up, literally or figuratively, the focus shifts to the lands immediately outside it, and those lands go through a series of utterly predictable stages. As economic and political stresses mount along the boundary, social order collapses and institutions disintegrate, leaving power in the hands of a distinctive social form, the warband - a body of mostly young men whose sole trade is violence, and who are bound by personal loyalties to a charismatic warlord. At first, nascent warbands strive mostly with one another and with the crumbling institutions of their own countries, but before long their attention turns to the much richer pickings to be found on the other side of the wall. Raids and counter-raids plunge the region into a rising spiral of violence that the warbands can afford much more easily than the imperial government.

Highly recommended: Read the rest.

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For a good read, you should go to Corrente right now and read the whole front page. Aside from several important news stories I should have gotten around to but haven't, yet, there's a bunch of music and other smart stuff. (Also, of course, give if you've got it - it's one great blog.)

"Movie Studios Ask Google To Censor Their Own Films, Facebook and Wikipedia" - including legitimate sources. A sort of anti-advertising campaign for their own work? Or maybe it's just time to stop all this take-down notice mania and make studios think twice about sending such infringement requests. Copyright law is now so out of control anyway that nobody sane could support its current application.

"How could 'cuffed' suspect possibly shoot himself? [...] According to police, Carter somehow managed to get a gun and fired a single shot into his head. Just how the police officer who searched Carter was able to find what amounted to a dime bag of pot but missed a small-caliber handgun is a mystery to a lot of people. And so, too, is how Carter could have shot himself in the head, even though "his hands were still cuffed behind his back," according to the police report. His mother, Teresa Carter, told a Memphis, Tenn., television station that police said her son was shot in the right temple. But, she said, Carter was left handed."

Florida murders 14-year-old disabled girl. Apparently, they "couldn't afford" to do something that they could afford to do. Or was killing her the whole "money-saving" plan?

Who is Grover Norquist? That's what most of us used to wonder - why was Grover Norquist, who is no more than a political operative and certainly not an economist - let alone one who cared about whether ordinary Americans could afford their taxes - on television all the time and taken seriously by all the big mouthpieces in Washington? Why should anyone feel they had to sign Norquist's anti-tax pledge? Why did people come to his meetings all the time, and how did he end up being such a big deal? But they made him a big deal, and now that they have, they're trying to walk it back as his famous pledge now stands in the way of the Grand Bargain to steal your national economic security benefits.


Oh, no! One of the best reporter-analysts in the blogosphere is stepping back. Gonna miss you, Dday.

RIP: Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012. Just a day short of his 92nd birthday, one of the greatest names in jazz is gone. Ivan Hewitt in the Telegraph said he had "Endless curiosity combined with stubbornness. WaPo news video. A nice surprise for me when I went to davebrubeck.com and heard seasonal music playing. More obits from Auntie Beeb, the Guardian, The San Francisco Chronicle. And here is his YouTube channel.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Parody is not my kinda music, but it's fun anyway.
Ditto this Shot-for-shot remake of the intro for The Prisoner.

Among the many wonders currently showing at The Mary Sue, Neil Patrick Harris tells Doctor Nathan Fillion Mayfair about his Puppet Dreams. Also, a nice picture of Neil Gaiman having breakfast with Matt Smith, Lego characters from The Hobbit, and the exciting news that the trailer for Star Trek Into The Darkness is narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Christmas lights

05 December 2012

Do they know it's Christmas?

Here's Digby with the Cliff's Notes on what "the Bowles plan" really says, and of course it's still all about cutting national economic security insurance as a fake trade-off for raising the top marginal rate very slightly. Anyone who's talking about chained CPI and raising the Medicare eligibility age is (a) immoral and (b) fiscally irresponsible, so whatever he and his friends have to say should just get laughed out of the room - and that's if it's your intention to be polite. Atrios called raising the age for Medicare "The Worst Idea In The World", and he's not wrong:

Obviously the opinion of this righteous blogger is that we should have Medicare for all, or be incrementally lowering the eligibility age, but now it appears we're getting into the crazy season and the Very Serious People have decided that increasing the age is the appropriate punishment for the olds for being olds.

No one listens to me, but one thing people should consider is significant numbers of married couples have one spouse with decent employer-based insurance which covers them both. Also, significant numbers of married couples are separated by a few years, with the older spouse being the one with the employer-based insurance.This is an issue already, of course, but if you increase the eligibility age it becomes even more of an issue. How does that 57 year old spouse of a 67 year old retiree get health insurance?Yes the great and glorious era of Obamacare will (hopefully) improve the individual market for health insurance a bit. But it's still going to cost. A lot.

And anyone who would listen to someone like Erskine Bowles rather than that righteous blogger should also be laughed out of the room, Mr. President.

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Marcy Wheeler (emptywheel) and Joan McCarter (McJoan) were panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays and wondered if there's any way to make people like Carl Levin pay attention.

Sam Seder talked to Sarah Jaffe on The Majority Report about the fast-food workers' strike.

"Congress Betrays The U.S. STEM Worker Once Again: "The House of Representatives is out to destroy the American Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Professional. Republicans passed H.R. 6429 with the oxymoron title, STEM Jobs Act of 2012. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and this bill gives 55,000 foreigners a year who graduate from an American university with a Masters or PhD in these fields an employment sponsored green card. " They'd rather have guest workers rather than Americans in jobs.

Zach Carter has been Liveblogging The Rating Agencies Hearing: "Buffett just offered a standard defense of Corporate America that allows companies to do terrible things without any accountability. Buffett is the largest shareholder in Moody's. He says over and over again that he believes in due diligence-- making sure you understand what you invest in. But Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Phil Angelides pressed Buffett on whether he knew or should have known Moody's was doing terribly reckless things that endangered the global economy. Buffutt responded that he didn't know, and he couldn't be expected to know. Companies are complicated, and no shareholder can understand everything that a company is up to. This is an astonishing statement in a couple of respects. First, rating securities is the business Moody's is in, and they screwed up just about every aspect of that business they could have, from corporate debt to synthetic CDOs. This was not one employee somewhere misunderstanding one deal-- this was the entire company missing every aspect of its business. But here's the bigger question: shareholders are owners. If the largest shareholder doesn't know what a company is up to, and can't be expected to, how can you possibly expect that corporation to ever act in a responsible way?"

Dean Baker, reporting on the continuing decline in the quality of the conservative Washington Post and New York Times, notes that they've produced a front-page editorial on the deficit in which many assertions are made without facts to back them up (because there aren't any), as well as one that tells us we are about to have too few workers and too many workers.

"Why Isn't Austerity For The Greedy CEOs of Fix The Debt? [...] Show this to your relatives who still think this whole austerity "crisis" is real."

David Kay Johnston on "Bad Connections: SINCE 1974, when the Justice Department sued to break up the Ma Bell phone monopoly, Americans have been told that competition in telecommunications would produce innovation, better service and lower prices. What we've witnessed instead is low-quality service and prices that are higher than a truly competitive market would bring. After a brief fling with competition, ownership has reconcentrated into a stodgy duopoly of Bell Twins - AT&T and Verizon. Now, thanks to new government rules, each in effect has become the leader of its own cartel. [...] On average, for instance, a triple-play package that bundles Internet, telephone and television sells for $160 a month with taxes. In France the equivalent costs just $38. For that low price the French also get long distance to 70 foreign countries, not merely one; worldwide television, not just domestic; and an Internet that's 20 times faster uploading data and 10 times faster downloading it. [...] But the problem is more immediate for consumers. That's because both of these cartels are telling lawmakers that they need less regulation, not more. A lighter government hand, they say, will mean more competition and yield a better deal for consumers. In practice, though, deregulation has meant new regulations - written by corporations and for corporations - that have often thwarted competition and run roughshod over the customer. "

"How Cellphone Companies Have Resisted Rules for Disasters: In a natural disaster or other emergency, one of the first things you're likely to reach for is your cellphone. Landlines are disappearing. More than 30 percent of American households now rely exclusively on cellphones. Despite that, cell carriers have successfully pushed back against rules on what they have to do in a disaster. The carriers instead insist that emergency standards should be voluntary, an approach the Federal Communications Commission has gone along with. [...] 'Traditional carriers had reliability requirements, and reporting requirements,' says Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a former technology adviser to President Obama. 'We treat wireless and broadband much differently.'"

If I were Julian Assange and some nitwit interviewer was trying to turn a discussion of the security states and press freedom into an argument about the press freedom in the country that happened to be protecting me from being thrown into some sort of US gulag forever, I'd ask just what country has a pristine record on press freedom and transparency, and noting that this is precisely the point: the problem has become universal, and the reach of the worst offenders is long.

"Shorter Everybody: We must replace this economy killing deficit reduction plan with an economy killing deficit reduction plan." - Atrios

Marcy Wheeler, "The War on Drugs Other Countries' Ruthless Vicious Capitalists: "But both Blackwell and Hillary suffer from a definitional problem. As a commenter here recently noted, drug cartels are actually not cartels; that's part of why the competition between various gangs is so violent. So it can't be the 'cartel structures' that distinguishes gangs from other capitalist enterprises (many of which are much closer to cartels than drug gangs) that operate ruthlessly. And while most purportedly legitimate businesses don't kidnap (they leave that to the US government!), they do extort, though that usually takes the form of threats to take away market access. At some point, when you take the violence away, the drug networks look like a significant group of very respectable American capitalist enterprises that use vicious techniques - that at least should and probably are illegal - to make money. At some point in this stage of the war on drug capitalists, we're going to have to get a lot more specific about what makes these capitalists bad even though they use many of the same approaches the capitalists running our own country use." (via)

Some interesting stories are being told about how Obama won the election, but stories about how Obama got 140% of the vote are nothing but a load of myths based on a lack of simple arithmetic and language skills. For example, there is a significant difference between the meaning of "ballot pages" and "voters". (And while I'm over at The Bradblog, check out this exchange between the loathsome David Horowitz and Brad himself on a BTR show in which Horowitz supplies an anecdote which would in no way be solved by Voter ID, and which he refuses to back up - and has a temper tantrum when pressed to do so. Long-time readers will remember that Horowitz has a special place in my heart after his earlier, successful work of eliminating the civics curriculum in public schools.)

Will legalization of marijuana in individual state lead to wholesale border bleed?

Ian Welsh tells us to "Default to Kindness." Perhaps it is a companion piece to his "The Gaza Reminder". (He also has "Some Words on the Republican Party", and "Another note on Republicans".)

PNH on the Twinkie Hustle: "This story has been much circulated on Twitter and elsewhere, but if you actually look at it in detail -- even on a site as reflexively pro-business and anti-union as CNN Money -- several things are clear. First, this is a maneuver in a bankruptcy-court game of chicken. Second, it's a maneuver in an extended piece of union-busting. Third and most pertinent to the silly headlines being attached to this story, there is approximately 0.00% chance that this is actually the "end of the line" for venerable brands like Twinkies, Drake's Devil Dogs, and Wonder Bread. Appalling though these products are, their long-established popularity means that they own miles and miles of space in grocery-store planograms all over America. So someone is going to keep making these products under these brands. What's happening here is that the current ownership of Hostess Brands is trying to get the best deal it can in an ongoing bankruptcy proceeding, and is taking the opportunity to get a nice unions-spoil-everything narrative into the national media."

Editorial cartoon by Hurwitt.

How tall can a Lego tower get? I had no idea there was such a thing as a "certified Lego builder". And, of course, 'tis the season for the Lego Christmas tree. (Single shot here.) But that was last year at St. Pancras. This year, in Covent Garden, there's the Lego Advent Calendar. Also, of course, lights. Speaking of which, I was in Oxford Circus the other night, and this year's lights are pretty. (They had a big famous pop star turn those on.

Looks like I missed doing a post for Advent itself, but here's a song until I get around to the traditional Advent calendar haul.