Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Stinkin' to high Heaven

Sam Seder interviewed Director of Strategy for Free Press activist Tim Karr (@TimKarr), and they talked about Obama's new pick for FCC Chair on The Majority Report.

David Dayen says, "Turns out much-hyped settlement still allows banks to steal homes [...] But new evidence reveals the nation's largest banks have apparently continued to fabricate documents, rip off customers and illegally kick people out of their homes, even after inking a series of settlements over the same abuses. And the worst part of it all is that the main settlement over foreclosure fraud was so weakly written that it actually allows such criminal conduct to occur, at least up to a certain threshold. Potentially hundreds of thousands of homes could be effectively stolen by the big banks without any sanctions."

Yves Smith on Obama's Patronage System: Pritzker Nomination for Commerce Department, Limp-Wristed Dodd Frank: "The consternation at the not-exactly-a-surprise nomination of billionaire Penny Pritzker to be Commerce Secretary, is sadly much less than is warranted. That suggests that the Forbes 400 member will survive her confirmation hearings. And in a telling bit of synchronicity, last week some fauxgressives set about amplifying an article in the Nation that big bank lobbying efforts were the reason Dodd Frank was amounting to very little. As we'll discuss, both reflect how much Obama supports the interests of the FIRE sector (finance, insurance, and real estate). Dodd Frank is failing because it was designed to fail; the banks getting to have as much influence over it as they have is a feature, not a bug."

"Texas plant that blew up carried $1M policy: Tyler lawyer Randy C. Roberts said he and other attorneys who have filed lawsuits against West Fertilizer's owners were told Thursday that the plant carried only $1 million in liability insurance. Brook Laskey, an attorney hired by the plant's insurer to represent West Fertilizer Co., confirmed the amount Saturday in an email to The Associated Press, after the Dallas Morning News first reported it. 'The bottom line is, this lack of insurance coverage is just consistent with the overall lack of responsibility we've seen from the fertilizer plant, starting from the fact that from day one they have yet to acknowledge responsibility,' Roberts said."

Howard Kurtz got fired from The Daily Beast, but he should never have been paid as a journalist. Robert Parry: "However, the more salient point is that Kurtz, who continues to host CNN's 'Reliable Sources' show, should never have achieved the level of influence in journalism that he did. Throughout his career, he has consistently - and unfairly - punished journalists who had the courage to ask tough questions and pursue truly important stories. When one looks at the mess that is modern journalism in the United States, a chief culprit has been Howard Kurtz. Yet, his downfall did not come because of his smearing of fellow journalists - like Gary Webb and Helen Thomas - but rather from a blog post that unfairly criticized basketball player Jason Collins after he revealed that he was gay."

Also from that fabulous stable of brilliant writers at The Daily Beast, Niall Ferguson had to walk-back his assertion that John Maynard Keynes didn't care about future generations because he was gay, a surmise that is unsupported by any facts. (Thanks to commenter CMike for reminding us of Keynes 1930 essay "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren" [.pdf].) His apologies that imply a momentary lapse or a lame off-the-cuff joke don't really wash when you know he has a long history of doing the same, and he sure didn't seem to be joking.

When Your Boss Steals Your Wages: The Invisible Epidemic That's Sweeping America - and yeah, they really are. So, first they steal our houses, and then....

Juan Cole on "The Incredible Shrinking Cost of Solar Energy".

The Grauniad has an interview with Krugman on the occasion of the publication of the second edition of his End This Depression Now. Random quote: "Some people say a fiscal stimulus will create a new housing bubble, but there haven't been many houses built in the last five years. They say workers have out-of-date skills. But history tells us that if you create jobs people will fill them." Fair enough, but the interviewer doesn't seem to get it (thinks Krugman's view lacks circumspection) and Krugman gives way too much credit to the forgetfulness of economists.

Dean Baker shows you why "technocracy" was always a stupid idea: "Larry Summers Says that Reinhart-Rogoff Type Mistakes Are "Distressingly Common" Then Goes on to Prove His Point."

"Enlisted sailors forced out while Navy has more admirals than ships: Norfolk, Va. - In World War II, there were 30 Navy ships for every admiral. Now, the Navy has more admirals than ships. That's a point not lost on Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner. 'I want to see the Pentagon cut back on some of this "brass creep" both in terms of numbers and some of these perks,' Warner said."

Maybe Obama just started out bad on economic issues and became bad on everything else as well, or maybe he was always as creepy as his policies have been, but I do agree that he is even weirder than Nixon.

Brian Cox is bigger on the outside.

Neat Alternative Limb Project photos.

Loudon Wainwright, live


  1. I think Obama learned a lesson from Bill Clinton and G.W. Bush:

    You can get away with anything in this country, as long as you make sure the big corporations get what they want.

    And the last thing you need to worry about is the opinion of Democratic voters, they'll have to vote for you no matter what (and there's a large establishment set up to tell them this very thing).

    1. Well well.

      Huh. I wonder why the disparity? I don't suppose it might be because the Democrats have been consistently betraying their own values? No, of course not.

      I suppose they all figure that the Democrats have nowhere to go so to hell with them.

      - Digby

      I'm not as optimistic as Digby about primary challenges. The Democratic party is rotten to the core, and I've seen Blue America candidates eagerly grab the corporatist ring as soon at they made it into the club.

    2. Was just reading Ibsen yesterday:

      "What does it mean, having two parties here? It means that, on the one hand, we have certain people or families enjoying the ordinary advantages of citizenship--I mean property, independence, and a share of power--that's the party I belong to. On the other hand, there are plenty of our younger fellow-citizens who would like to acquire these advantages--that's your party. But you will quite naturally and properly pass out of that party when you acquire a share of power and establish yourself securely as a man of property."

      The League of Youth, 1869

    3. His An Enemy of the People is still timely.

  2. Speaking of solar power, no one spreads the sunshine like Chris Hedges:

    The world has been turned upside down. The pestilence of corporate totalitarianism is spreading rapidly over the earth. The criminals have seized power. It is not, in the end, simply Assange or Manning they want. It is all who dare to defy the official narrative, to expose the big lie of the global corporate state. The persecution of Assange and Manning is the harbinger of what is to come, the rise of a bitter world where criminals in Brooks Brothers suits and gangsters in beribboned military uniforms—propped up by a vast internal and external security apparatus, a compliant press and a morally bankrupt political elite—monitor and crush those who dissent. Writers, artists, actors, journalists, scientists, intellectuals and workers will be forced to obey or thrown into bondage. I fear for Julian Assange. I fear for Bradley Manning. I fear for us all.

    B/C Truthdig is notoriously difficult to load:

    1. >>>>>Patrick Sims, a director in policy research at Hamilton Place Strategies, argued a short-term loan from the discount window during a time of crisis is not at all comparable to a long-term student loan....

      “Using something completely unrelated and feeding into populist animosity toward large banks to increase the sympathy for the student loan body or students in general, it just kind of sounds like a weird way to legislate,” Sims said. “I don’t know if it necessarily helps our student loan situation in the United States today.”

      ...Under Warren’s proposal, the Fed would make funds available to the Education Department for one year to make loans to students at the same rate offered to large banks.

      She noted that large banks can currently borrow from the Fed’s discount window at a rate of about 0.75 percent, but if the rate for new Stafford loans increases — as it is set to do on July 1 — a student borrower seeking a loan this summer will pay almost 7 percent.

      “In other words, the federal government is going to charge students interest rates that are nine times higher than the rates for the biggest banks — the same banks that destroyed millions of jobs and nearly broke this economy,” she said. “That isn’t right.”

    2. jcapan, one can see the future of the United States in Honduras. That is one of the places on earth where inequality is enormous, any sense of morality by the upper classes has collapsed, and corporate libertarianism is in the saddle. People who resist are shot down. Death squads operate freely. A number of the oligarchs traffic in narcotics with the full knowledge of the United States.

      But in the midst of that nightmare, there is also unmatched solidarity and decency, often by those who one would expect to be cowed and desperate. Hedges should look to that and discover a reason to hope even amid all the reasons to fear.

    3. I've always said Roubini has nothing on Hedges, the real Dr. Doom. Roubini may speak like the reaper but Hedges is just incapable of leavening his prose. Always makes me grab for a bottle.

      That said, Charles, you would agree that far too many Americans have yet to awake to our obvious trajectory, right? Maybe what's necessary to jolt them awake to creeping fascism and biosphere collapse. I'm no Christian but Flannery O'Connor said something once that comes to mind:

      "The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock -- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

    4. I prefer the Joe Lyles approach, sum it up simply as the plutocratic elite, and their upper middle-class fellow travelers, are "cheap labor conservatives." I would add that it is an increase in the size of their share of society's wealth that these conservatives are always after, any increase in the actual wealth coming their way from that pursuit is just a bonus. The wealthy's sense of well-being and security is derived not from their having more of anything in particular but from their having more wealth than the vast majority of everyone else and they are right that it is the degree of wealth inequality, itself, which determines how much control they, the wealthy few, have over governments and other institutions.

      Hedges' writings are great for readers like the ones who follow the threads here. I read him faithfully. However Hedges and the left, generally, are given to suggest that it's necessary to follow the twists and turns of the lives of activists and grasp the meta concepts behind certain legal and sociological issues in order to get clued in to what's going on. Both Hedges' sophisticated analysis and his tone end up being hard to organize a movement around. Better to keep the lead simple each time, I think, and add on any sophisticated analysis only from there.

    5. CMike, I think the earlier version of your comment mentioned something about our time being ltd. Obviously, I'm not seriously putting Hedges FWD as a spokesman for a would-be movement. His audience is obviously fellow radicals and to that end it's good, albeit depressing stuff. It's also nice to read folks like him, Greenwald etc. b/c someone has to call partisan democrats on their overwhelming hypocrisy and b-s.

      On the other hand, there is no movement and I'm afraid some really bad shit is already coming down the pike. The message is essential, yes, but so is the messenger (IMO it can't be the democrats anymore) and the audience--the masses vs. voters/dem voters. And given that any alternatives to the ballot box have seemingly been outlawed, well, shit aren't we back at the despair slurpee machine? I mean, 1984 could have had a happy ending but it wouldn't have seemed right. Perhaps we're all just striving to latch onto something, anything in the face of a rather horrid nightmare. I'm sure you read Jared Diamond's Collapse--didn't his closing section on reasons for hope ring false. I think we have to be brutally frank with people about what the future entails or we risk becoming as vile as Obama lying to them about restored prosperity and opportunity.

      In any event, nice reading a rare full comment of yours.

    6. Yeah, when I came back and read over my first version of that comment I felt I had to clean it up. Ordinarily when I do that I try to resist changing the content but I had written something which, upon reading over, sounded so drama kingish that I had to leave it out of the second version, something like "the hour is late." That I posted any of this is because I realized my first comment in this thread must have struck you as a non sequitur. I had been thinking that piece involving Sen. Warren was related but also was a story that people could get their heads around a little easier, with and actual way forward, than the Wikileaks one Hedges was telling.

      Speaking of simplifying things and Glenn Greenwald, here he is during his recent appearance on Bill Moyers: making a fundamental point easy enough for most any English speaking adult to understand and to repeat themselves in conversation:

      >>>>>So again, the surveillance state doesn't really do much in terms of giving us lots of security. But what it does do, is it destroys the notion of privacy, which is the area in which human creativity and dissent and challenges to orthodoxy all reside. The way things are supposed to work is we're supposed to know everything that the government does with rare exception, that's why they're called the public sector.

      And they're supposed to know almost nothing about us, which is why we're private individuals, unless there's evidence that we've committed a crime. This has been completely reversed, so that we know almost nothing about what the government does.

      It operates behind this impenetrable wall of secrecy, while they know everything about what it is we're doing, with whom we're speaking and communicating, what we're reading. And this imbalance, this reversal of transparency and secrecy and the way things are supposed to work, has really altered the relationship between the citizenry and the government in very profound ways.

      And yes, I very much agree with your take on Jared Diamond. The examples aren't coming readily to mind but I know I've seen that with several scholars. I know they are smarter and better educated than I am they end up with their take on current affairs revealing that they either are not very sophisticated in analyzing politics or not entirely sincere when talking to the masses. It may be the former, Paul Krugman, for one, was really out to lunch during the eighties and nineties:

      >>>>>“I feel now like I was sleepwalking through the twenty years before 2000,” he says. “I knew that there was a right-left division, I had a pretty good sense that people like Dick Armey were not good to have rational discussion with, but I didn’t really have a sense of how deep the divide went.”

      For the first twenty years of Krugman’s adult life, his world was divided not into left and right but into smart and stupid.

    7. CMike, a few pts. in response:

      1) I saw the connection in your first comment but when you speak of what "people can get their heads around" I hear you, but again who is Hedges talking to and who are we? What we say to one another and how we convey the reality of corporatism to the masses may not overlap (if our Venn even has two circles). And while I'm a firm believer in class being the unifying force or key log of any future movement, civil liberties and our consistently heinous policies abroad also animate my thinking. And they're obviously interconnected given that trillions of American taxpayer dollars are still funding the lunacy that Assange so mercilessly exposed.

      Joe Manchin, Democrat, WV:

      "You're thinking we're winding down. You think we're out of Iraq? Maybe boots and uniforms we might be, but we're probably 30,000-plus strong contractors. You think we're downsizing in Afghanistan? We are. Military. We're still 100,000-strong contractors."

      2) Thanks for the link to GG--I'd not seen it. It is, as you said, a wonderful framing of a reality few on the left have been able to articulate. If you want to see him again at his finest check out this dismantling of Bill Maher, one of the more tedious human beings on the planet:

      3) Spot on, that last line about Krugman but I'm not so sure most of us are that much better. The American left has an almost pathological aversion to talking to the very people we most need to reach. Finally, given the police state on display recently in Boston, overwhelmingly validated by the media and almost uniformly supported by the duopoly, given that there is currently no vehicle whatsoever to counterbalance the massive shift to the right, and finally given obvious climatological tipping points, let's just say getting your drama king on wouldn't bother me much.

    8. 1) My point about Hedges is that given his background and talent, if not he then who is going to make the left's overarching case effectively to the broader public?

      2) In what I assume was GG's last appearance as a guest on CNN back in December, 2010 and coming full circle in the matter of Wikileaks, here's a clip of Greenwald at what I think has been his on-air finest. [LINK]

  3. This looks like a job for Stuart Zechman. [Link]

  4. jcapan, a belated reply to "That said, Charles, you would agree that far too many Americans have yet to awake to our obvious trajectory [toward a collapse of democracy], right? "

    What I think too many Americans are still asleep to is the power they have. As you say, Hedges makes one want to reach for a bottle. The problems are too big, the evil of the elites too total.

    But the reason we are in this mess is because the American people stopped using the power they have. Getting people up to speed on what is going on and how they can help to change it is all that really stands in the way of solving the problems. The elite is not monolithic and most of the people in it aren't so evil that they actually want to kill the golden goose. I actually think most Americans are awake to the fact that the system is falling apart, which is why so many are either depressed or engaged in misguided efforts to fix things (like the Tea Party).

    1. Well, I'm not above admitting that Hedges' work is resonant for me b/c I've got a fairly bleak worldview myself. Trust that it's no fun. But self-awareness cuts both way--some of us have overly sanguine views. I'd say there's plenty of call for alarmism already, especially where climate change is concerned.

      I'll concede your last pt. Maybe it's the tribalists that seem incapable of facing reality. I was reading commentary among partisan dems earlier today in reaction to the AP scandal and there wasn't a word of outrage--substitute Ashcroft for Holder and they'd have been leaping like poodles. These people deserve a violent a wake up call though I don't think they're the folks who are going to bring about change. It's the non-voters or those alienated from our broken system that afford us some hope. And I think you're right--they're already awake. Thus far, they've simply not found a successful vehicle that can harness their energies and outrage. That's what we need to build.

    2. I've always believed that one cannot build genuine solidarity by shouting people down, jcapan. But tribalism is a response to the chronic weakness on the left due to constant squabbling. Everyone should feel free to disagree, but if disagreement is not done respectfully, it's destructive. Most activists, left or right, sacrifice a lot, and it's terribly discouraging to be attacked by people who should be on one's side.

      As for AP, it's hard for me to get too excited. The federal government is intercepting and logging everyone's phone call information, and has been ever since Total Information Awareness was illegally implemented. The AP is furious only because it thought it was part of the government's team and therefore exempt. So, yes, it's a disappointment that Obama failed to close this sort of thing down. On the other hand, is he really running the government?

    3. Well, Charles, we'll have to agree to disagree. There's shirt vs. skin tribalism, which does nothing but serve power. This is the banal stuff of Swampland commentary. But there is an actual "left" in America and it has very little in common with apologists for neo-liberalism. And where civil liberties and permanent war are concerned let's be more precise--Obama (as minion or architect) is Cheney's kissing cousin. I mean, if you can't call out folks down with such egregious betrayals of liberalism and justice.... And where does harmony get you exactly, given that liberals haven't held actual power in generations? We should all sit down and sing Kumbaya when the end result is always an end around past liberal objectives and further to the right? At what pt. do we jeopardize our precious solidarity, after the grand bargain is achieved, after he opts to bomb another poor, brown nation (with his Pentagon chief, I shit you not, promising another decade or TWO, all without congressional/democratic checks on such power). You're using this term "left" but I'm afraid it's a bit unwieldy. Obama/his apologists have been shitting on the left since he got elected. What should we do in the face of Obama's DOJ coordinating crackdowns on OWS, in the face of his efforts to dismantle the New Deal and wage war indefinitely, all the while insulting those of us who dare to question his authority. What's worse--by not clearly breaking with him he's come to represent liberalism in America. So the next time an authentic liberal is running for office, folks will say, shit, liberalism didn't do shit for me during 8 years under Obama... In the end, I'm afraid I can't figure out how anything I've said is "discouraging" b/c my targets have absolutely nothing in common with the liberal-left.

      And of course I'm aware of the long history of TIA--what I'm pointing out is the mindboggling hypocrisy among pseudo liberals. These are the tribalists. There is nothing their vaunted leader could do that would threaten their support, nothing. And I'm telling you right now, if such supporters' notion of social justice is that badly misplaced, then they're highly unlikely to be part of a movement that radically remakes America, if that's even possible anymore.

      As for a shadowy cabal running, at the least, our foreign policy, it doesn't really matter. Someone briefed him about this before/after he took office and he signed on. He's done virtually nothing to question the status quo (barbarous empire) and if that's b/c he fears the consequences, well, fuck him. Cuz if you like, I could share some really tasteful photos of dead children bombed on his OK, joked about no less.

    4. I'm all in favor of calling out policies, jcapan, and even leaders as individuals when their policies become too egregious. The leaders are big boys/girls and they get paid well to suffer the indignity of being called wankers in public. It's the solidarity in the grassroots that matters, and it's in grassroots interactions that respect is needed.

      I don't think Obama's a liberal, and I don't think most people think he is. The word "liberal" is still powerfully unpopular among many independents (you wouldn't believe how wide-spread Pelosi hate is, even though people agree with her on issues).

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  6. Adding: I simply don't know if Obama is running the government. In the Honduras coup, it really seemed as if he was blindsided. The Ambassador clearly was. My tentative conclusion is that the coup was ordered by the military/intelligence and sold to civilian leaders after the fact. That's pure speculation unsupported by any substantive facts, but the events of the last 20-some years would make more sense if it turned out that the civilian leadership was window dressing. So I consider it a working hypothesis.