Incestuous Amplification, Economics Edition
From Paul Krugman's blog, courtesy of Hullabaloo:
Which brings me to the fiscal debate, characterized by the particular form of incestuous amplification Greg Sargent calls the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop. I’ve already blogged about my Morning Joe appearance and Scarborough’s reaction, which was to insist that almost no mainstream economists share my view that deficit fear is vastly overblown. As Joe Weisenthal points out, the reality is that among those who have expressed views very similar to mine are the chief economist of Goldman Sachs; the former Treasury secretary and head of the National Economic Council; the former deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve; and the economics editor of the Financial Times. The point isn’t that these people are necessarily right (although they are), it is that Scarborough’s attempt at argument through authority is easily refuted by even a casual stroll through recent economic punditry.
But these people aren’t part of the in-group, and if they do make it into the in-group’s conversation at all, it’s only by blurring their message sufficiently that the in-group doesn’t understand it.
Krugman is referring to a recent appearance on MSNBC where he was trashed by mainstream media types for pushing the view, widely believed among economists, that the deficit problem isn't nearly as big of a deal as the Washington establishment makes it out to be. And, of course, he's absolutely right; the deficit isn't that big of a deal, especially not right now.
But I've gone on and on about the specifics of the big deficit debate numerous times here at Real Art. What's fascinating to me at the moment is the human phenomenon of lots of people believing things that aren't true, in spite of perfectly good evidence to the contrary. There's a lot going on contributing to the deficit hysteria. Inside-the-beltway groupthink for one. There's also this great Upton Sinclair quote: "'It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." That is, most of these media types are very white collar, and the ones on television generally make a lot of money. The banking and corporate sectors all want deficit reduction right now, whether it's good for the overall economy or not, and because Big Media on-camera professionals as well as their celebrity print journalist counterparts all see themselves as having their fates and incomes tied to big business, they necessarily reflect the views of big business. Cementing it all together is confirmation bias, which shreds logic and reasonable thought. Thus, we have the mainstream media obsessed with an issue that ought not be an obsession.
It's truly a big mess, one that I have absolutely no idea how to clean up.
But one thing is certain. In our democracy we debate and debate and debate, as though all the participants are rational creatures. Rationality, however, takes not only conscious effort, but also self-reflection, deep examination of one's own personal motives mixed with genuine attempts to see reality from others' perspectives, whether we agree with them or not. This does not come easy, even when you try. Right now, though, Big Media professionals don't seem even to realize that they should try.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Incestuous Amplification, Economics Edition
Posted by Ron at 3:16 AM
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Conservatives Have Their Worst Week Ever
From Rolling Stone, the current holder of the Hunter S. Thompson Chair for Gonzo Journalism, Matt Taibbi:
Have Republicans, and the right wing in general, ever been more disjointed? More confused? More incapable of getting out of their own way?
Watching America's political conservatives try to counter-maneuver opposite Barack Obama's re-inauguration over the course of the last week has been an incredible comedy – like watching the Three Stooges try to perform a liver transplant on roller skates.
Let's review the basic timeline. First, Political Media, a conservative action group, decided to try to make an appeal to win the hearts and minds of Americans everywhere by declaring January 19th – previously known as Martin Luther King Day, to the rest of us – to be "Gun Appreciation Day."
The vast majority of the post is about right-wing missteps in the gun control debate, but it does serve as yet another comprehensive example of how the conservatives are in a total tailspin. With foundational philosophical ideas that are increasingly understood by the American public to be demonstrably false, with a large racist and xenophobic faction that just can't seem to STFU, with a bizarre hatred for the poor, and for women, which also continues to spill through the cracks, and on and on, conservatives appear no longer to be the dominant force they once were on the American political scene.
Actually, scratch that last bit. Conservatism has so resoundingly defeated liberalism in the US that the ostensibly liberal Democrats are now effectively a conservative party, leaving those who actually continue to self-identify with the term "conservative" to wander around in the political wilderness wearing tin foil hats while shaking their fists at clouds in the sky. That is, conservatives have been trapped by their own overwhelming success. The American political establishment is so amazingly conservative that there is no longer any use for the far right-wing psychos who cling to their guns and religion. They want America to be a conservative country, but they apparently don't realize that, at least as far as our leaders are concerned, we already are.
So they look like fools, over and over again.
Go check out Taibbi's essay. As usual, it's very funny, and quite poignant.
Posted by Ron at 1:38 AM
Monday, January 28, 2013
WE WON'T HAVE PALIN TO KICK AROUND ANYMORE
A Washington Post blogger muses on the meaning of the Sarah Palin phenomenon now that Fox News has allowed her contract to expire:
The net effect was that Palin’s support got deeper — those people who loved Palin wound up loving her even more — but it also narrowed significantly. She became the nichest of niche politicians — someone whose support was a mile deep and an inch wide.
And so, by the time she had to make up her mind about whether to run for president in 2012, the decision was, in many ways, already made for her. Had she run, she would have been a sideshow, not a central player. She seemed to sense that and stayed out.
The Palin story is, in the end, one of tremendous talent misused. Like any number of playground greats who never make the NBA or, when they do, wind up disappointing, Palin had as much natural ability as anyone this side of Barack Obama or John Edwards, but was unable to translate that talent into results once the bright lights came on. That she never made good on her remarkable natural talents is a sign of how the political process can chew up and spit out those who aren’t ready for it.
I neither love nor hate Sarah Palin: from the moment I first encountered her when she gave her incoherent nomination acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention, I never took her seriously as a political figure. Rather, I saw her as the necessary end result of the celebritization of politics, and have always been fascinated by her from that perspective. She's been the Kim Kardashian of the inside-the-beltway set, always a joke, but a pretty funny one, worth some attention.
I guess we won't have her to kick around anymore. Of course, that's what Nixon said about himself when he retired from politics after getting his butt kicked by Jerry Brown's dad in the 1962 California gubernatorial race. Maybe America's favorite hockey mom will be back for more fun and games some day. I sure hope so.
Posted by Ron at 10:00 PM
SERGEI EISENSTEIN'S STRIKE
Strike (Russian: Стачка, translit. Stachka) is a 1925 silent film made in the Soviet Union by Sergei Eisenstein. It was Eisenstein's first full-length feature film, and he would go on to make The Battleship Potemkin later that year. It was acted by the Proletcult Theatre, and composed of six parts. It was in turn, intended to be one part of a seven-part series, entitled Towards Dictatorship (of the proletariat), that was left unfinished. Eisenstein's influential essay, Montage of Attractions was written between Strike's production and premiere.
The film depicts a strike in 1903 by the workers of a factory in pre-revolutionary Russia, and their subsequent suppression. The film is most famous for a sequence near the end in which the violent suppression of the strike is cross-cut with footage of cattle being slaughtered, although there are several other points in the movie where animals are used as metaphors for the conditions of various individuals. Another theme in the film is collectivism in opposition to individualism which was viewed as a convention of western film. Collective efforts and collectivization of characters were central to both Strike and Battleship Potemkin.
I do so love the internet era.
I saw Strike long ago in a film and video theory class I took at the University of Texas. At the time, I was really grooving on the revolutionary aspect of it all, the oppressive capitalists being fought by the working class, all the rhetoric, all the uplifting vibes. I mean, of course, I was studying it for Eisenstein's startlingly advanced cinematic technique, but I was newly liberal at that point, and, in spite of my problems with how the Russian Revolution turned out, I loved, and continue to love, the Revolution's goals, and this movie creates a pure picture of what those goals were. Exciting then, just as it is now.
Anyway, a buddy of mine, Matt Impelluso, who hosts the War Zone pod cast show on which I occasionally appear, posted on facebook that he was going to watch communist movies for some reason. Inspired, I did a quick search and found Strike, in its entirety, on YouTube. I watched part one and was blown away by how the movie stands up, not just as a cool movie, but as a blow-you-away movie. Eisenstein was so advanced in terms of film narrative that few film makers have even come close to doing what he did nearly a hundred years ago. He understood, probably better than anybody else, how to tell a story visually. And his editing! Suffice it to say that nobody since him has mastered the notion of juxtaposition of visual ideas in order to achieve meaning as well as Eisenstein. Every single moment, every second, is packed with story and symbol. There is not a wasted frame with Eisenstein, who, for my money, may very well have been the greatest movie maker of all time.
Check it out. It's in nine parts. Here's the first, and the link to each successive part ought to come up on the screen, in the upper left hand corner, when you get to the end of each part. Did that even make sense? You'll figure it out. Fucking great movie!
Posted by Ron at 2:04 AM
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Months after blaming layoffs on Obama, it looks like Murray Coal is rehiring
From Daily Kos:
Remember Murray Coal CEO Bob Murray? If you remember the Crandall Canyon Mine collapse or the miners forced to lose pay to go to a Romney event or the mine owner who claimed Obama's reelection caused layoffs, then you remember Bob Murray. But surprise! It now looks like Murray wasn't just blaming layoffs he'd have made anyway on Obama—he's actually rehiring some of the laid-off workers.
Alec MacGillis has been on Murray's case all along, and now he reports that workers are being rehired at Red Bird West, and Ohio mine that Murray announced was closing before the election.
Murry is one big scumbag, alright, virtually a cartoon version of the archetypal evil capitalist. I'll never forget how after the Crandall Canyon disaster he immediately tore into the labor unions while dismissing some pretty heavy evidence that his own unsafe mining practices and violations of federal safety regulations caused the cave in, and offered instead his own cockamamie theory that "an earthquake" was to blame. Big fucking asshole. The dead hadn't even been recovered at that point.
So it is no surprise to see that his political maneuvering, using his own workers as chess pieces, is now revealed for the fraud it has always been. I mean, it was obvious bullshit when he initially announced the layoffs, but it is now factual bullshit. This guy really is Monty Burns. Unfortunately, there's nothing funny about him at all. Just an asshole fucking people over. Not even any comedic value. Pathetic.
Posted by Ron at 11:09 PM
Friday, January 25, 2013
Obama's Failure to Punish Banks Should Be Causing Serious Social Unrest
From the Guardian via AlterNet, civil rights lawyer Glenn Greenwald riffs on "The Untouchables," the recent PBS Frontline documentary episode:
Numerous documents prove that executives at leading banks, credit agencies, and mortgage brokers were falsely touting assets as sound that knew were junk: the very definition of fraud. As former Wall Street analyst Yves Smith wrote in her book ECONned: "What went on at Lehman and AIG, as well as the chicanery in the CDO [collateralized debt obligation] business, by any sensible standard is criminal." Even lifelong Wall Street defender Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Chair, said in Congressional testimony that "a lot of that stuff was just plain fraud."
A New York Times editorial in August explained that the DOJ's excuse for failing to prosecute Wall Street executives - that it was too hard to obtain convictions - "has always defied common sense - and all the more so now that a fuller picture is emerging of the range of banks' reckless and lawless activities, including interest-rate rigging, money laundering, securities fraud and excessive speculation." The Frontline program interviewed former prosecutors, Senate staffers and regulators who unequivocally said the same: it is inconceivable that the DOJ could not have successfully prosecuted at least some high-level Wall Street executives - had they tried.
The harms from this refusal to hold Wall Street accountable are the same generated by the general legal immunity the US political culture has vested in its elites. Just as was true for the protection of torturers and illegal eavesdroppers, it ensures that there are no incentives to avoid similar crimes in the future. It is an injustice in its own right to allow those with power and wealth to commit destructive crimes with impunity. It subverts democracy and warps the justice system when a person's treatment under the law is determined not by their acts but by their power, position, and prestige. And it exposes just how shameful is the American penal state by contrasting the immunity given to the nation's most powerful with the merciless and brutal punishment meted out to its most marginalized.
What's the old adage? Steal a hundred dollars and they put you in jail. Steal a million and the give you the key to the city. Of course, the reality is that these bankers have stolen billions, and the key they were awarded isn't to the city but rather the whole freaking country. Making matters worse, this key isn't symbolic; it actually works. They do whatever they want. And our political establishment, like the syphilitic whores they are, flocks to them offering sick and depraved sexual favors in exchange for cold hard campaign cash.
Our President is the biggest whore of all, so wanton and deviant and twisted that he makes legitimate whores, you know, the kind you find on the wrong street corners in Cracktown, look like nuns.
I have nothing but total contempt for our leaders in Washington. All of them. They make me sick to my stomach. They make a total mockery of justice. They make America a joke. They piss on democracy. They piss on our faces. All we can do is sit here and take it while they eat caviar and drink champagne and laugh at the people they pretend to represent. Did you vote Republican or Democrat in the last election? It doesn't matter. A whore is a whore. The pimps are the ones who are really in charge. And we don't get to choose them.
But we do have to bend over when they order us to.
Here's what I'm watching tonight.
Posted by Ron at 2:23 AM
Thursday, January 24, 2013
THE BEST VERSION OF "MORE TODAY THAN YESTERDAY"
Charles Earland came into his own at the tail-end of the great 1960s wave of soul-jazz organists, gaining a large following and much airplay with a series of albums for the Prestige label. While heavily indebted to Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff, Earland came armed with his own swinging, technically agile, light-textured sound on the keyboard and one of the best walking-bass pedal techniques in the business. Though not an innovative player in his field, Earland burned with the best of them when he was on.
Earland's first album for Prestige, Black Talk!, became a best-selling classic of the soul-jazz genre; a surprisingly effective cover of the Spiral Starecase's pop/rock hit "More Today Than Yesterday" from that LP received saturation airplay on jazz radio in 1969.
I don't have anything really brilliant to say about this. But it deserves some attention, for sure. While the original version of "More Today Than Yesterday" by 60s pop band Spiral Starecase is excellent, as are several other covers of the song, Earland's version takes the composition into sublime territory. The original is soul-tinged, but more clever and pop-ish than anything else, albeit with an extraordinarily engaging hook. In Earland's hands, however, in much the same way that Earth, Wind, and Fire did with the Beatles' "Got to Get You into My Life," the soul aspect is brought to the forefront, and, with his organ playing creating a non-stop sort of enveloping and overpowering wave of joy, blissful near-religious ecstasy results, making the cover infinitely superior to the song Spiral Starecase recorded.
It just makes me happy everytime I hear it. You should hear it, too:
Posted by Ron at 2:30 AM
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
On the speech
I will say this: Inaugural speeches are often legacy speeches and based on this speech I'm going to guess that whatever his policies actually were and are, he told us today that he would like to be remembered by most people as a progressive president, not a centrist technocrat. Certainly, it won't be centrists or the conservatives who bestow it on him --- positive legacies are sustained by the members of your own party and ideology. If he wants to be in the liberal pantheon beyond the obvious (and very real) accomplishment of becoming the first African American president and some movement on gay rights, the second term will have to be different from the first. From the sound of today's address, it would seem that he wants it to be. And if that's true, progressives have some leverage.
A bit more here.
I'll believe it when I see it.
I've sat for the last four years and watched Obama-the-liberal behave like a conservative on everything but the so-called social issues, which only psycho extremists on the right give a shit about anymore. I watched as he shepherded a too-small stimulus package through Congress that was mostly tax cuts. I watched as he gave free money to fraudulent asshole bankers, without any strings attached, which allowed them to continue their fraudulent practices, and to do nothing to repair the wrecked economy they left behind. I watched as he refused to prosecute these banksters. I watched as he did nothing about people being thrown out of their houses by those same fraudulent bankers. I watched as he refused to prosecute anybody from the Bush administration for torture and other war crimes. Indeed, I watched as he continued many of Bush's worst programs from the "War on Terror," even going further than his predecessor in some areas. I watched as he treated BP with kid gloves even while oil gushed up from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. I watched as his federal agencies coordinated the local crackdown on the Occupy movement, even while he denied that this was happening. I watched as he wrapped up piles of industry friendly dog shit in a wrapper called "health care reform." I watched as he extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich. I watched as he offered to cut the fuck out of Social Security, again and again, in exchange for cooperation from the Republicans--indeed, we were only saved from this travesty because the Republicans were too stupid to take the deal. I watched as the big liberal Obama refused to even give rhetorical lip-service to progressive values. And on and on.
The President has proven to me numerous times that he is no liberal. It doesn't matter that the conservatives are so out in fantasy field at this point that they think he is a socialist. He's a conservative who would be just as much at home in George HW Bush's Republican Party of 1988 as he is in the Democratic Party today. He's no liberal.
So forgive me if I just straight up don't believe all these liberal platitudes he included in his inaugural address. Talk is cheap. Show me some action.
Posted by Ron at 1:48 AM
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Houston Riot (1917)
The Houston Riot of 1917, or Camp Logan Riot, was a mutiny by 156 African American soldiers of the Third Battalion of the all-black Twenty-fourth United States Infantry. It occupied most of one night, and resulted in the deaths of four soldiers and sixteen civilians. The rioting soldiers were tried at three courts-martial. A total of nineteen would be executed, and forty-one were given life sentences.
Around noon August 23, 1917, two Houston police officers stormed into the home of an African American woman, allegedly looking for someone in the neighborhood, after firing a warning shot outside. They physically assaulted her, then dragged her partially clad into the street, all in view of her five small children. The woman began screaming, demanding to know why she was being arrested, and a crowd began to gather. A soldier from the 24th Infantry stepped forward to ask what was going on. The police officers promptly beat him to the ground and arrested him as well. Their official reports and later news reports stated the soldier was charged with interfering with the arrest of a publicly drunk female. Later that afternoon, Corporal Charles Baltimore went to the Houston police station to investigate the arrest, as well as beating of another black soldier, and also to attempt to gain the release of the soldier. An argument began which led to violence, and Corporal Baltimore was beaten, shot at, and himself arrested by the police.
The Camp Logan riot began the evening of August 23, when 156 angry soldiers ignored their officers' orders, stole weapons from the camp depot and marched on the city of Houston. They were met outside the city by the police and a crowd of armed citizens, frightened by the reports of a mutiny. A virtual race riot began, which left 20 people dead - four soldiers, four policemen, and 12 civilians. Order was restored the next day, and the War Department disarmed the soldiers. The Third Battalion was sent by rail back to New Mexico.
I only just today heard of this because it was briefly mentioned on NPR's Fresh Air, which I had sort of playing in the background while I was doing stuff around the house. And that's kind of weird to me. I'm from Houston. I've spent most of my life there. But I've never heard of this race riot, and you'd think I would have because it sounds like it was pretty hardcore. I'm not surprised, of course, because, as with lynchings and other racist travesties in the US, cities, towns, and other localities tend to keep this shit quiet, and people just forget in the long run. But this ought to be taught in elementary school to all Houstonians.
While I don't like the notion of supporting members of the military taking the law into their own hands, this strikes me as a pretty unique case. It is completely clear that the HPD not only provoked the confrontation in the first place, but that they also ramped it up every opportunity they got. And the white power structure's reaction to it, punishing only the soldiers, when the police obviously were to blame for fanning the flames so intensely, and when the "civilians" were armed and standing with the cops, brings to mind the overly-harsh and brutal responses to slave uprisings in the antebellum South. That is, this thing was so racist, from top to bottom, that it makes me sick.
And it happened in my home town.
Another thought. I've seen a few gun nuts on television lately speculating how if enslaved African-Americans had access to firearms, there wouldn't have been a need for the Civil War. Leaving aside the absurd notion that slave-owners or the Southern political establishment would have ever allowed this, the 1917 race riot in Houston makes achingly clear what happened to blacks who dared defend themselves with arms against racist oppression in the days of Jim Crow: the white power structure obliterated them totally with all the force they could possibly muster, as if their very existence was on the line.
Posted by Ron at 12:43 AM
Monday, January 21, 2013
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR
From his speech "Beyond Vietnam - A Time to Break the Silence," after which, a year later, he was assassinated:
As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
Full text here.
It is an artificial intellectual construction to separate the oppression here within our borders from the oppression our government spreads abroad. It's all the same thing, driven by the same forces, benefitting the same people, the people at the very top. And they killed Dr. King for being brave enough to point out the obvious.
Posted by Ron at 3:22 AM
Saturday, January 19, 2013
"Going Clear": Scientology Exposed
A book review from Salon via AlterNet:
It turns out that even the craziest stuff I read on the Internet back in 2005 is essentially true, and that the history of the church under its current megalomaniacal leader, David Miscavige, is, if anything, even more disgraceful. (Hubbard died in 1986.) Wright has assembled an overwhelming number of confirmed reports of Miscavige punching, kicking and otherwise attacking church leaders, often without warning or explanation. He details a well-developed system of isolation and indoctrination imposed on the members of Sea Org. (Scientology’s equivalent of a clergy), creating a population that provides the church with virtually free labor and submits to extravagantly harsh and humiliating punishments, such as cleaning bathroom floors with their tongues and scrubbing out dumpsters with toothbrushes. Meanwhile, Miscavige lives in luxury, bathed in Kim Jong Il-levels of totalitarian hagiography, at the church’s secluded base in rural Southern California.
Generally, my personal rule for religions in which I do not believe is respect. Respect because religion is culture. Because it is identity. Because it is an attempt, however misguided, to understand the universe and humanity. I can criticize and reject, but I must respect.
I do not follow this rule for Scientology. Indeed, I have nothing but deep seated contempt for Scientology. Sure, it's culture and identity, but it is NOT a good faith attempt to understand the universe and humanity. Rather, Scientology is a sophisticated confidence game aimed at controlling human beings and stealing from them their money and dignity. There is nothing good that comes from it. Nothing. Scientology is evil.
I have my issues with Christianity, just as I have issues with Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and other religions. But among the things I don't like about those religions are also some truly beautiful notions. Love is the deciding factor. As the Bible says, "he who knows not love knows not God." Most legitimate religions celebrate love in some way, shape, or form. But not Scientology. Scientology is totally selfish, totally vindictive. There is no love in Scientology. No charity. No affirmation of the basic dignity of humanity. It might as well be Satanism.
I cannot respect Scientology. I can only condemn it. It represents the opposite of all values I hold dear. It is a blight on mankind. If you have taken up with these people, I cannot give you my support. The only thing I can say to you is, "Get out now, while you still can; you're being trained to support evil." And I don't care at all if this offends you or hurts your feelings. You're dealing with the Devil, and you need to stop it right now.
Posted by Ron at 11:12 PM
Friday, January 18, 2013
Meet the Sandy Hook truthers
Most of the theories are really pieces of a larger meta-theory: that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, perhaps by the Obama administration, designed to stir demand for gun control.
In the latest angle, theorists think they have found “absolute proof” of a conspiracy to defraud the American people. “You reported in December that this little girl had been killed,” a reader emailed Salon in response to a story. “She has been found, and photographed with President Obama.”
The girl in question is Emilie Parker, a 6-year-old who was shot multiple times and killed at Sandy Hook. But for conspiracy theorists, the tears her family shed at her funeral, the moving eulogy from Utah’s governor, and the entire shooting spree are fake. Welcome to the world where Sandy Hook didn’t really happen.
Wow. This is pretty fucked up. But then I guess I shouldn't be surprised. There's no telling how many right-wingers are embracing such kooky conspiracy theory, but the entire GOP caucus in the House was recently chasing similar phantoms, that the Obama administration stages murders in order to scare the population into embracing gun confiscation, in their notorious "Fast and Furious" inquiry. So right now this Sandy Hook thing is in Alex Jones tinfoil hat territory, but we've already seen that this kind of bullshit has the potential to go very mainstream very quickly. We should keep an eye on this for a while.
But clearly, such nuttery shows just how backed against the wall gun culture feels right now. They no longer have any arguments that seem reasonable. They don't know how to justify their position when gun wielding mass murderers are doing their thing every other week these days. Cognitive dissonance is the necessary result. Delusion is the only place to which they can retreat. Of course gun nuts are embracing fantasy; they have to or they'd no longer be gun nuts.
But this is also typical of what's been happening with the right wing overall since President Bush went and inadvertently proved most of their beliefs wrong. It is becoming increasingly difficult to discuss important issues with conservatives because they insist on their own "facts." Global warming isn't happening, a plot hatched by scientists worldwide to gain more funding. Obama is a Muslim or a Kenyan or a socialist or a Nazi. Evolution isn't real. We found Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Poor people caused the financial crisis. Women don't become pregnant when they're raped. And on and on and on. What do you do when your most cherished beliefs are proven, without a doubt at all, to be totally wrong? Well, you can either reevaluate your own existence and how you relate to reality. Or you can double down on the fantasy, shouting down people who tell you the truth.
That's where many conservatives are right now. I see no sign of them letting up on it, either. Things could get much worse.
Posted by Ron at 3:01 AM
Thursday, January 17, 2013
QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES
Means "Who Polices the Police?"
From the Houston Chronicle:
Deputy accused of helping drug traffickers
Investigators arrested a deputy Harris County constable accused of helping narcotics traffickers.
Tomas Roque was a reserve deputy with Harris County Precinct 6 when he was taken into custody Wednesday as part of a corruption investigation linked to drug dealers.
The indictment against Roque, 26, was unsealed the day of his arrest.
Around Dec. 6, Roque helped with the delivery of cocaine in the Houston area and was paid $2,000 in protection money, federal prosecutors said.
I haven't done one of these posts in quite a while. But it's always worth it to just reach out and have one of these things fall into my hands for posting on Real Art. And that's essentially the point. I don't even have to do a search to find stories about police corruption, brutality, and other kinds of misbehavior. They happen, literally, all the time. Knee-jerk defenders of the police always assert the "bad apple" theory, that there are so many cops, and cops are human beings, that it is no surprise when some of them go bad. I guess there's some truth to that. But it just happens so much. Seriously. Just do that Google search I didn't do. You'll get pages and pages and pages of hits. Don't tell me there's nothing that can be done about this. Don't tell me that there's nothing wrong with the way we approach policing. It's over the top. Bad apples don't happen everywhere, all the time.
My take is that police organizational structures, training, and overall culture make cops see themselves as elite, which necessarily leads to a sense of being above the law for many of them. But who really knows? Nobody seems to want to discuss the issue. And so it will continue. On and on and on.
Posted by Ron at 1:34 AM
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
From the New Yorker courtesy of BuzzFlash:
Southern political passions have always been rooted in sometimes extreme ideas of morality, which has meant, in recent years, abortion and school prayer. But there is a largely forgotten Southern history, beyond the well-known heroics of the civil-rights movement, of struggle against poverty and injustice, led by writers, preachers, farmers, rabble-rousers, and even politicians, speaking a rich language of indignation. The region is not entirely defined by Jim DeMint, Sam Walton, and the Tide’s A J McCarron. It would be better for America as well as for the South if Southerners rediscovered their hidden past and took up the painful task of refashioning an identity that no longer inspires their countrymen.
The above linked essay uses most of its column space explaining how national attitudes have shifted away somewhat from what had been for a couple of decades the Southernization of national politics, leaving the South on a trajectory towards isolation, and cultural and political irrelevancy. And that's all good and fine, I say. Southern conservatism, with its deeply embedded sense of racism as a fueling force, has been an albatross around America's neck since I was a teenager. Gun culture, glorification of violence and war, strong hostility toward labor, even from laborers themselves, judgmental fundamentalist Christianity, anger, anger, and resentment. It's bad for the country, and if it's on its way out, it can't be bad.
On the other hand, I have deep affection for the South. While I don't think of myself as a Southerner - I'm a Texan, and we Texans had our own nation, which we ended on our own terms, well before the Confederacy's failed and pro-slavery experiment was even conceptualized - I come from the extreme Western edge of East Texas, which is where the Southwest ends and the South begins. I grew up as a Southern Baptist, which is about as organized and institutional as Southern culture gets, or, at least, as white Southern culture gets. I believe in many Southern traditional values, loyalty, tradition, community, love of country, and the notion that there is something greater than our individual desires and concerns uniting us all together as human beings. And I have lived in the Deep South for nearly a decade now.
That is, there is great value to this essentially American region, and the nation overall would do well to remember that. But how do you separate Southern trash, of which there is a great deal, from Southern treasure? How do you remove the backward-ass barbaric elements from the culture without destroying what is good about it?
I don't know.
But I do like how the essay ends, which is excerpted above: the South, as a culture, cares about morality; the South cares about justice; the South cares about poverty. If Southerners really can find a way to diminish that which is abhorrent about their beliefs and views, the region may very well rise again, but this time as a guiding light for the rest of the nation, leading us all toward that which is right and true, instead of sucking us down into a suicidal maelstrom like it's been doing for thirty years. Yeah, I know, it's really weird to even contemplate such a thing. But I live here. I know the people here. There is good here which is all but waiting to be unleashed.
It could happen.
Posted by Ron at 2:43 AM
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Noam Chomsky Slams America's Selfish Ayn Randian Elites
In an interview broadcast on Al Jazeera English, Noam Chomsky argues that people who have the most privilege owe the most to society. "The more privilege you have the more responsibility you have," says Chomsky, "It's elementary."
Asked why the opposite seems to be true in America, where many wealthy people refuse to give up their time or money to help those in need, Chomsky replies that the lack of public responsibility among many elites makes sense; after all, if you've devoted your life to enriching yourself and wealth is what you value the most, you don't care as much about other people. But it goes beyond that, argues Chomsky. "It's also institutional. In its more pathological form, it's Ayn Rand ideology: 'I just don't care about anyone else. I'm only interested in benefiting myself. That's good and noble."
It is important to note that I don't dig Chomsky because he's a hippie guru or something to that effect, which is a thought I've heard used to dismiss both him and people who quote him. And I don't read Chomsky because he "hates America," which is also something I've heard used to dismiss him. Actually, I've never seen anything even coming close to America-hating in his writing. Far from it, the sense I get is that Chomsky criticizes the US because he is an American, that he feels it is his civic responsibility to do so, making him a true patriot, a man willing to tell the awful truth to people who don't want to hear it, although I'm sure he would reject the term "patriot" as being extraordinarily problematic, which it is. But whatever. When all is said and done, I read Chomsky because his is the only narrative about power in the world that makes any sense at all--indeed, I didn't understand Israel/Palestine until I started reading Chomsky, but his work is highly illuminating across the board.
What's most important about Noam Chomsky isn't so much the content, which is, in fact, important, but his approach to thinking about power relationships. When you read Chomsky, you start to get a handle on political rhetoric, and the difference between what the establishment, which is comprised of the media, government, demagogues, and corporate PR people, says, and what it actually does. For instance, when America goes to war, it's always fighting for "freedom." Always. There is no war in which we take part where we're not fighting for "freedom." And "freedom" is why we invaded Iraq. Of course, at this point, any idiot knows that it was about oil and neocons, which is exactly what Chomsky was saying at the time, even while all the Very Serious People continued to bloviate about "freedom." Good times.
At any rate, go check out the interview; it's a good one, and relatively short, clocking in at only twenty five minutes. And he covers a lot more than just the harsh and cruel economic ideology guiding the GOP's political moves these days. He also has some very harsh words about Obama. Good stuff.
Posted by Ron at 12:43 AM
Monday, January 14, 2013
NO, CHEAP CONSUMER GOODS DO NOT ALLEVIATE POVERTY
From a New York Times op-ed piece, courtesy of a facebook friend:
Can’t Save? Here’s Why
But deciding to take your lunch to work or to cancel your cable television won’t help nearly as much as you’d think. For all the attention we pay to overspending, we struggle with our personal finances not because we spend too much money on small luxuries but because salaries have stagnated at the same time as the costs of nonluxuries have gone up.
Posted by Ron at 2:59 AM
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Paul Krugman on Why Jobs Come First
From PBS' Moyers and Company:
Our current obsession with slashing the deficit is getting in the way of real work that needs to be done to preserve both our economy and our democracy. In this episode of Moyers & Company, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman argues that we should put aside our excessive focus on saving money, try to overcome political recalcitrance, and spend money to put America back to work. Krugman offers specific solutions to not only end what he calls a “vast, unnecessary catastrophe,” but to do it more quickly than some imagine possible. His latest book, End This Depression Now!, is both a warning of the fiscal perils ahead and a prescription to safely avoid them.
Watch the entire interview here.
Here's the short version.
The government is so huge, and necessarily so, that it is a rather large chunk of our overall economy. Consequently, the government, as an entity, has within its power the ability to affect the economy, for better and worse. Case in point: when the government cuts spending, it removes chunks of the economy; conversely, when the government increases spending, it adds chunks to the economy. Conservatives long for some sort of perfect situation where the government doesn't affect the economy, but this is, of course, impossible. It does affect the economy, and that's how it will always be, how it's always been.
Right now, as Krugman observes again and again, our economic problem is very similar to that of the Great Depression: consumers, for various reasons, aren't spending. That's why businesses aren't hiring, which only adds to the consumer spending problem. People with jobs are afraid of losing them, which means they're not spending either, which, of course adds to the consumer spending problem. If the government put a lot of money into consumers' hands, they would spend it, in mass, giving businesses a reason to hire again. People who already have jobs would be less afraid of losing their jobs, and be more willing to spend again, which would also give businesses a reason to start hiring again. Indeed, if the government does this enough, and in specifically targeted ways, it would kick start the economy into overall growth.
And growth, of course, would greatly increase the tax base, which necessarily increases tax revenue, which makes deficit spending much, much, much less of a problem. But remember when I said above that cutting government spending removes a chunk of the economy, that the way the government uses its money has better and worse effects? The conventional Washington wisdom is that the government needs to CUT spending, which has the opposite effect of what I described in the previous paragraph. That is, cutting spending right now, during what is technically a period of growth, but very sluggish growth, might seem to be the way out of deficit spending, but is, in fact, simply making the problem worse by depressing the economy and shrinking the tax base. That is, we're ruled mostly by lemming-like idiots who have no grasp of basic macroeconomic theory.
This is actually pretty simple stuff. Very mainstream economics. But nobody in Washington seems to get it. So we're totally going in the wrong direction.
Go check out the interview. Krugman explains it much better than I do, and he fills it in with lots of good details. As you watch, keep in mind this isn't some partisan guy pushing crackpot theory. He's a Nobel Prize winner in economics, and a professor at Princeton, a leader in his field. The real deal.
And I have no idea why what he's pushing, Keynesian economics, totally mainstream stuff, is D.O.A. with the Feds.
Posted by Ron at 2:56 AM
Friday, January 11, 2013
Thursday, January 10, 2013
10 Ways the Drug War Is Causing Massive Collateral Damage to Our Society
The war on drugs is America’s longest war. It has been 40-plus years since Nixon launched our modern “war on drugs” and yet drugs are as plentiful as ever. While the idea that we can have a “drug-free society” is laughable, the disastrous consequences of our drug war are dead serious. While it might not be obvious, the war on drugs touches and destroys so many of the issues we care about and the values we hold.
Click here for the list.
A couple of years ago I was talking with my then girlfriend about the War on Drugs. I was advocating legalizing drugs and treating the issue as a public health concern. I named a few of the many reasons this is a damned fine idea. But she just couldn't get her arms around the concept of harm reduction. To her, keeping drugs illegal was a must because drugs are bad. It didn't seem to matter that the War on Drugs causes far, far more problems than the drugs themselves do. She had this vision of everyone getting fucked up all the time, and, I think, society falling apart as a result. We didn't really continue the conversation once it became clear to me that she was unable, or unwilling, to depart from the rigid anti-drug orthodox propaganda to which we have all been subject for most of my life. Drugs are bad, mmm-kay, so just say "no."
I have to keep reminding myself that what is so mind-numbingly clear to me, that the never-ending War on Drugs is an absolute failure and an albatross around the neck of our nation, continues to be crazy talk to a great number of Americans. I shouldn't be surprised: at this point in history, millions of kids have gone through the demonstrably ineffective anti-drug school program DARE, and even though most of them sort of intuitively understand that it's bullshit, a number of them buy into part or all of it. That is, the War on Drugs is also about information, propaganda, and instilling inflexible black and white notions about how the world works. And this propaganda is successful with many.
That's why it's always good to revisit the facts. So go check out the above linked article. We need to remember that we've been on this suicide mission for forty years now. And we need to continually consider the human toll this "War" has taken.
Posted by Ron at 11:48 PM
University Of Texas Researchers Remotely Hijack Drone
From the New New Internet courtesy of BuzzFlash:
Recently, Prof. Todd Humphreys and his team at a University of Texas at Austin laboratory conducted an experiment to see if they could hijack a drone.
The team used a $1,000 spoofer device to replicate commands a satellite gives a drone for flying, giving the drone false navigation information that appears real, according to John Roberts’ report.
Anyone with the spoofer could hack into a drone and completely control all of its movements and Humphreys told Roberts using a spoofer is similar to hijacking a plane.
Humphreys estimated there could be 30,000 drones in airspace within 5 or 10 years and each one of these could be a potential missile used against us.
A bit more here.
Okay, it's disturbing enough that we use these things for "targeted killings," which is just a euphemism for assassination, and that these "targeted killings" tend to take out a lot of people that aren't the intended targets. It's also disturbing enough that these drones are increasingly being used by domestic police forces for Orwellian surveillance purposes. But it's particularly disturbing to note how easily they can be hacked. Especially when tens of thousands of them are slated to be used in the next decade.
Needless to say, there are some problems with this.
I'm sure the government is going to do its best to improve the cyber-security involved here, but the point is that, once again, the science appears to be outpacing our understanding of what, exactly, we think we're doing with it. I mean, there is virtually no public discourse on how these drones are being or should be used. What happens if we start doing "targeted killings" on our own soil? What happens if ne'er-do-wells start hacking into these things for their own nefarious purposes?
We really do stumble blindly into the future.
Posted by Ron at 1:48 AM
Wednesday, January 09, 2013
Alex Jones' Piers Morgan Rant: Radio Host Unleashes Explosive Pro-Gun Tirade
From the Huffington Post:
Jones began the segment by arguing that world governments and "the megabanks that control the planet" are conspiring to take guns away from regular citizens. "They've taken everybody's guns, but the Swiss and the American people," he said. The 2nd Amendment, he then went on to argue, was created to "protect us from tyrannical government and street thugs."
Over the course of the tirade -- during which he referenced the recent high-profile gang rape in India and Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong -- Jones' demeanor grew noticeably more irate before finally boiling over with the following declaration:
"I'm here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms! Doesn't matter how many lemmings you get out there on the street, begging for 'em to have their guns taken. We will not relinquish them. Do you understand?! That's why you're going to fail, and the establishment knows, no matter how much propaganda, the republic will rise again!"More here, with video.
Of course, Jones is a total nut, although I must admit that on more than one occasion I've found myself agreeing with what he has to say. Morgan is a corporate establishment liberal, with much more emphasis on "corporate" and "establishment" than on "liberal," so I kind of hate him, but, as with Jones, I've also agreed with him from time to time. And this is one of those instances. To the best of my knowledge, Morgan hasn't called for the government to "take our firearms." Rather, he's called for gun registration and banning only certain weapons and accessories, which seems entirely sensible to me: such action allows us to own guns, in keeping with our second amendment rights, but limits the would-be mass murderer's ability to take down huge numbers of victims in one fell swoop. This strikes me as a moderate position, no extremes, people keeping guns, but with some limits applied.
So the thing I don't understand is why some Americans, people who aren't nuts like Jones, genuinely believe that such a position is extreme. Indeed, there's a lot I don't understand about the gun debate. These are some honest questions, not to be taken necessarily as arguments:
1. If gun ownership is actually about protecting us from a tyrannical government, shouldn't we be allowed to own stinger missiles and nuclear weapons? It seems that simple firearms wouldn't stand a snowball's chance if we really needed to get our insurrection on some day, so shouldn't we be serious about this?
2. Also, what's the "well regulated militia" part of the second amendment mean? Why don't we ever discuss this? It suggests that the reason for citizen gun ownership is so we can have a military; it also suggests that such ownership ought to be well regulated. But no one, not even the Supreme Court, seems to care about the phrase. Why not?
3. Why do so many people believe that Obama wants to take away our guns? I have heard nothing at all to that effect, ever. Indeed, it seems like the Democrats have, until very recently, completely given up on gun control as an issue, let alone rattled their sabres about confiscating firearms. So there has been just no rhetoric on this, no policy initiatives, no nothing. But a sizable percentage of the nation seems absolutely convinced that it's going to happen. What gives?
Again, these questions are not to be construed as attacks or even arguments. They're genuine questions about genuine confusion I have on the gun debate. To be clear, I believe the second amendment means what it says, that our right to bear arms cannot be infringed. But I'm just not sure what that right is, exactly, or what it means to infringe on it. And the public discourse seems short on answers. I just can't accept that it's all or nothing, that it's either we get to have guns, in an unlimited and uncontrolled way, or we don't get to have guns at all. It's got to be something in between, but the debate is in stark black and white.
Help a brother out?
Posted by Ron at 3:22 AM
Monday, January 07, 2013
THE STAR TREK CALENDAR PICTURE OF THE MONTH IS...
...Kirk and Spock!
Posted by Ron at 10:43 PM
YES, IT REALLY IS ALL ABOUT MILITARY SPENDING
War Addiction Default
I thought for a moment, trying to come up with a simple way to explain the peculiar politics of a fake democracy where two equally pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist parties vie with genuine bitterness for patronage spoils and legal bribes, all the while ignoring the real wishes and needs of the public, and then it hit me: it is really all about US militarism and the unwillingness of the either of the two political parties to admit honestly to to American people how much they are being gouged to allow the US government and its corporate owners to continue in their attempt to control the world.
It really is that simple.
The US currently spends almost as much on its military and on paying for current and past wars in terms of interest on war debt and care for wounded and aging soldiers as the entire rest of the world spends on arms and war. Approximately $1.3 trillion gets spent each year in taxpayer’s dollars and in more borrowed funds (50 cents of every federal tax dollar goes to pay for the US military, the intelligence apparatus, veterans’ benefits and other related military costs). It is simply ludicrous, given this situation, to imagine that the US can significantly reduce its budget deficit either by raising taxes or by cutting social spending.
The popular notion, which I have until now believed, is that military spending is not the budget buster that some people make it out to be. It's a lot of money, to be sure, but not as much as "entitlements." So they say. So the pie charts show. But as the above linked article notes, when you throw in everything involved with American war-waging, you get a much, much, much bigger figure. Half of everything we spend is on the war apparatus. Fucking half. It really is all about military spending.
And what do all these wars get us? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
The concept of "strong defense" is sacrosanct in both American politics and American culture. But this isn't defense. It's offense. It's about maintaining an empire that we're not supposed to call an empire. It's about oil. It's about "free trade," even though we're spending a lot of money for all that "free" trade, money that doesn't help you and me one damned bit. It's about corporations' ability to make money, which doesn't create jobs here at home, and doesn't come back to America as taxes. It's about stopping the terrorism that was inspired by our military's foreign presence in the first place, military intervention that justifies itself.
Eisenhower was more right about the military-industrial complex than anyone, including me, is ready to acknowledge. It's sucking us dry. And we're a bunch of chumps.
Posted by Ron at 2:21 AM
Sunday, January 06, 2013
Friday, January 04, 2013
How Democrats Became Liberal Republicans
From the Fiscal Times courtesy of Hullabaloo:
The dirty secret is that Obama simply isn’t very liberal, nor is the Democratic Party any more. Certainly, the center of the party today is far to the right of where it was before 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected with a mission to move the party toward the right. It was widely believed by Democratic insiders that the nation had moved to the right during the Reagan era and that the Democratic Party had to do so as well or risk permanent loss of the White House.
It is only the blind hatred Republicans had for Clinton that prevented them from seeing that he governed as a moderate conservative – balancing the budget, cutting the capital gains tax, promoting free trade, and abolishing welfare, among other things. And it is only because the political spectrum has shifted to the right that Republicans cannot see to what extent Obama and his party are walking in Clinton’s footsteps.
In a little-noticed comment on Spanish-language television on December 14, Obama himself confirmed this typology of today's political spectrum. Said Obama, "The truth of the matter is that my policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican."
This has been totally frustrating me for many years now: today's Democrats are essentially where the Republicans were in the late 80s. I mean, subtracting the so-called "social issues," which nobody who matters cares about anymore. The bottom line is that the Democratic Party long ago fully accepted the various conservative assumptions about how to deal with the economy. The Republicans, in effect, won resoundingly the ideological battle over money and labor, and we've been in what amounts to their era for a very long time.
But what are essentially conservative positions, the positions of the Democratic Party, are now called "liberal." And what are essentially far right-wing psycho national suicide positions, the positions of the Republican Party, are called "conservative." That is, our public discourse refuses to acknowledge the two parties for what they are, conservative and ultra-conservative--needless to say, there is no longer such a thing as a liberal party in American politics, at least, one that plays a significant role. And what's even more amazing is that lots of "liberals" in the Democratic Party don't understand what has happened. I've been dressed down on more than one occasion by these types for not supporting Gore, or Kerry, or Obama, or whoever, because I'm somehow hurting the cause of liberalism when I support Nader or some other actual liberal. When I respond that Democrats aren't actually liberal, I'm usually greeted with a blank stare from their uncomprehending fish eyes.
They don't get it. They're not liberals. I am. I'm not on their side. I don't owe them anything, certainly not my vote. We don't share the same point of view. Scolding me for not supporting their candidates is about as absurd as Republicans scolding me for not supporting theirs. It's a total crock of shit, and yet I'm supposed to be a fool for insisting on my principles.
In this sense, Democrats are far worse than Republicans. At least the GOP doesn't demand that I bury my identity. The Democrats, in contrast, continue with this soul-destroying masquerade, continue to whip dissenters into line, and the nation moves ever to the right, even while they congratulate themselves for being more enlightened and compassionate than the Republicans. Idiots.
So this is where the nation is. We've just reelected an old school conservative to the Oval Office. He is hostile to the working man, and very, very friendly with corporate forces which do an end run around democracy with their money. Everybody believes Obama is a liberal, even actual liberals, who continue to be perplexed as to why he won't govern like a liberal.
Get a clue! Obama's not a liberal! You only think he is because everybody says he is!
I'm sick of the whole "not as bad as the Republicans" line of bullshit. Yeah, it may be true. But the Republicans take us toward conservative oblivion chaotically and quickly, while the Democrats take us there slowly and methodically. Either way, the right-wing wasteland - think Mad Max movies - is where we're headed, and neither party has any desire to change direction.
I was, I must admit, happy when Obama won. But only because the nation dodged a bullet. Not because liberalism is in any way triumphant. We continue to be headed in the wrong direction. Obama is not our savior. Indeed, no one from the political establishment can possibly be our savior. They all buy into the "Washington consensus," laissez-faire, low taxes on the rich, deregulation, hostility to organized labor, cutting social services. That is, they don't believe in the middle class, even though they throw the term around like it was Jesus Himself.
This is something in common I share with people who call themselves "conservative": I think this country is going to hell in a handbasket.
Posted by Ron at 2:24 AM