Friday, October 14, 2011

Repeat as Unnecessary

I suppose you could divide people into two groups: those who believe that those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and those who believe we're condemned to repeat it anyway.  Anyway, when it comes to Occupy Wall Street, some are repeating it: namely, the police.

Friday will tell whether the threatened showdown in New York happens, and if so, what it looks like.  But there as in other cities, police are reverting to their role and therefore their image from other protest eras: taking orders from big money, via the political establishment.  It becomes clear exactly who they serve and protect.

Conservatives have a much bigger and more instantaneous megaphone this time in squawk radio and FOX, which is relentlessly attacking protesters as dirty, flea-infested drug addicts (drugs being the latest obsession.)  What is different is that they aren't so effective, as these protests poll with a higher approval rating than the Teasters--a majority approval in the Time poll, doubling that of the Tpers.   

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hope Lives

So different from the GOPer madness, President Obama offers passion along with sanity, moral leadership along with intelligence and knowledge, real leadership with inspiration.  And despite all the noise, people are responding.

I've just received the Obama campaign fundraising numbers for the last quarter: 606,027 people donated to the Obama campaign -- even more than gave in the record-breaking previous quarter.  The combined total of the Obama campaign and the DNC is more than $70 million.

98% of these donations were $250 or less, with an average of $56.  The number of donations was 766,000--more than twice the number as 2008 at this point in the campaign.  The total number of people who have donated to this campaign is nearly 1 million.

Couple this with the yesterday's NBC poll that showed that President Obama has a higher level of support for reelection among Democrats than Bill Clinton did in his best month before his reelection.  And that he's leading each of his possible GOPer opponents.

Bachman in Overdrive: More of the Same?

Michelle Bachman as interpreted by Bad Lip Readers, asking the musical question: is this any more surreal than what she said during the debate Tuesday night?  Funnier, yes.  But more surreal?

At the Circus

In this circus, it's all elephants.  Or put it this way: with the elephants, it's all circus.

Who is leading the GOPer polls? 2 out of 3 GOPers agree, it's Herman Cain, whose qualification for the presidency is that he successfully sells pizzas  This is what America needs--to run government and the free world like a pizza business.  But a fundamentalist Christian one--"I'll have a large cheese and sausage to go, no Mormons, Medicare or Social Security, and hold the immigrants.  Deliver it to heaven because until the Rapture, I'm homeless."

Newt Romney is the odds on favorite, but as Chris Matthews suggested, he's like the movie you go to see when the movie you want to see is sold out.  Cowboy Rick is a debate disaster, but he has a lot of campaign cash and better candidates than him have survived being called lackluster in early debates.  But he so plumb ignorant (the American Revolution was fought in the 1500s, according to him last night) that not even Texas white Tevangelicals may be able to save him.  The so-called debate meanwhile was a parade of trunk-to-tail pandering (Repeal Everything!) and lying, with not a single realistic proposal for anything.      

And how about Mitt Gingrich? "He came off as a petulent, pompous, pseudo-intellectual prick. He is simply not that bright, and as out of his depth as his insecure pronouncements of self-described world-historical profundity suggest. He belongs on Dancing With The Stars, not a Republican debate."

And in other circus news:

"President Obama called investment banker Ron Milner to the podium and then, without provocation or warning, delivered what witnesses describe as a "haymaker" punch to Mr. Milner's jaw. "That's for ruining the economy, asshole," Mr. Obama remarked, then spit at Mr. Milner's feet and walked away.

Early polls indicate the President's punch is receiving widespread voter approval, with 44% of respondents telling survey-takers "It's about damn time one of those rich pricks got their teeth knocked in" and another 32% saying they wished Obama had kicked Mr. Milner in addition to punching him."

Texas restaurants complain they could be driven out of business by the ban on last meals for condemned prisoners.  Governor Cowboy Rick was asleep at the presidential candidates debate and unavailable for comment.

Possibly Not the Real One

Elizabeth Warren announces--a fantasy recreation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

GOP Filibusters American Jobs

On Tuesday evening the United States Senate voted to begin debate on the American Jobs Act.  But every GOP Senator voted against it, and invoked cloture.  Translation: they filibustered it.  It can't be brought to the floor or debated, so it can't be passed by the majority that voted to consider it.

When it comes to the American Jobs Act and the method of financing it that involves millionaires and billionaires paying a tax rate closer to what they paid in the 90s, majorities don't matter.  According to recent polls, a majority of Americans favor the American Jobs Act.  Large majorities (from 68% to 80% or more, depending on the poll and what questions are asked) support paying for it from fairer taxation on the very wealthy, and on closing favoritism to particular corporations.

The American Jobs Act includes tax cuts for the middle class and small business, and extended benefits for the unemployed.  It includes funds to rehire teachers, police and fire personnel.  It includes funding for repairing America's dangerous and inadequate infrastructure: roads, bridges, airports, railways, water and sewer systems, electricity grids, broadband-- as well as schools in dire need of repair, all of which are supported by a majority of economists and corporations.  Here's what Joe Nocera wrote about the findings of a report commissioned by the New American Foundation:

"How can we break this cycle? Like most mainstream economists, Alpert, Hockett and Roubini roll their eyes at the calls for immediate government deficit reduction, which led to the creation of the supercommittee. Reducing government spending in the short term will only make things worse.

Instead, they believe that this is perhaps the best time in recent history for the government to take on a sustained infrastructure program, lasting from five to seven years, to create jobs and demand. “Labor costs will never be lower,” says Hockett. “Equipment costs will never be lower. The cost of capital will never be lower. Why wait?” Their plan calls for $1.2 trillion in spending — not all by the government, but all overseen by government — that would add 5.2 million jobs each year of the program. Alpert says that current ideas, like tax cuts, meant to stimulate the economy indirectly, just won’t work for a problem as big the one we are facing. Indeed, so far, they haven’t."

The report itself adds this: "Beyond this, it is important to note that infrastructure investment has a healthy multiplier effect throughout the economy. The CBO estimates that every dollar of infrastructure spending generates on average a$1.6 increase in GDP. Some critical transportation and energy projects have even larger multiplier effects."

They note the cost to the U.S. economy of inadequate infrastructure: "The Department of Transportation, for example,reports that freight bottlenecks cost the American economy $200 billion a year—the equivalent of more than 1 percent of GDP. And the Federal Aviation Administration estimates that air traffic delays cost the economy $32.9 billion a year. Perhaps even more worrying, there is growing evidence that uncertainties about the future reliability of our energy, water and transportation systems are creating obstacles to investment in some parts of the country and thus impeding new business investment."

They note that time is money: "Deteriorating infrastructure is subject to “costacceleration” where repair or replacement costs grow with time. A project that costs $5 or 6 million to repair now may cost upwards of $30 million to repair merely two years from now. Since most of these projects will need to be undertaken at some point, the question is literally not whether but when."

These arguments on the basis of need and of opportunity (unemployed workers, underutilized machinery etc.) are compelling.  But so is the broader economic argument.  Right now U.S. corporations are sitting on trillions in cash which they won't invest in America, because of low demand, which is due to unemployment, low wages, economic uncertainties, and fallout from mortgage and other debts.  Only more demand for products and services in the U.S. will pry that cash from their cold hands--demand that has to match the growing demand in other countries, where labor and other costs are cheaper.  A big infrastructure program not only makes the U.S. more competitive in the future, but it puts money in the pocket of millions of workers and large and small business. When they spend that money, it breaks the cycle of low demand, low investment.

There are no fact-based counterarguments except in details.  The only reason to oppose programs like this, and like the American Jobs Act programs, is a desire for failure.  This includes politicians and their corporate backers who want the U.S. economy to fail to hurt their political opponents, most of all President Barack Obama.  It includes banks and very big companies and the rich people who run them, who don't really care if the U.S. economy does fail, because they'll be okay, they'll just do business elsewhere (they think.)   And it includes Tevangelists who don't care if the economy fails because why should they, their righteousness is much more important, and besides the sooner the apocalypse the sooner their Rapture.

Given a political system which is unresponsive to reason and to the majority, the current activities of The 99% are entirely reasonable.  There are those who believe this economic crisis is not temporary but the harbinger of a permanent decline, affected as it is by changes wrought by the Climate Crisis (higher food prices for example) and other global trends.  In the long run the world economy is in for wrenching change, but those changes will be easier to deal with if the solutions proposed by President Obama and/or these economists would go into effect.  A more efficient and longer lasting infrastructure alone is an investment in any future. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It Did Happen Here

Today I heard several people on TV--reporters and officials--refer to the alleged plot to explode a bomb in Washington that would kill the Saudi ambassador as "unprecedented."

Well, not exactly.  It may be unprecedented because this is an ambassador, but a bomb did kill a prominent foreign statesman in Washington, as well as an American as collateral damage.  The current plot involves an American citizen.  This earlier plot may well have involved the American CIA.

It was a car bomb in 1976 that killed Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffit. Orlando Letelier had been an official in the Salvador Allende government in Chile, an elected government with broad public support but an openly socialist democratic agenda. Entrenched political and corporate interests didn't like it much, and the Cold War heat was on such suspiciously non-capitalistic regimes. Allende was assassinated during a military coup in 1973, that brought the now notorious dictator and ruthless murderer, General Augusto Pinochet to power.Over the next decade Pinochet and his secret police turned “disappeared” into a verb. Thousands of Chileans over the next several decades were disappeared by his secret police.

One of the first was Orlando Letelier, who in 1976 was traveling the world for the Institute for Policy Studies, and organizing boycotts and other opposition to the Chilean dictatorship. On an autumn evening in 1976, a bomb planted in his car exploded on a Washington street, not far from the White House. He was dead before he reached the hospital. A young American woman, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, his assistant, was also killed. Her husband, Michael Moffitt, was injured.

It later became clear that the Chilean coup and the murder of Allende were at least facilitated by the U.S. government, specifically the CIA. The role of Henry Kissinger was allegedly large.

It wasn’t until 2000 or so that the CIA’s involvement in Letelier’s assassination was partially acknowledged. The CIA, directed by George H.W. Bush in 1976, at the very least covered up their knowledge that the Chilean secret police did the hit. They may have been much more involved than that. Eventually a senior member of Pinochet's secret police was convicted of the assassination in a U.S. federal court.  According to Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine, "The assassins had been admitted to the country on false passports with the knowledge of the CIA."

  At the time I was the editor of a weekly alternative newspaper called Washington Newsworks, and I’m proud to say that our coverage of the Letelier assassination was more extensive that week, and holds up better now, than anyone else’s in town, including the Washington Post.

The real credit goes to Jeff Stein, who did the reporting and wrote the stories.  (This is the same Jeff Stein who until earlier this year wrote "Spy Talk" for the Washington Post.)   Just about all I did was recognize the importance of it, and I made the decision to put it on the cover and give it full play inside. In particular, Jeff’s reporting and our coverage did not buy the official line in the immediate aftermath, that the bomb was planted by leftists. It was G.H.W. Bush himself who convinced the establishment media that Chile’s Secret Police wasn’t involved. That’s why not many people know about this bit of infamous history. Letelier and Moffitt both deserved better then, and they deserve better now.

They'd Like to Give Iran a Koch

Iran features prominently in two news stories today.  The first--the one that is getting the headlines and big play--is the plot that the U.S. foiled to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, which was financed and apparently directed from inside the government (or at least the military) of Iran.

The second is the Bloomberg report that says that among the foreign countries that the Koch Brothers bribed to get business was Iran.  This is yet another hair-raising profile of the Kochheads and their international as well as national criminal conspiracy, out to not only buy the U.S. but to buy the world, a Koch at a time.

Occupy America

The Occupy Wall Street etc. demonstrations continue to get a lot of attention, notably from the police.  There's an overnight story about police violence in Boston.  Police in Seattle gave costly tickets to motorists who were beeping their horns in support of demonstrators there.  So far all the violence has come from the police, perhaps aided by admitted Rabid Right infiltrators.

There are also the familiar right wing charges--GOPer leaders, Rove, Gland Beck who warns demonstrators are out to kill him--and one of my old favorites, charges that the demonstrators are puppets of the Communist Party, made on Fox News.  But demonstrators have been giving as well as they get from Fox, including greeting Heraldo with chants of Fox Lies!  

Nobody really knows where this is all going yet, except the demonstrations themselves will get bigger for awhile--probably at least until a massive one in Washington.  Andrew Sullivan is monitoring the deep thoughts on the subject, of which I frankly have none.  But you combine this with the GOPer refusal to deal with the American Jobs Act in Congress and its bizarre roster of presidential candidates, and what's happening in the states (as in the post below)--there's unknowable potential.

This movement so far seems stuck with the name "Occupy..." which is an action or a tactic, not an organizational name. But it's got interesting resonances.  Historically of course, to the occupying of buildings etc. in various 60s protests (which came out of earlier sit-ins and strikes) but also to the word itself--an occupation being another name for a job, for what you do, which gives people so much of their identity in this time and place.  So a lot of people don't have occupations, and fear they won't have one in the near future.  This is what occupies them now, and that's always the plutocratic fear, that unemployment leaves people unoccupied, with the time, energy and motivation to occupy themselves by making trouble for the plutocracy. 

There's the 99%, which is a more potent label.  More than enough, you'd think, to occupy America.     

Vote Anyway

The GOPer crusade against the "wrong people" voting (i.e. minorities, anybody who might be a Democrat) in the states is getting more media attention, thanks to specific stories like this one about a 96 year old woman denied the right to vote because she didn't have her marriage license, required for a voter ID somehow.

But it turns out that the U.S. Justice Department is pretty limited in what it can do, at least before the 2012 elections.  What state courts can do depends on state constitutions.  But that doesn't mean the situation is hopeless.  Some of these preposterous laws can be overturned by voter referendum, and that's in the works in some states.  But the real work is going to be for groups and individuals to defeat the intent of these laws by organizing to fight through their onerous provisions and register people anyway, and eventually to do what has to be done to register and to vote anyway.

That might be a good slogan for buttons etc.: VOTE ANYWAY!  If they're going back to Jim Crow kinds of anti-voting laws, then people are going to have to do what people did in those days--insist on their rights, follow the damn law but make sure you vote.  That's the only way they don't win.  If heroic measures are necessary, then be heroic.

Early awareness is important and fortunately it's beginning, not only in the national political media but in the affected states.  The League of Women Voters in Florida should reconsider its decision to give up trying to register voters because of that state's elaborate new requirements.  And if they are stopped, then it's time to take it to court.  REGISTER ANYWAY! 

There's no point in wasting time and energy arguing with these cynical power grabbers (except in court)--they are so transparent.  These are the people who justify these laws because of voter fraud that does not exist, with the same pious face that they use to deny the facts of the Climate Crisis.  There's no reasoning with them.  There's just defeating them, and their attempts to discourage and intimidate. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"A talent is formed in stillness, a character in the world's torments"

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Not Always A Science

I know nothing about, and want to say nothing about, the Swedish poet who stole the Nobel for Lit from Margaret Atwood.  Okay, he didn't steal it. I note the physicists who won for realizing that the universe is expanding faster.  This 1998 discovery has been joined by others in a fascinating new picture of the vastness of space--an even stranger universe.

But what I want to highlight from Nobel week is the chemistry prize, for Dan Shechtman, an Israeli scientist who discovered new crystalline structure that other scientists thought was impossible.  He was laughed at, fired from the U.S. Bureau of Standards, ostracized.  The evidence mounted, so now quasicrystals not only exist but are manufactured, and as the Nobel committee said, it "eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter."

I highlight this because those of us who are trying to fight off the horrifying resurgence of Dark Ages ignorance are tempted to go to the other extreme and deify science. Sure, we're facing the contempt for science by a frighteningly powerful minority, the refusal to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence for the Climate Crisis that may doom civilization completely.  But when battle lines are drawn, us or them, either/or rigidity can lead to equal and opposite errors, like turning science into a religion.

Science and scientists are demonstrably fallible. Even eminent scientists can be prideful and political, just like other academics and politicians.  For instance, this little drama of a new discovery or theory being ridiculed before being lauded is not just a familiar storyline.  It is evidence of human flaws that get repeated in patterns, and can result in great suffering, in wasted years and ruined lives for individuals, and all kinds of bad consequences for others.  Among other things, it discourages new discoveries and creativity in general.

Some scientists know this. Renowned physicist Max Planck admitted that new ideas seldom win over adherents of old ones -- usually a generation must pass while the new idea's "opponents gradually die out ..." English geneticist J.B.S. Haldane pointedly offered "four stages of acceptance" of a scientific idea: 1) this is worthless nonsense, 2) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view, 3) this is true, but quite unimportant, 4) I always said so.

Science should be approached with human humility.  A lesson in that for some religions I could mention.