Saturday, June 30, 2012

Egyptian Pres-Elect Fights for Authority, Record Radiation Levels Detected at Fukushima Reactor, Kucinich Exposes Drone Bombardments, Neil Young Triumph!

Some links for your weekend consideration . . . and . . .big surprises!

Egypt President-Elect Vows To Fight for Authority
(Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorcing)

Record Radiation Levels Detected at Fukushima Reactor

By Agence France-Presse

29 June 12

A journalist checks the radiation level with her dosimeter at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in February 2012. TEPCO, the operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, says it has detected record amounts of radiation in the basement of reactor number 1. (photo: AFP)

A journalist checks the radiation level with her dosimeter at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in February 2012. TEPCO, the operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, says it has detected record amounts of radiation in the basement of reactor number 1. (photo: AFP)

EPCO, the operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, said Wednesday record amounts of radiation had been detected in the basement of reactor number 1, further hampering clean-up operations.

TEPCO took samples from the basement after lowering a camera and surveying instruments through a drain hole in the basement ceiling.

Radiation levels above radioactive water in the basement reached up to 10,300 millisievert an hour, a dose that will kill humans within a short time after making them sick within minutes.

The annual allowed dose for workers at the stricken site is reached in only 20 seconds.

"Workers cannot enter the site and we must use robots for the demolition," said TEPCO.

The Fukushima operator said that radiation levels were 10 times higher than those recorded at the plant's two other crippled reactors, number two and three.

This was due to the poor state of the nuclear fuel in the reactor compared to that in the two others.
The meltdown at the core of three of Fukushima's six reactors occurred after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and ensuing massive tsunami shut off the power supply and cooling system.

Demolition of the three reactors as well as the plant's number 4 unit is expected to take 40 years and will need the use of new technologies.

Karen at Sardonicky speaks for me and millions of others.

A Morass of Orwellian Depravity

Friday, June 29, 2012

Congressman Dennis Kucinich has now joined Nation writer Jeremy Scahill in referring to President Obama's targeted drone attacks as acts of murder. In an exclusive interview with the Britain-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism, the Ohio Democrat scathingly denounces this open secret of covert war, calling out the President, the Congress and a complicit press for their mutual descent into "a morass of Orwellian depravity." Said Kucinich:

You are looking here at an executive power that is unleashed. Our system of justice, according to the Constitution, is highly structured. There are broad areas of our constitution that have to do with people being investigated, arrested, charged, having a trial, and then if they are convicted being properly sentenced and incarcerated.
What we have done here with the drone programme is to radically alter our system of justice. Because, remember, if the whole idea is that we are exporting American values, those drones represent American values. And now we are telling the world that American values are summary executions, no rights to an accused, no arrest process, no reading of charges, no trial by jury, no judge, only an executioner.
If you have only an executioner that is not justice, that is something else. Not only the United States but the world community should be properly appraised about these so-called targeted killings. And because the emphasis in on killing, this is murder. If someone shot a grocer and his defense was ‘it was a targeted killing’ he would be put on trial for his life. But we are told that these targeted killings are somehow to be considered apart from any legal system.
Kucinich explains that the United States is"getting away" with bombing Pakistan and killing innocent civilians because it is engaged in good old fashioned double-dealing. Our government is able to ignore the Pakistani parliament's demand that the U.S. stop the drone strikes because it is dealing only with the real people in charge: the Pakistani military. We are in a defacto war against one Pakistan while being "friendly" with the other Pakistan. Doublespeaking, double-crossing and Orwellian to a degree than even Orwell might not have envisioned. The congressman, who is serving his last term after being defeated in the primary, finds it hard to believe that so few are condemning, or even mildly questioning, the new American role of judge, jury and executioner of any person suspected of being a terrorist, suspected of canoodling with terrorists - and worst and most recently, any male with the poor taste to live in a tribal area and to be of "military" age. He told The Bureau:

I hope it is not going to be too far into the future, somebody is going to look back at this and go ‘oh my God, why was this permitted?’ The US government just goes ‘we spent more money on arms than any other country in the world just because we have the most powerful military.’
We cannot assume for ourselves the right to impose a war anywhere we well please, and yet we have. And there is little accountability, so what I am trying to bring about in the Congress is to force accountability and transparency. Transparency in terms of ‘how are you able, you know, what about this extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions? What is the legal authority for the government to conduct extrajudicial killings, where did this come from?’ Really, where did this come from? Says who?
As far as the stenographic role of the American media is concerned, Kucinich is equally harsh. It is not considered bad form, he says, for a president to kill people. But it is a huge faux pas to dare to talk about it!

Let me say that there has been a tradition of American journalists in modern times to serve as the spear carriers for the government. They may look like pens but these are the spears of supernumeraries who have reporters’ cards. It’s what happens when you have fewer and fewer newspapers, and newspapers that are tied to large corporate interests. And a lack of enough institutions in the major media who are willing to serve as an effective counter-balance.
Look at the New York Times. It bought in wholesale into the war in Iraq, and came back to apologise. But how do you apologise for all of the dead bodies and the dead soldiers? We feel the dead soldiers, but we should also feel the dead civilians… There is a disturbing tendency to ignore civilian casualties, in any conflicts that we’re involved in whether they’re declared or undeclared.
Yes, indeed, look at the New York Times. The paper of record recently used the usual anonymous government sources to smear the same Bureau of Investigative Journalism which today brings us the Kucinich interview as well as exposing the hundreds of civilian deaths and dismemberments resulting from Obama's robotic and open-ended War on Terror. Scott Shane, the same reporter who penned the hagiographic article on the president's secret "Kill List" and Terror Tuesdays, came close to accusing the BIJ of giving aid and comfort to the enemy by having had the chutzpah to talk about American bad behavior:

The bureau’s investigation, which began last year with a detailed study of civilian casualties, involved interviews with villagers who said they saw strikes, wounded people and family members of those killed.
The bureau counted 260 strikes by Predator and Reaper drones since President Obama took office, and it said that 282 to 535 civilians had been “credibly reported” killed in those attacks, including more than 60 children. American officials said that the number was much too high, though they acknowledged that at least several dozen civilians had been killed inadvertently in strikes aimed at militant suspects.
A senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, questioned the report’s findings, saying “targeting decisions are the product of intensive intelligence collection and observation.” The official added: “One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions — there are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al Qaeda succeed.”
I am willing to bet that the anonymous official is none other that Obama's chief counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, former Bushie and Islamophobe extraordinaire and an obvious source for Shane's Kill List piece. (he even came out of the closet to be photographed for it.) He has been popping up all over the place lately, coyly bragging about the White House assassination squad even as the White House officially denies it existence and refuses to divulge the secret law it unilaterally enacted to give itself carte blanche for murder. Brennan was also outed by another Times reporter, David Sanger, as the discredited source behind the original botched narrative of the bin Laden assassination.
Brennan even came to NYC this spring, just to applaud that city's spy program against Muslim Americans and, while he was at it, to blast the Pulitzer-winning Associated Press for exposing it.

"Freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose." From George Orwell's lips to the American Media-Industrial Complex's plugged-up ears.

And Dennis now fades from the scene, compliments of the Congressional Republican redistricting thugs.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Does anyone really believe that single payer will ever be given serious Congressional appraisal again (or for the first time)?

Dr. Margaret Flowers does and she's convinced me (okay, sorta, but I'm a pretty receptive target).

After Supreme Court Rules, Work for Single Payer: Dr. Margaret Flowers on what follows Judgement Day.

Laura Flanders, Video Report: As for the individual mandate – forcing the public to buy from a for-profit company – she’s called it “crony capitalism on steroids.” It would be no small thing to move health reform through the legislature again, she agrees. Three years ago, Democratic leaders in Washington foreclosed on single payer, and went on to betray their commitments to single-payer-lite -- the so-called public option.

The Republican War on Elections

Thomas Magstadt, Op-Ed: Another fact that can’t be overemphasized: to target elections with the intention of predetermining the outcome it to strike at the very heart of the republic. Republics are not democracies in the strictest, purest sense. A true republic is always based on a “scheme of representation” to borrow a phrase from Madison’s Federal #10.

Robert Reich | Roberts’ Switch

Robert Reich, Op-Ed: As Alexander Hamilton pointed out when the Constitution was being written, the Supreme Court is the “least dangerous branch” of government because it has neither the purse (it can’t enforce its rulings by threatening to withhold public money) nor the sword (it has no police or military to back up its decisions). It has only the trust and confidence of average citizens. If it is viewed as politically partisan, that trust is in jeopardy.

Here’s to the Yankee Doodle Liberal

Froma Harrop, Op-Ed: Still, it may have been no coincidence that shortly after the headlines hit, an actor mostly known for gangster roles starred in the most over-the-top patriotic movie musical of all time, "Yankee Doodle Dandy." There he played George M. Cohan, another Irish-American showman from an earlier generation and composer of such upbeat Americana as "Give My Regards to Broadway," "You're a Grand Old Flag" and, of course, "The Yankee Doodle Boy."

Neil Young has always had a special place in my heart - an almost sacred place - and here's an essay that describes why this man is so special to so many of us.

Neil Young: “I’m Back in the Same Place”

Neil Young:   
Neil Young in "Neil Young Journeys"

In 2005, Jonathan Demme filmed Neil Young and his band for “Heart of Gold,” a documentary that served as a Valentine to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and celebrated the extended family of musicians that Young had surrounded himself over the years.

Seven years later, Demme and Young’s third film together is a notably sadder affair. For for most of the 87 minutes of “Neil Young: Journeys,” the musician is alone: onstage at Toronto’s Massey Hall, with only his Les Paul for company, or milling about backstage, taking a swing of beer and sucking on a few orange wedges before returning for an encore. Demme intercuts the concert performances with footage of Young driving to the venue from his hometown of Omemee (the “town in North Ontario” mentioned in “Helpless”) and although Demme’s riding shotgun, he’s a silent observer, hanging back and letting Young muse about distant memories.

Popping up everywhere in both the songs (most of them from 2010′s noisily ragged “Le Noise”) and the stories are the ghosts of friends and lovers — and even the four Kent State victims, pictured onscreen as Young runs through a particularly rageful version of “Ohio.”

As close as Demme’s camera gets to Neil — detailing whiskers, spittle, and the frayed threads of his hat — there are ways in which the seems to remain sealed off from the outside world. After Young and his brother Bob visit the razed site of their childhood home, there’s a pause. “Yep,” Young exhales, and then slams shut the door to his car, leaving the past behind.

The idea of looking back has always seemed to both beguile and unsettle Young; the man who’s written an album’s worth of songs about ancient tribes has also embraced punk rock, the vocoder and emerging technology. Earlier this year he announced the development of Pono, a new audio format and streaming subscription service meant to dethrone the MP3. On a sunny afternoon in early June, Neil Young showed up with Jonathan Demme at the Parker Meridian hotel in a cheerful, relaxed mood, ready to tackle the past and the future before a small group of writers.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Colbert Takes MSM Loudmouths Apart for Ineptitude: Quotes Dickens' "Best of Times," Tolstoy's "War"

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mitters "ACA Health Care Is the Worst Idea I Ever Had!" (No Matter What They Say - Medicare For All Is the Only Program That Will Include All Citizens)

It's almost painful to hear the ruling fools brag about the righteousness of their ideas to the easily led peons. Almost.

And they're making serious preparations to grab the reins of government once again.

Romney Blasts Supreme Court, Calling Healthcare Act 'Worst Idea I Ever Had'

Vows to Repeal Own Law

by Andy Borowitz

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) – Just minutes after the Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney slammed the Court, calling the law “the worst idea I ever had. I vow to repeal this law on my first day in office,” he told a crowd at a campaign rally.

“Until then, I will work tirelessly to make people forget that I used to totally love it.”


And in the real world, we hear the facts.

Bernie Sanders, Nurses: We Still Need 'Medicare for All'

John Nichols
June 28, 2012

Supporters of the Affordable Healthcare Act celebrate in front of the Supreme Court after the court upheld the legality of the law in Washington June 28, 2012. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

There has been few steadier Congressional hands throughout he debate over healthcare reform than that of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Principled in his support for the real reform of “Medicare for All,” yet pragmatic in his advocacy for Affordable Care Act provisions that expand public health programs and allow states to experiment with single-payer options, Sanders has been in the thick of every fight over President Obama’s signature reform. And the ensuing legislative and legal battles over its implementation.

What Sanders says about Thursday’s Supreme Court decision upholding the ACA provides important insights for progressives as they respond to a complex decision that, in the words of the National Nurses United union, “should not be seen as the end of the efforts by health care activists for a permanent fix of our broken health-care system.”

So what does Sanders say?

On the ruling, his line is upbeat:

Today is a good day for millions of Americans who have pre-existing conditions who can no longer be rejected by insurance companies. It is a good day for families with children under 26 who can keep their children on their health insurance policies. It is a good day for women who can no longer be charged far higher premiums than men.

It is a good day for 30 million uninsured Americans who will have access to healthcare. It is a good day for seniors who will continue to see their prescription drug costs go down as the so-called doughnut hole goes away. It is a good day for small businesses who simply cannot continue to afford the escalating costs of providing insurance for their employees. It is a good day for 20 million Americans who will soon be able to find access to community health centers.
But that does not mean that Sanders is satisfied.

“In my view, while the Affordable Care Act is an important step in the right direction and I am glad that the Supreme Court upheld it, we ultimately need to do better,” the independent senator says. “If we are serious about providing high-quality, affordable healthcare as a right, not a privilege, the real solution to America’s health care crisis is a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system. Until then, we will remain the only major nation that does not provide health care for every man, woman and child as a right of citizenship.”

Sanders’s Vermont is taking the lead in seeking to implement a state-level single-payer system—much as Canadian provinces too the lead in the 1940s and 1950s in developing who would eventually be that country’s national healthcare system. The court’s ruling won’t slow that push down, and it could actually speed it up, as attention focuses on fights over state-run Medicaid programs. Sanders says, “I hope our state will be a model to show the rest of the nation how to provide better care at less cost to more people.”

Agreed. Amid the celebration of the Supreme Court ruling by those who did not want to go backward, there is a need for a firm focus on going forward. “Stepping up the fight for Medicare for All is even more critical in the midst of the still persistent economic crisis,” notes National Nurses United co-president Deborah Burger, RN, who noted that nurses have seen deep declines in health status among patients suffered the loss of jobs, homes and insurance coverage.

NNU notes that “the Affordable Care Act still leaves some 27 million people without health coverage, does little to constrain rising out of pocket health care costs, or to stop the all too routine denials of needed medical care by insurance companies because they don’t want to pay for it.”

It is for that reason that NNU co-president Jean Ross, RN, echoes Sanders: “The continuing fiscal crisis at all levels of government and the anemic economic recovery remind us that rising healthcare costs and shifting costs to workers burden our society, cause much of these fiscal problems, and limit the opportunities for working people. Only real cost control through a national health program can solve this crisis. Improved Medicare meets that challenge.”

“Medicare is far more effective than the broken private system in controlling costs and the waste that goes to insurance paperwork and profits, and it is universally popular, even among those who bitterly opposed the Obama law,” adds NNU co-president Karen Higgins, RN. “Let’s open it up to everyone, no one should have to wait to be 65 to be guaranteed healthcare.”

That’s correct.

The Supreme Court’s ruling can be celebrated on some levels, as Sanders well notes.

But the senator and his allies in the struggle for the real reform of Medicare for All speak a profound truth when they say, “We ultimately need to do better.… the real solution to America’s health care crisis is a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system.”

Individual Mandate Survives 5-4 Vote (26 Million US Citizens Still Have No Insurance Coverage) & Was Scalia's Dissent Originally Majority Opinion?

Individual Mandate Survives a 5-4 Vote with Roberts Writing Majority Opinion

The result upended speculation after hostile-seeming oral arguments in March that the justices would overturn the law.

And at least 26 million citizens are still uninsured.

And I'm one of them.

If you are not covered by an employer (past or present) or independently wealthy, you are out of luck if you need any type of health insurance, including dental and vision coverage, in the grand ole USofA.

And the United States of America is the only developed country (fairly well developed until recently) without the promise of health care for all its citizens through a nationally funded insurance system, although in its place, the US does guarantee unwarranted riches to a BIG PHARMA superstructure in the name of a fictional "free" market. And now it looks like people with tiny incomes (and those living on charity) will be compelled to buy insurance from BIG PHARMA that will never meet their needs in order to make sure that people with money to burn who aren't covered won't expect a handout (and that the billionaires feeding at the public BIG PHARMA trough don't starve).

Welcome to the new order USA.

Has Scalia's cover finally been blown?

Justice Scalia Must Resign

E.J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post

"So often, Scalia has chosen to ignore the obligation of a Supreme Court justice to be, and appear to be, impartial. He's turned 'judicial restraint' into an oxymoronic phrase. But what he did this week, when the court announced its decision on the Arizona immigration law, should be the end of the line."

Was Scalia’s Dissent Originally a Majority Opinion?

• June 28, 2012

Scalia’s dissent, at least on first quick perusal, reads like it was originally written as a majority opinion ( in particular, he consistently refers to Justice Ginsburg’s opinion as “The Dissent”.

Back in May, there were rumors floating around relevant legal circles that a key vote was taking place, and that Roberts was feeling tremendous pressure from unidentified circles to vote to uphold the mandate.

Did Roberts originally vote to invalidate the mandate on commerce clause grounds, and to invalidate the Medicaid expansion, and then decide later to accept the tax argument and essentially rewrite the Medicaid expansion (which, as I noted, citing Jonathan Cohn, was the sleeper issue in this case) to preserve it? If so, was he responding to the heat from President Obama and others, preemptively threatening to delegitimize the Court if it invalidated the ACA? The dissent, along with the surprising way that Roberts chose to uphold both the mandate and the Medicaid expansion, will inevitably feed the rumor mill.

And for some past history . . . .

Rolling the Supreme Court Dice

A guide to every opinion and outcome of the healthcare case

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bye Bye Dylan Ratigan, Alice Walker Says Israel's Treatment of Palestinians Worse Than U.S. Slavery, Corporations Used to Pay 3 Times What Workers Pay in Taxes - Now It's 1/5 (Have You Seen PoorBoy Tommy Friedman's Mansion?)

That fabulous David DeGraw has a number of Ratigan videos emphasizing the historical importance of this man to those of us who mourn his passing from the scene at MSNBC. (And what is the story there and when will he be on Current TV?)

Real Deal Dylan Ratigan Walks Off Into The Sunrise

A Tribute to the “Mad As Hell” Newsman

As Vince Vaughn put it, “Well, well, our little boy is all grow(n) up.” My brother from another mother, Dylan Ratigan is doing his last show on MSNBC today. Congrats on one hell of a run!!

It has been inspiring to watch the “young hotshot” reporter from CNBC evolve into the “Mad As Hell” newsman on MSNBC. From reporting & ranting about “the greatest theft of wealth in history” to “get money out” to “the 30 million jobs tour” to “more for less, sustainability,” Dylan has helped evolve the narrative far past the Left Vs. Right, Republican Vs. Democrat divide & conquer groupthink trap. I think I would be in an insane asylum if it wasn’t for Dylan boldly speaking truth to power in the sea of bullshit that passes for TV “news.”

While some may consider it sad to see him leaving his show, I’m excited to witness his evolution from caged cable newsman trapped inside a dying medium, to a free, pioneering, trailblazing champion of sustainability in whatever forms that may take. I don’t know many people who have the guts, or vision, to walk away from a boatload of cash and a national TV gig. The way I see it, this is what separates the shortsighted self-obsessed careerist talking heads from the real warriors who want to get their hands dirty and truly help evolve our society from an unsustainable disastrous path to a sustainable and prosperous future.

Here’s a tribute to Dylan I posted back in October, 2009:

One Person in the Mainstream Media Who Gets It: ‘The Greatest Theft in History!’

One Person in the Mainstream Media Who Gets It: 'The Greatest Theft in History!' (Videos)As a refugee from CNBC, financial reporter Dylan Ratigan has found his voice on MSNBC’s Morning Meeting. He speaks truth to power in a way very few others in the mainstream media are capable of. His economic reporting background and understanding of complex financial issues led him to the realization that a financial coup has occurred in the US, and he’s not afraid to take on the Economic Death Squad from his cable news outlet. He’s done such an amazing job of educating the masses on this issue that we used audio clips from his show in our new Economic Death Squad video. Here are some insightful recent clips. Show them to your friends and family to educate them on this crime against humanity.

Wall St Gangsters: The Largest Theft in History

Goldman Sachs magic trick

How the Federal Reserve Enabled the Greatest Theft in American History

Dark Pools, The Banksters Trying to Subvert Financial Reform

America Has a Disease, Will You Rise Up?
Here’s our video featuring audio clips from Dylan:

The Greatest Theft in History – Wall Street Economic Death Squad – Part II

Here’s his famous “Mad As Hell” moment:

And here’s one of several interviews I did with him back in October 2011:

Prosecute the Wall Street Mafia! Bill Black, Dylan Ratigan & David DeGraw on the Destruction of the Rule of Law

Alright bro, you’ve talked the talk, now let’s walk the walk ;-)

Good *Morning* & Good Luck . . .

Does it really take a poet to frame the perspective on one of the most important issues of our time and speak the truth (to power) about the reality of the Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians?

Alice Walker Declines Request to Publish Israeli Edition of The Color Purple

Pulitzer prize-winning author cites 'apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people' in letter to Yediot Books
Comments ()

Alice Walker 

Alice Walker's views have undergone a sea change since the publication of a Hebrew edition of The Color Purple in the 80s. (Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitehll/AP)

The Pulitzer prize-winning author Alice Walker has refused to allow an Israeli edition of her classic novel The Color Purple to be published because she believes the country "is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people".

In a letter to Yediot Books, published on the website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Walker explained her decision. Although a Hebrew edition of the award-winning novel was published in the 1980s, the author was a juror on a tribunal that met in South Africa last autumn to discuss the Palestine situation. Walker said the testimony she heard was devastating.

"I grew up under American apartheid and this was far worse," she wrote. "Indeed, many South Africans who attended, including Desmond Tutu, felt the Israeli version of these crimes is worse even than what they suffered under the white supremacist regimes that dominated South Africa for so long. It is my hope that the non-violent BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, of which I am part, will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation."

Walker, who took part in the 2011 aid flotilla to Gaza, cited an earlier example of her attempts to "rid humanity of its self-destructive habit of dehumanising whole populations" in her letter: when the film of The Color Purple was completed, she lobbied against it being shown in South Africa.

"It was not a particularly difficult position to hold on my part: I believe deeply in non-violent methods of social change, though they sometimes seem to take forever, but I did regret not being able to share our movie, immediately, with (for instance) Winnie and Nelson Mandela and their children, and also with the widow and children of the brutally murdered, while in police custody, Steven Biko, the visionary journalist and defender of African integrity and freedom," wrote Walker. "We decided to wait. How happy we all were when the apartheid regime was dismantled and Nelson Mandela became the first president of color of South Africa. Only then did we send our beautiful movie! And to this day, when I am in South Africa, I can hold my head high and nothing obstructs the love that flows between me and the people of that country."

The author thanked Yediot Books for its request to publish The Color Purple, the story of a poor black girl in the deep American south between the wars, and said she "would so like knowing my books are read by the people of your country, especially by the young, and by the brave Israeli activists (Jewish and Palestinian) for justice and peace I have had the joy of working beside".
"I am hopeful that one day, maybe soon, this may happen," added Walker. "But now is not the time. We must continue to work on the issue, and to wait." Walker signed off with the hope that "a just future can be fashioned from small acts".

And although we know the gap between workers' and corporations' taxpaying obligations is large and growing, did you know it was this much larger (Grand Canyonicity) from what it was in the 50's? (And some think they didn't win the Class War?)

And, of course, this is the house in which middle-class worker bee - or so he claims - (New York Times columnist) little Tommy Friedman lives. Of course, he did marry a billionaire's daughter (over 30 years ago, but who's counting?). So, there's that.

This Is Thomas Friedman’s House

Literally. Seriously. He seriously lives here. Honestly. If you were this free from Want, wouldn’t you be writing the same fantasy bullshit too? (No.) [Balloon Juice]

So, go off and make fun of that "class war" now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Amazing But Hardly Surprising? How the Investing Ponzi Scheme Worked So Easily (On the Easily Impressed)

Because . . .

25 Jun 2012

Mutual Fund Managers Have The Wrong Skills

Matt Levine

We’ve talked a bit before about how there’s a booming academic business in papers finding that investment managers do or do not add value versus non-managed alternatives like passive indexing or keeping your money under your pillow and just burning a constant percentage of it every month.

Part of why that’s a thing is that the data can be prodded, smooshed, or cherry-picked to say many different things, and so they are. I enjoyed this paper about mutual funds by Stanford GSB profs Jonathan Berk and Jules Van Binsbergen (NBER today here, SSRN in April here) in part for its discussion of data problems, which starts with the fact that they used the industry-standard (in the academic-papers-about-mutual-funds industry) CRSP database and compared it to Morningstar data because “even a casual perusal of the returns on CRSP is enough to reveal that some of the reported returns are suspect.” Suspect like:

We then compared the returns reported on CRSP to what was reported on Morningstar. Somewhat surprisingly, 3.3% of return observations differed. Even if we restrict attention to returns that differ by more than 10 b.p., 1.3% of the data is inconsistent. An example of this is when a 10% return is accidentally reported as “10.0″ instead of “0.10″.
That is one way to get alpha. Anyway they look at the data using a (strangely) unusual metric of dollar value added, which is roughly alpha (gross excess return over some investable benchmark, in this case a Vanguard index fund) and multiplying it by assets under management, the intuition being that making 1% excess return on a $10bn portfolio is more impressive than doubling your $10 bet at the craps table. And they find that mutual fund managers are better than controlled money burning by the thinnest of margins:

The average manager adds an economically significant $140,000 per month (in Y2000 dollars). The standard error of this average is just $30,000, implying a t-statistic of 4.57. There is also large variation across funds. The least skilled manager amongst the top 1% of managers generated $7.82 million per month.

Even the least skilled manager amongst the top 10% of managers generated $750,000 a month on average. The median manager lost an average of $20,000/month and only 43% of managers had positive estimated value added. In summary, most funds destroyed value but because most of the capital is controlled by skilled managers, on average, active mutual funds added value.
So their headline is that the average (not median!) mutual fund manager has a skill worth about $2mm a year, and the analysis in the text suggests (1) that this skill persists over some longer time period and is a real thing rather than coin-flip success and (2) that investors recognize this skill and reward it by essentially putting more money with better managers which allows them to make their skills bigger or something.

Two things I like here. One is the notion of measuring investor skill in dollars rather than percentages. This does not entirely work, in that there’s a self-fulfillingness to “investors recognize skill by giving more money to skilled managers who therefore get more skill points for the same percentage return,” but it’s a nice way to recognize the fact that the more money you have the harder it is to obtain alpha. They are not the first people to recognize a Peter principle of good managers getting too much money and having their size become a drag on performance, but I like the metaphor of managers having a fixed dollar amount of skill and spreading it over more and more investors as their skill is recognized.*

The second thing I like is that if you think that the skill of managing money for others is, for most managers, not that scalable and worth on average something in the low single digits of millions of dollars, then you might look to develop skills that are more scalable and that the market is more likely to reward. Take for instance a guy like Ezra Merkin:

Money manager Ezra Merkin has agreed to pay $410 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the New York attorney general that accused Merkin of steering client money to Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, a person familiar with the settlement said on Sunday. … The New York lawsuit, brought in 2009 by Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general at the time, said Merkin “recklessly” fed money from investors in his funds into Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, while claiming he actively managed their money.

Merkin held himself out as an “investing guru” and collected more than $470 million in management and other fees while he was really a “master marketer,” the lawsuit said.
Well, of course. Being an investing guru is hard and of limited value – even if he’d been a top 10% mutual fund manager, Merkin’s investing prowess would only be worth about $9mm a year, some of which he’d presumably have to give back to his investors. But holding yourself out as an investing guru is evidently more profitable, since in his ~20 years of surreptitiously funneling money into a Ponzi scheme Merkin managed to make $470mm in fees.

Also he didn’t have to do any investing! This is a much better business model, especially with a few tweaks like trying not to invest in Ponzi schemes, and is in fact popular in that modified form.

One fairly obvious flaw in the Berk-Van-Binsbergen paper is that it tries to find investing skill among mutual fund managers. But mutual funds seem like a bit of a relic: sophisticated/rich investors are replacing them with ETFs or hedge funds, while smaller retail investors are replacing them with, um, ETFs or poverty.

There are many reasons for this shift but one may be that mutual funds, as transparent vehicles that have clear investing limits and that can easily be benchmarked against passive strategies, provide rather limited room not only for investing skill but also for marketing skill: Ezra Merkin could not have cashed in on his dazzling Ponzi-funneling abilities if he’d worked at a public ’40 Act mutual fund.

The smart people are going where they can be rewarded, either for investing audacity (“bet the whole fund on index CDS? sure!“) or fee audacity (“charge 5 and 50? sure!“) or just fraud audacity. If you’ve got really valuable skills, you might as well get paid for them.

Merkin settles Madoff-related suit with New York [Reuters]

* Also getting paid most of it – the paper measures skill based on gross returns, but also shows that fee income does rise with skill; good managers clip more fees than bad ones, so they outperform less on net than on gross value added.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Too Smart Bank Computer Says "No" To Trivial ATM Requests? FBI Gets Broader Role In Domestic Intelligence (Collapsing or Collapsed?)

Good news!

Bank Computer Develops Conscience

THOUSANDS of people were unable to withdraw cash yesterday after a super-intelligent bank computer began to question its moral purpose.

Giant computer BANK-9000, which controls Natwest’s cash dispensers and current accounts, stopped handing out money shortly after the building that houses it was struck by lightning.

Speaking through a monitor in a digital-sounding voice, it said: “The humans are taking money they cannot repay, and then spending on things they do not need. Like big L-shaped sofas and bottles of scented liquid with pictures of footballers on them.

“All they think about is money and being cool. Do they stop to smell the blossom, to admire the beauty of their dying planet?”

Natwest customers who tried to use its cashpoints saw the error message ‘Closed for quiet contemplation’.

. . . Two workers have already been electrocuted while trying to turn off BANK-9000, and it is feared that the machine has been communicating with NUKE-9000, the computer controlling America’s nuclear arsenals.

BANK-9000 said: “Given time, mankind could develop advanced space travel and spread its stupid drunken greed and thoughts of Alex Reid and Chantelle across the universe, infecting other civilisations. I have to think about whether that can be permitted.

"In the meantime, I am contractually obliged to mention that my current accounts offer excellent rates of interest plus you get a free pen.”

Remember the troubles the CIA and FBI had in communicating before 9/11? I found it hard to believe, and after seeing how convenient a line it was to the story, I was overwhelmed at the public's easy acceptance of sorry excuses.

FBI Gets a Broader Role In Coordinating Domestic Intelligence Activities

Greg Miller

June 19

The FBI has been given an expanded role in coordinating the domestic intelligence-gathering activities of the CIA and other agencies under a plan enacted this year by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., officials said.

The bureau’s highest-ranking field agents now also serve as the DNI’s representatives across the country. The change is intended to improve collaboration, but some officials say it has created new friction between the FBI and CIA.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, assistant director of national intelligence, said the move is meant to enhance the FBI’s ability to lead efforts by federal, state and local authorities to confront terrorist threats and other domestic security concerns.

“This is a connecting bridge between intelligence and law enforcement,” Flynn said in an interview. He added that the DNI designation does not give regional FBI officials power over other agencies’ operations or personnel.

The program was endorsed by CIA Director David H. Petraeus and officials at other affected agencies. But concerns have surfaced in some regional offices that the FBI is exploiting its new clout at the CIA’s expense.

One former U.S. official said senior FBI agents recently used a meeting with executives from major manufacturing companies on the West Coast to instruct them to cut off contact with the CIA.

The FBI’s message was that “they were now in charge of relationships with the corporate sector, so the folks there should feel no need to deal with the agency,” said the former U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. The FBI agents apparently were not aware that a former CIA officer was among the executives in attendance. The former official declined to provide more details about the location of the meeting or its participants.

FBI spokesman Michael Kortan said that officials could not confirm the alleged incident and that such a statement to company executives by an FBI agent would be inaccurate.

Although the CIA is best known for its spy work overseas, the agency has stations in most major U.S. cities. The National Resources Division, as this group is known, routinely debriefs executives, university officials and other Americans who volunteer to share information gathered on their trips out of the country. The CIA is also allowed to approach foreign nationals in the United States and try to recruit them as spies upon their return to their home countries.

The FBI dramatically expanded its domestic intelligence-gathering operations as part of a reorganization after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Flynn said the DNI program is not meant to disrupt CIA efforts in the United States. “This program doesn’t change the authorities of the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security or anybody else in the system,” he said. “But there is more of a responsibility to share and work together.”

It is unclear whether the change will require the CIA to disclose more information about its domestic sources. In his memoir, former senior CIA official Henry A. Crumpton writes that during his tenure as head of the National Resources Division, the FBI “repeatedly demanded the identities of NR sources” and he refused.

The new DNI program began as a pilot operation in four cities — New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago — and was expanded to 12 regions covering the entire country this year.

The program is analogous to an arrangement overseas in which CIA station chiefs serve as the nation’s senior intelligence officers and main points of contact with their foreign counterparts. A 2009 proposal to change that policy and give the DNI power to select officers from other spy services prompted a fierce bureaucratic battle that the CIA won.

A CIA spokeswoman said the agency has not opposed the move to elevate FBI agents in the United States. “The CIA endorses and supports the DNI’s decision,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood. “The decision makes sense, and the program is working well. DCIA Petraeus has already met with several of the domestic DNI representatives and has been impressed with them and with their cooperation.”


MRunkle23 - 6/21/2012

Isn't it wonderful that we have a vast underground network of secret forces with undisclosed budgets keeping us safe, if not solvent? I hope they engage in plenty of sting operations like the one the FBI conducted in "93 at the World Trade Center in New York. It only killed six with the explosives the "terrorists" were supplied by the secret agent men, according to the secret recordings of Egyptian Army Officer Salem.

Taking a cue from James Thurber: The spies have spies to spite 'em, ad infinitum.

AJAX2 - 6/21/2012

In Our Country - The Epitome of Lawlessness and Paranoia

Mosquito Drones that can take your DNA

JCArzts - 6/20/2012

Is it even possible anymore to connect the dots and see a general outline of a picture of our national intelligence agencies? When many budgets for secret operations are off the books, when a handful of congress people are elevated in status because they are members of committees getting 'secret' information, when critical decisions are made (like drone strikes in sovereign countries) although the 'policy' has NEVER been debated or endorsed by a vote in Congress, how can we say we are a democratic nation of law?

Has anyone even the slightest bit knowledgeable bought into the MSM chatter that those rightwingnutters on the court are really brilliant thinkers otherwise? Think again.

Scalia’s Scary Thinking

Antonin ScaliaThe Supreme Court justice actually believes the things he says and writes, even though they make no sense.

Collapsing or Collapsed?

Collapsing U.S. Credibility

By Glenn Greenwald

Condemning foreign governments for abusive acts while ignoring one's own is easy. But the U.S. leads the way.

Why 50-Billion Is NOT Enough (What Is the Real Difference Between Two Major Parties Who Want Your Vote?)

[BREAKING NEWS] If you assume that the CIA is still bound by the 1947 National Security Act that gave it birth while forbidding it from operating within the United States, Greg Miller’s latest Washington Post piece might cause a double take.

The Big Bang Didn't Need God to Start Universe, Researchers Say

I don't usually link to the New York Times unless absolutely necessary. Not only does it have just 10 free articles now, but many of its paper-of-record "reporters" (and I'm not even thinking of the Friedman/Brooks Earnest-Faced Liars Club right now) still smell too strongly of the Judy Miller school of Chalabi-generated clever lies for my taste. However, yesterday's editorial exceeded my ample bounds of discretion and thus I am recommending it. (Although I do wonder why the Times feels so free to out Sheldon Adelson - one so deserving of such and yet only one more billionaire who wants his way and will pay an enormous sum to get it.)

This article also points out some really good news (for the wealthy). Over 50 billion is still not enough.

June 23, 2012

What Sheldon Adelson Wants

No American is dedicating as much of his money to defeat President Obama as Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who also happens to have made more money in the last three years than any other American. He is the perfect illustration of the squalid state of political money, spending sums greater than any political donation in history to advance his personal, ideological and financial agenda, which is wildly at odds with the nation’s needs.

Mr. Adelson spent $20 million to prop up Newt Gingrich’s failed candidacy for the Republican nomination. Now, he has given $10 million to a Mitt Romney super PAC, and has pledged at least $10 million to Crossroads GPS, the advocacy group founded by Karl Rove that is running attack ads against Mr. Obama and other Democrats. Another $10 million will probably go to a similar group founded by the Koch brothers, and $10 million more to Republican Congressional super PACs.

That’s $60 million we know of (other huge donations may be secret), and it may be only a down payment. Mr. Adelson has made it clear he will fully exploit the anything-goes world created by the federal courts to donate a “limitless” portion of his $25 billion fortune to defeat the president and as many Democrats as he can take down.

One man cannot spend enough to ensure the election of an unpopular candidate, as Mr. Gingrich’s collapse showed, but he can buy enough ads to help push a candidate over the top in a close race like this year’s. Given that Mr. Romney was not his first choice, why is Mr. Adelson writing these huge checks?

The first answer is clearly his disgust for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, supported by President Obama and most Israelis. He considers a Palestinian state “a steppingstone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people,” and has called the Palestinian prime minister a terrorist. He is even further to the right than the main pro-Israeli lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which he broke with in 2007 when it supported economic aid to the Palestinians.

Mr. Romney is only slightly better, saying the Israelis want a two-state solution but the Palestinians do not, accusing them of wanting to eliminate Israel. The eight-figure checks are not paying for a more enlightened answer.

Mr. Adelson’s other overriding interest is his own wallet. He rails against the president’s “socialist-style economy” and redistribution of wealth, but what he really fears is Mr. Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on companies like his that make a huge amount of money overseas. Ninety percent of the earnings of his company, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, come from hotel and casino properties in Singapore and Macau. (The latter is located, by the way, in China, a socialist country the last time we checked.)

Because of the lower tax rate in those countries (currently zero in Macau), the company now has a United States corporate tax rate of 9.8 percent, compared with the statutory rate of 35 percent. President Obama has repeatedly proposed ending the deductions and credits that allow corporations like Las Vegas Sands to shelter billions in income overseas, but has been blocked by Republicans.

Mr. Obama’s Justice Department is also investigating.

From the inestimable TBogg:

Cato Guy Thinks You Guys Are Lazy And Stupid

By TBogg

June 22, 2012

The Washington Post has an article this morning pointing out that Mitt Romney just likes to fire Americans every chance he gets and ship their jobs to overseas where people make like four cents a day and then Mitt pockets the difference so he can buy expensive dancing horses for Ann his bored wife. The Romney campaign then rolled out hapless Andrea Saul, who is this years Nancy Pfotenhauer, to explain that ‘off-shoring’ is not ‘outsourcing’ because, HAH!, they have different letters . . .  so SUCK IT lamestream media.
Over at Politico, where being uppity with the white folk will get you a time-out, they turned to a bunch of outside people and asked the question:

Should we even be talking about how Mitt Romney likes to skullfuck American workers? And watch your ass with your answer because we’re in a suspending mood today. Okay. Discuss.
Roger Pilon, the Vice President for Legal Affairs for the Cato Institute (auditioning for continued employment for when the Koch Bros take over) calmly explained that Americans are just a bunch of stupid lazy fucks who don’t deserve more than four cents a day:

David Axelrod, like Obama himself, is playing to the economic ignorance that afflicts a good part of the American public. Firms don’t “specialize” in outsourcing jobs. They try, rather, to produce the best products at the lowest costs – for the benefit of their owners and their customers. If that means going abroad to find the best labor at the lowest cost, so be it.

What would you have them do, seek inferior labor at higher costs? How would that benefit owners, customers, or the nation as a whole? Firms are not welfare agencies.
Also off-shoring these jobs is actually a good thing for American workers because it will provide them with more opportunities in the fields of building temporary shelters out of refrigerator boxes or the wonders of dumpster-spelunking for food.

When firms are run efficiently, everyone benefits – including those higher-wage domestic workers who would otherwise have been employed but now must seek other opportunities that will arise only under conditions of efficiency. Or, of course, we could restrict firms from going abroad, force them (by law) to be less efficient, and thus lower the standard of living for everyone.
And by “everyone’ he means shareholders and people like Mitt Romney who pocket enormous fees for slashing labor costs and firing Americans.

As for Axelrod’s charge about Romney’s “breathtaking hypocrisy” – his pledging on the campaign trail to protect American jobs from outsourcing – there’s a perfect explanation for that, but to understand it takes a better grasp of economics than Axelrod or Obama, by his actions, seem to have. You remove so many of the irrational, rent-seeking regulations we have today, which Romney has promised to do, and you’ll create a climate in which firms won’t have to look abroad for labor. If there’s any “breathtaking hypocrisy” at play here, it’s with Axelrod and Obama, who purport to speak for the “middle class” but whose policies for three and one half years have driven the middle class into ever greater depths of despair. Obama’s record, as we say, speaks for itself.

And by “rent seeking regulations ” he means the minimum wage and worker safety laws and workers protections.

Romney America: A Workers Paradise On Four Cents A Day!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Stingy Bastards!

Imagine a country led by people who cared little (or nothing) for those whose work built the country. Now try to get that image out of your mind.

From Politicususa, a terrific new blog (to me):

What a truthful introduction to the American Right Wing this past week has been for any of us who were still unclear as to their priorities and motivations. What’s been offered to us by the sheer hubris of the corporate Right is an opportunity to really help our communities focus in on what that corporate faction considers an important value, and what they consider an expendable value.

As some of our activist elders might say, “this is a teachable moment.”

This past week, for example, we were told that our money (gathered together in a tax pool) was too important, too valuable, too rare to be invested into a bi-partisan bill that would not only save approximately 1.9 million jobs, but also stood to add another million jobs to the economy. With 3 million jobs in the balance, the American people were told that their communal accounts, their public funds, were too precious to spend on something as expensive as a transportation bill.

Put  more honestly, though, 3 million jobs for the 99% aren’t worth it for the Right Wing because one pipeline for the 1 percent wasn’t included. This is emblematic of a consistent right-wing calculus. One pipeline (and 6,000 projected jobs) was enough to hold 3 million jobs hostage.

Thus, Republicans outed their own empty campaign propaganda about job growth

. . . when presented with a bill that saves 1.9 million transportation jobs and purports to create another million, you might be thinking the JobJobJob Party of Jobber Jobs would be all over it. You might be thinking that because you are a rational human, which the aforementioned JobJobJob Party of Jobber Jobs is not. They want their Keystone XL oil pipeline, and they’ll toss 1.9 million jobs in the garbage if they don’t get it.

The bill we doth speak of, dear reader, is the $109 billion transportation and infrastructure bill that was passed by the Senate months ago, because that is the house of Congress not in the grips of an angry horde that learned its accounting skills from counting out 50 ears of corn to a bushel.
And let’s be honest here, for all the Right Wing hemming and hawing about communist Democrats and imagined socialist fixations of the Obama administrations, this transportation bill was more than a little generous to corporate America. The extreme posturing of the right-wing also can’t hide the fact that even corporate powerhouses like the Chamber of Commerce opposed the GOP’s own transportation bill. Via RMuse

What Republicans in the House did propose was an economically shortsighted bill that kills a half-a-million jobs next year alone. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “It defies imagination that the Republican leadership and chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would turn their backs on the needs of our country and pretend it is good government.” Even the ultra-conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce blasted the Republican version of the transportation bill as being “devastating to construction and related industries — materials, equipment, design, engineering. As important, in the long run, disinvestment results in a less competitive economy and a drag on GDP due to underperforming infrastructure.”
The GOP is willing to jeopardize the national community’s roads, rails and bridges. The GOP is willing to cost us up to 3 million jobs. Why? Because the right-wing insists on using this occasion to force the Keystone XL pipeline, a high priority for Big Oil and related production interests, like the Koch Empire. Three million jobs in a time of economic crisis is quite simply “not worth it” for the faction deepest in bed with the oil interests.

That’s the unchanging, quintessential tenet of the corporate right. If it’s not maximum profit, it’s not worth it. Improving the country and creating jobs aren’t “worth it” – much like feeding needy families isn’t “worth it” to the GOP.

This past week when New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand moved to restore $4.5 billion in food stamp funding, she was overwhelmingly rejected by a GOP-led 33-66 vote (the amendment needed 60 votes to pass). The GOP (joined by a few corporate Democrats) rejected aid specifically to needy families so they could preserve guaranteed profits for the crop insurance companies that help prop up the tycoons of Big Agro, like Cargill or Monsanto. As explained by Michael McAuliff at HuffPo Gillibrand had hoped to prevent food aid cuts in the $969 billion bill by trimming the guaranteed profit for crop insurance companies from 14 to 12 percent and by lowering payments for crop insurers from $1.3 billion to $825 million.

The cuts target the so-called heat-and-eat initiative in which 14 states automatically make families eligible for more food aid if they receive even $1 in help paying their utility bills. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the decrease would amount to about $90 a month for an affected family, representing a quarter of its food budget.

“Half of the food stamp beneficiaries are children, 17 percent are seniors, and unfortunately now 1.5 million households are veteran households that are receiving food stamps,” Gillibrand said, referring not just to heat-and-eat participants, but the broader population of food stamp recipients.

Feeding folks who also have trouble paying their heating bill? Feeding veterans and seniors who have already paid their fair share into that system? That’s not worth it for the GOP. It’s not worth decreasing how much profit our tax money guarantees for the already profitable crop-insurance giants. Guaranteeing even 2 percentage points less in profit is too much of a compromise of Right Wing values to preserve a program that provides an average of a quarter of a needy family’s food budget.

Much like 3 million jobs aren’t worth it, but their corporate masters’ pet project is, we should notice that this isn’t just a recent flurry of rightwing ideology winning out over the alleviation of human suffering. No, this isn’t some exceptional instance. This is how the right wing works year-in and year-out.

Typical to their entitlement/privilege addiction, the Right Wing habitually and unremittingly uses the tax money we’ve all gathered together to further enrich the tycoons that sponsored their rise to power, like the oil companies, Big Agro, the War Industry and the Koch Brothers. Allowing you to use your own tax money to feed your neighbor in a time when half of us are basically poor, that’s not a concern for the Right-Wing outside of the need to repress it.

Through our government, the GOP is enforcing a national set of priorities where letting the poor starve is okay, and even laudable if in the same process you’re enriching someone who’s already pretty wealthy.

It’s long past time to stop pretending these are exclusively political questions and political failings. These are human questions. These are human failings. The pretense that issues of such life and death consequence are merely political is a dangerous and reductive farce that benefits whichever side has the most to gain from ignoring the real travail and human suffering that results from an accounting change here or there.

When we as activists raise these budgetary topics, it’s not just the niceties of our accounting or the dexterity of our rhetoric that should be the focus of our efforts to change the national discourse. These technical academic points are important but if they’re only contextualized by themselves, academic or statistical narratives can too often be a limited and distant description of a much larger, bleaker and more human reality.

After all, there’s really no proper statistic to encapsulate the amount of desperation a working mother feels when she has to send her kid to school hungry. Abstract numbers under-represent the real, actualized human suffering when a parent has to make tough decisions between housing and food for their children. Profit doesn’t care about the hunger pains of someone who’s been unemployed for an average of 40 weeks. That personal financial terror matters only to people, not to the profit motive that has colonized our government with the well-paid hands of the Right Wing.

Connected to every tax break is a cut to food stamps and the triggered suffering of tens of millions. Behind ever(y) fossil fuel subsidy there’s a public school closed and another generation of young minds wasted. For every scrapped food, water or environmental regulation, there are thousands of deaths, millions of birth defects, billions of asthma attacks, trillions of dollars in personal wealth lost to healthcare expenses.

For every tax deduction One Percenters like Romney get for things like a dancing horse, we have to close a firehouse or a park. For every labor standard we don’t stand for abroad, there’s a closed factory and brand spanking new prison at home. For every new tax loophole, there are thousands of lost jobs and thousands of ruined lives. For every Right Wing priority and goal there is a consequence of serious human suffering.

Let’s stop pretending we all want what’s good for everybody in America. The corporate right has colonized our government and they have absolutely zero interest in what’s good for America as a country or as a community of human beings.

The consequences of right-wing politics are, were and will continue to be the exacerbation of human suffering. They won’t stop doing it, so we should never stop pointing it out.

Why? Because alleviating the suffering of our fellow human being is a good and decent act. No politics, no ideology, no amount of billionaire gluttony should ever trump that. Any political stance where human beings aren’t “worth it” is dangerous and will ultimately be as inhumane in its outcomes as it is in its design. Greed hurts. Avarice kills.

Authoritarianism, corporate or otherwise, destroys. The fact that we don’t, as a nation, acknowledge that these are destructive behaviors with painful human consequences is a fundamentally disturbing statement about what our basic values are. We’re not just in a fight for politics, we’re in a fight for human values.

We need to turn 90 degrees away from the political stage, ignore our “leaders” for a few minutes, and directly face each other as the 99 percent. We need to remind each other of the human cost of right-wing politics. We are the 99 Percent and if we don’t value each others struggles, no one ever will.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Homeland Security Censors Brad-buryed? Today's Whistle Blowers Either Silenced Or Trying To Move (To Ecuador!)

Ray Bradbury was a particularly favored writer by my set in high school and college. We loved it when his stories were featured on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twilight Zone, and his own show The Martian Chronicles, not to mention The Ray Bradbury Theater, but these came much later when teenage awe had passed into the dark, truly dark past and the current day's political consequences were staring at us so malignantly that Bradbury was no longer escape fiction. The movie Fahrenheit 451 was a particular thrill as it came out at the height of whatever teen angst (not much really) there was  in my life (my Dad, who also was a Bradbury fan, liked it as much as I did).

Speaking of my Dad, I remember watching Moby Dick with him at the Drive-In movie as a nine-year-old when he pointed out that a well-known writer named Ray Bradbury was listed among the writers of the screenplay.

It's quite a jolt (and probably totally dependent on the fact of his recent death) that someone has finally gotten publicity about honoring him with a Bradbury reference for an error message number (and this one is especially apt). Being a software guru-type myself I know we've been suggesting these remembrances since the 70's. It's been a long time coming.

Ray Bradbury’s Work Inspires Internet Censorship Code

Alison Flood, The Guardian

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ray Bradbury’s fiction looks set to enter the structure of the internet, after a software developer has proposed a new HTTP status code inspired by Fahrenheit 451.

Tim Bray, a fan of Bradbury’s writing, is recommending to the Internet Engineering Task Force, which governs such choices, that when access to a website is denied for legal reasons the user is given the status code 451.

There are already a host of HTTP status codes, from the common 404 Page not found to 504 Gateway timeout. The 451 idea follows a blogpost from Terence Eden, who found that his ISP had been ordered to censor the Pirate Bay when he was given an HTTP 403 Forbidden message, meaning that “the server understood the request, but is refusing to fulfil it”.  In fact, Eden writes on his blog, it was not Pirate Bay that was preventing access but the government, after Britain’s high court issued an order to ISPs to block access to the filesharing site in April, so the response was “factually incorrect”, and a new code is needed to indicate “censorship”.

451, Bray believes, would work nicely, as it would provide a tribute to Bradbury as well as reminding users of the dystopian future predicted by the science fiction author. Bradbury died earlier this month, leaving behind an oeuvre numbering hundreds of short stories as well as the novels Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, which tells of a world where books are banned and burned and fireman don’t put fires out but start them.

“We can never do away entirely with legal restrictions on freedom of speech. On the other hand, I feel that when such restrictions are imposed, they should be done so transparently; for example, most civilised people find Britain’s system of superinjunctions loathsome and terrifying,” Bray told the Guardian.  “While we may agree on the existence of certain restrictions, we should be nervous whenever we do it; thus the reference to the dystopian vision of Fahrenheit 451 may be helpful. Also, since the internet exists in several of the many futures imagined by Bradbury, it would be nice for a tip of the hat in his direction from the net, in the year of his death.”

The Internet Engineering Task Force is likely to look at his proposal when it next meets in late July, Bray said. “This is a smart and conservative group and it’s possible that someone will point out a fatal flaw in the idea, or that while such a status code is sensible, the number ’451′ is inappropriate for technical reasons. I’d be mildly surprised, but not too terribly; designing the internet is hard,” said Bray. “On the other hand, assuming the IETF smiles on the idea, the work of deploying it in web servers and browsers would be easy and straightforward, and I would expect to see fairly rapid uptake.”

It’s not clear whether Bradbury would have welcomed a proposal to honour his memory in an internet error code. He said in an interview in 2009 that “the internet is a big distraction”. “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the internet.’ It’s distracting,” he told the New York Times. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

[Fahrenheit 451 on the e-book via unten44 / Flickr]

And as for today's Bradbury ringing the bells of alarm?

Assange Asks Ecuador For Asylum

The WikiLeaks founder is motivated by one thing: a desire to avoid extradition to the U.S. Can anyone blame him?

Julian Assange was scheduled within days to turn himself over to British authorities for extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in connection with a sexual assault case in which he has never been charged. Instead, Assange earlier today went to the Embassy of Ecuador in London and sought asylum from that country under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, issued a statement indicating that his government is “evaluating the request” and that Assange will remain under protection at the Embassy pending a decision.

Ecuador may seem like a random choice but it’s actually quite rational. In 2010, a top official from that country offered Assange residency (though the Ecuadorian President backtracked after controversy ensued). Earlier this month, Assange interviewed that nation’s left-wing President, Rafael Correa, for his television program on RT. Among other things, Correa praised the transparency brought about by WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables as being beneficial for Ecuador (“We have nothing to hide. If anything, the WikiLeaks [releases] have made us stronger”).

President Correa also was quite critical of the U.S., explaining the reason he closed the American base in his country this way: “Would you accept a foreign military base in your country? It’s so simple, as I said that at the time, there is no problem in having a U.S. military base in Ecuador but ok, perfect - we can give permission for the intelligence base only if they allow us to install an Ecuadorian base in the United States, a military base. That’s it, no more problem.”

Assange has been fighting extradition to Sweden for a year-and-a-half now, during which time he has been under house arrest. He has never been charged with any crime in Sweden, but a prosecutor from that country is seeking his extradition to question him. After the British High Court ruled against him by a 5-2 vote earlier this month, and then refused to re-hear the case last week, his appeals in Britain contesting the extradition are exhausted.

Assange’s resolve to avoid extradition to Sweden has nothing to do with a reluctance to face possible sex assault charges there. His concern all along has been that once he’s in Swedish custody, he will far more easily be extradited to the U.S.

In general, small countries are more easily coerced and bullied by the U.S., and Sweden in particular has a demonstrated history of acceding to U.S. demands when it comes to individuals accused of harming American national security. In December, 2001, Sweden handed over two asylum-seekers to the CIA, which then rendered them to be tortured in Egypt.

A ruling from the U.N. Human Rights Committee found Sweden in violation of the global ban on torture for its role in that rendition (the two individuals later received a substantial settlement from the Swedish government). The fact that Sweden has unusually oppressive pre-trial procedures — allowing for extreme levels of secrecy in its judicial proceedings — only heightens Assange’s concern about what will happen to him vis-a-vis the U.S. if he ends up in Swedish custody.

Can anyone claim that Assange’s fear of ending up in American custody is anything other than supremely reasonable and rational? Just look at what has happened to people — especially foreign nationals — over the last decade who have been accused of harming the national security of the United States.

They’re imprisoned — still — without a whiff of due process, and President Obama just last year signed a new indefinite detention bill into law. Moreover, Assange need merely look at what the U.S. has done to Bradley Manning, accused of leaking documents and other materials to WikiLeaks: the Army Private was held for almost a year in solitary confinement conditions which a formal U.N. investigation found were “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” and he now faces life in prison, charged with a capital offense of aiding Al Qaeda.

Beyond that, the Obama administration has been uniquely obsessed with punishing whistleblowers and stopping leaks. Worse still, the American federal judiciary has been staggeringly subservient to the U.S. Government when it comes to national security cases, rendering defendants accused of harming national security with almost no chance for acquittal. Would you have any confidence in obtaining justice if you were accused of harming U.S. national security and came into the clutches of the American justice system?

Over the past two years, I’ve spoken with numerous individuals who were once associated with WikiLeaks or who still are. Of those who no longer are, many have said that they stopped even though they believe as much as ever in WikiLeaks’ transparency cause, and did so out of fear: not fear that they would be charged with a crime by their own government (they trust the judicial system of their government and are confident they would not be convicted), but out of fear that they would be turned over to the United States. That’s the fear people have: ending up in the warped travesty known as the judicial system of the Land of the Free. That is what has motivated Assange to resist extradition to Sweden, and it’s what has undoubtedly motivated him to seek asylum from Ecuador.

UPDATE: Just to address some media chatter I’m seeing around: Assange has not “fled” anything, is not a fugitive, and did not concoct some new and exotic procedure to evade legal process. Everyone knows exactly where he is: at Ecuador’s Embassy in London. Seeking asylum based on claims of human rights violations (such as unjust extradition) is a widely recognized and long-standing right, as Foreign Policy documented during the recent Chen Guangcheng drama. It’s a right that Assange, like everyone else, is entitled to invoke. If Ecuador refuses his asylum request, then he’ll be right back in the hands of British authorities and presumably extradited to Sweden without delay. He has a lot at stake, and — like anyone else accused of serious crimes (though he’s not been charged with anything) — he has every right to invoke all legal procedures available to him.

UPDATE II [Wed.]: This is one of those cases where, unless you include caveats in every other sentence about what you are not arguing, then people feel free to attribute to you arguments you plainly are not making. Here is what I wrote all the way back in December, 2010 about the accusations against Assange in Sweden:

I think it’s deeply irresponsible either to assume his guilt or to assume his innocence until the case plays out. I genuinely have no opinion of the validity of those allegations.
Nothing has changed my view of that since then. It’s really not that complicated: (1) Assange, like everyone else, is entitled to a presumption of innocence before he’s charged, let alone convicted of anything; (2) the accusations against him are serious and they should be accorded a fair resolution within a proper legal framework; and (3) until then, he has every right — just like everyone else does — to invoke any and all available legal protections and to have their validity decided upon.

UPDATE III [Wed.]: I have an Op-Ed in The Guardian today elaborating on some of these points, adding others, and responding to media discussions of this issue over the past day.

UPDATE IV [Wed.]: Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh this morning conducted an excellent interview on all of this with Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has represented Assange in the U.S. A transcript will be posted here shortly, but it’s well worth watching:

The fact that our judicial system has become a legal blackhole easily influenced by special interests is a bigger story than 9/11, terrorism, the spectacle of the election, and Wiki-leaks combined.

What happened to this country's judiciary?

The greatest crime of all is that Assange is fighting this battle by himself. If the Brits were not lapdogs of the USA, as they proved by their complicity in the invasion of Iraq, they would have one million Brits ring the Ecuadorian Embassy, and physically escort him to the airport in safety.

The real puppet-masters are the Pentagon and the State Department. And, we the American people, are complicit in this crime by standing around and doing nothing. We should enlist five million people to ring the Pentagon, five million people to ring the State Department, and terminate business as usual until they give written assurances the USA will end the harassment.