Saturday, September 26, 2009

amcop funfacts 

The [US] military has more uniformed personnel in Mississippi than the State Department has diplomats worldwide. The military has more full colonels/Navy captains than the State Department has diplomats. The military has more band members than the State Department has diplomats. The Defense Department has almost as many lawyers as the State Department has diplomats.

More people playing John Phillip Souza ditties than diplomats. Those songs suck too. Couldn't they at least play something good? I could see a small army of marching musicians playing, say, Fugazi songs or even showtunes doing more for global stability than our diplomatic corps. But the wheezy, flatulent, snoozealongs of 100 years ago? Really? Maybe that shit got people riled and ready to kill back when life's greatest excitement was fucking your cousin until Pa brained you with a jug of moonshine, but Souza would soothe the savage breast of even the most bloodthirsty xenophobic cracker meth-head with a Soldier of Fortune subscription. No wonder the US doesn't win wars.

Numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that in the decade from 1998 through 2007, another field was outgrowing, and perhaps growing at the expense of, traditional journalism. The number of people working as “reporters and correspondents” declined slightly in that period, from 52,380 in 1998 to 51,620 in 2007. But the number of public relations specialists more than doubled, from 98,240 to 225,880.

More PR flacks than journalists by an order of magnitude. (shock horror)


And yes, you did see that right. Four dudes in fatigues, presumably working for the government, drove down a public street in an unmarked sedan, got out, and kidnapped a US citizen.

As Lenin points out:

...when the 'Teabaggers' inspired by Glenn Beck turned out to protest over healthcare reform, they could bring a gun and cite the second amendment, without being harrassed. G20 protesters get beaten up and exposed to top notch military technology if they just cite the first amendment

Although personally I think this has less to do with the State's innate tendency to favor right over left politics, which certainly exists, than it simply illustrates the relative importance elites attach to the appearance of consensus on global trade agreements vs. the appearance of dissensus (is that a word?) onstage at Mystery Healthcare Theater 2009.

Even better news:

LRAD sound weapons used in Afghanistan and Iraq are now being used against peaceful American citizens on the streets of Pittsburgh by armed military troops.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Don't choke on the shit 

Education: a machine through which unformed biological material can be processed into focused, goal-oriented, functional, obedient, conscience-less, murderous achievers of success.

And if you disagree, maybe you haven't taken to heart what it means to work in a disciplined, bipartisan fashion in the service of our nation.

Unions Criticize Obama's School Proposals as 'Bush III'

To the surprise of many educators who campaigned last year for change in the White House, the Obama administration's first recipe for school reform relies heavily on Bush-era ingredients and adds others that make unions gag.

Standardized testing, school accountability, performance pay, charter schools -- all are integral to President Obama's $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" grant competition... Labor leaders, parsing the Education Department's fine print, call the proposal little more than a dressed-up version of the No Child Left Behind law enacted seven years ago under Obama's Republican predecessor...

"Obama's the fourth president in a row who has been in favor of standards-based reform and test-driven accountability," said Jack Jennings, a former Democratic congressional aide and president of the Center on Education Policy...

On Thursday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told interest groups in Washington that the administration hopes to improve the 2002 federal law by raising expectations for students, giving schools more flexibility and tracking classroom gains rather than how far test scores fall short of what he called "utopian goals."

But Duncan reiterated his commitment to testing and accountability: "I will always give NCLB credit for exposing achievement gaps and for requiring that we measure our efforts to improve education by looking at outcomes rather than inputs. . . . Today, we expect districts, principals and teachers to take responsibility for the academic performance of their schools and students."

The standardized testing culture has sunk deep roots in public education under the federal mandate to assess students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. State tests are widely criticized for uneven rigor and quality, but they provide data crucial to many reform efforts. The administration has set aside funding to help develop a new generation of exams as a group of states seeks to write what could become the first nationwide academic standards. But for now, the regular state tests will feed into Race to the Top...

...Details embedded within the proposal have sent shock waves through the education world.

For example, it defines an "effective teacher" as one "whose students achieve acceptable rates (e.g., at least one grade level in an academic year) of student growth" -- and it requires such growth to be measured through state test scores when applicable. To revive struggling schools, including many Duncan calls "dropout factories," the proposal urges states to sweep out their staff or management, convert them to charter schools or close them entirely, with a fourth option of "school transformation" recommended only when the more aggressive strategies "are not possible." And the proposal declares ineligible for funding any state that prohibits the linkage of student achievement data to teachers and principals for job evaluations...

The National Education Association, with 3.2 million members, called it a "disturbing" federal intrusion. "We have been down that road before with the failures of No Child Left Behind," the union writes, "and we cannot support yet another layer of federal mandates that have little or no research base of success and that usurp state and local government's responsibilities for public education." Union affiliates from 19 states weighed in, many echoing such views.

The National School Boards Association declared itself generally supportive but worried that the program is "overly prescriptive," with an "overemphasis on charter schools [which can prohibit unions] and school takeovers."

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell (R) commended the administration's push for performance pay and charter schools. "Education reform is not a partisan issue," he wrote in a letter to Duncan last month.

In a joint statement, the Center for American Progress, Democrats for Education Reform, the Education Equality Project and the Education Trust called the proposal "a strong and good-faith effort" to fix education problems.

"There hasn't been enough focus by those on the left on innovation and entrepreneurship. It's ironic because it's those traits of America that have pushed this country into world leadership," Cynthia G. Brown of the Center for American Progress said in an interview. Said Brown, who was an assistant education secretary in the Carter administration: "We have to move forward and try some new ways of doing things. We need to do it in partnership with those who teach in our classrooms and those who govern our schools. But we've got to move forward."...

Innovation, entrepreneurship, moving forward, we've got to move forward. It's important for children to learn lessons, right? If you apply yourself, you accomplish that to which you've applied yourself. Kids have to learn to respect rules and standards. How can kids achieve success if they don't learn the importance of adhering to the rules and standards according to which success is measured and achieved?

America: where children learn how to become sales clerks, receptionists, concentration-camp guards, information-processors, and producers of reports on the necessity of standardized testing and precision-bombing in the Middle East.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

the stupid, it burns 

A paradigm example of the kind of fecklessness regnant among mainstream liberals: A win for Obama = a loss for the Insco's.

Alas. Would that it were so.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

response to comments 

@ JHD:

fwiw, and I know it's totally unfair, but "you" isn't you in particular, JHD. You've become something of a stand-in in my fevered imagination for the reigning liberal meliorism and quietism that has become so unbelievably maddening. Straw man indeed. This is the only forum in which I get to vent, and sadly you get the brunt of these insomniacal rantings.

As someone who is tangibly suffering the effects of this depression, I've totally lost patience with the political system, the commentariat, and mainstream liberal groups. Not that I really had any before. But this is particularly nauseating. Things people would have been freaking out about if Bush had done them are now unfortunate but necessary now that Obama is doing them. People who managed incisive criticism a year ago are now bending over backwards to pen the most ludicrous apologia. We are throat deep in shit and all we get is hypocritical fumes and mind-bending naivete.

Obama has actually had plenty of options to do things differently, especially on the economy, as well as the healthcare bill, the expanded executive powers, etc. He could have begun a program of re-regulating finance. He could have crafted a decent healthcare bill and aggressively twisted arms in congress and used his bully pulpit to motivate the citizenry. He could have actually refused to preemptively compromise on the bill and staked out a position knowing it would get whittled down. But all we get is dithering, posturing, finger-wagging and sanctimony. Maybe it would have mobilized capital against him. Maybe it would have cost him the next election. So what? It would have galvanized the majority of the populace that wants these things. And if he was taken down for it, it would only further reveal the actual dynamics at play and pull the scales from more eyes. And really who gives a shit if it costs him an election if he's not gonna do anything with the power?

SC has previously attempted to characterize BO as self-sacrificing. Forestalling the apocalypse by throwing his being on the gears of the machine. I'd believe it more if he actually sacrificed his position and privilege to take a stand on something. I'd happily take some mouthbreathing cracker with Bushian level of rhetorical skills if it meant he'd be a knee-capping pit-fighter for our side. There are ways. As a former San Francisco mayor said about the tobacco lobby, "If you can't take people's money and turn around and screw them, you don't deserve to be in the business."

All we get from liberals is fear of the right, counsels of patience and faith in the man, or people pointing out the structural factors inhibiting his actions. But the thing is that liberals only seems to see the structural picture when their man is in need of apologia. It doesn't inform their vision for society or their political strategies and tactics AT ALL. They have no vision, no ambition, no principles, no moral courage. Worse, they mask this severe lack of humanity behind some fake-ass imaginary version of intellectual integrity. They are content to be in the driver's seat of the sinking ship for a few more years until their do-nothingness moves them back to first mate status. What the fuck do they care really? They're not the ones in the breadlines.

You are absolutely right that what we are being shown is that Obama's brand of liberalism has an inexorable logic. The fucked up part is that we've been shown this plenty of times before. We don't need to see it in action again to predict how it will play out. It's a been a known behavior of capitalist republics since the 19th century, but we've seen it enough even in our lifetimes with Clintonism.

Being a head of state, and especially one in nominal control of the largest death machine in history automatically makes you a psychopathic, lying, mass-murdering fuckhead who is primarily concerned with his own power and privilege. Full stop. If you find yourself in that position and you want people to think you're a swell guy, you have to get some results. The burden of proof is on Obama to prove that he's actually interested in doing something for someone that isn't a member of a ruling faction. The burden of proof is NOT on his critics to prove that he's secretly self-interested and disingenuous. People in positions of power should not get the benefit of the doubt about their goodness and noble intentions. They should have to earn it with tangible substantive results. Until then, they are presumed guilty.

sometimes they tell the truth 

I forgot to post this priceless anecdote when it came out:

In three days of hearings last May, [Baucus] invited no fewer than 41 people to speak. The list featured all the usual industry hacks, including big insurers like America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), Blue Cross and Aetna. It's worth noting that several of the organizations invited — including AHIP and Amgen — employ several former Baucus staffers as lobbyists, including two of his ex-chiefs of staff.

Not one of the 41 witnesses, however, was in favor of single-payer — even though eliminating the insurance companies enjoys broad public support. Leading advocates of single-payer, including doctors from the Physicians for a National Health Program, implored Baucus to allow them to testify. When he refused, a group of eight single-payer activists, including three doctors, stood up during the hearings and asked to be included in the discussion. One of the all-time classic moments in the health care reform movement came when the second protester to stand up, Katie Robbins of Health Care Now, declared, "We need single-payer health care!"

To which Baucus, who looked genuinely frightened, replied, "We need more police!"

That just about says it all for class relations in this country: We need healthcare vs. we need police. Needs vs. control.

The whole article is worth reading by the way. A good primer on substance vs. bullshit as regards the healthcare bill.

And speaking of just coming out and saying it, here's Joe Biden:

"It's not that Republicans are bad guys. This is just the bet they've made. They're going to put their chips on movement in the 35 seats in the House that have been traditionally Republican districts and trying to take them back. If they take them back, this is the end of the road for what Barack and I are trying to do. This is their one shot. If they don't break the back of our effort in this upcoming election, you're going to see the things we said we're for happen."

Yep. Get us Congress. No wait! Get us Congress and the Presidency. No wait! Just one more election and I swear we'll start giving you something. I got $100 that says if Barack wins 2012, we'll hear Biden in 2015..."You need to elect me to continue the work that we started. I know you haven't seen results yet, but it took us eight years to lay the groundwork. But once I'm in we can finally start pulling the trigger on some changes." Of course, he'll be talking to a pile of corpses, but whatever.

You see they have to stay in power to change things, but they can't change anything when they're in power because that would risk losing power and then you wouldn't have the power to not do things.

naive or devious? supporter edition 

I got an email blast from MoveOn.org this morning inviting me and several million other people in their address book to a set of nationwide rallies to fight the insurance giants. Sure, I’d like to do that—but they’re organizing these rallies in support of the reform proposed by the administration and Congressional Democrats. As I’ve been saying over and over, there’s nothing in these proposals that seriously, or even semi-seriously, cramps the style of the big inscos. Quite the contrary. We’re all going to be forced to carry insurance, should this legislation pass, meaning buy it from the insurance companies. If you’re sort of poor, the gov will subsidize your purchase. They won’t be able to drop people for pre-existing conditions, but they will be able to force them to pay through the nose for crummy policies. Doesn’t MoveOn know this? Don’t they know that over the last three months Aetna’s stock has gone up 30%, about twice as much as the broad market? Is MoveOn so in thrall to the Democrats that they haven’t bothered to scrutinize the proposals? Or have they, and they don’t care? In other words, are they naïve or devious?


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Idiocy or lie? 

We all know that the question is inappropriate regarding Republicans, as they lack the moral and intellectual skills necessary to discern the difference between what it is expedient to say and what is true.

Is it appropriate to ask this question about the recent utterances of Bart Osama?

(Note: limiting executive compensation is not only or even primarily a question of fairness. The massive bonuses are awarded as shares of profits made by banks as they game the stock market; people came up with credit-default swaps so they could get and keep big bonuses, which they would be able to keep even if their chicanery destroyed their own companies. No control of Wall St is possible without capping the bonuses.)

So we read about Osama's recent remarks:

...Despite immense, taxpayer-financed rescue packages needed to overcome the crisis, the financial sector in the US is rapidly returning to business as usual. Indeed, three US banks – Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan – which received some $45bn of bailout aid, each paid billions of dollars more in bonuses in 2009 than they earned in 2008.

Here again, Europe is leading, while the Obama administration is dragging its feet. Europe has proposed far-reaching reforms designed to impose new rules on executive pay and bonuses, requiring that banks link pay to long-term rather than short-term performance, and that they "claw back" any bonuses received in the face of losses. Europe wants a financial police force that has powers to slash payments where investments prove to have failed, and to force boardrooms to control levels of speculation. Europe also wants to block the exercising of stock options for set periods and expose top bank directors to penalties, following huge payouts to failed bank chiefs.

The Obama administration's approach has been much more tepid, to say the least. The US financial industry, as expected, is fighting these reforms, but what do we make of a recent quote by President Obama questioning the need for supporting Europe's proposals. "Why is it," he asked during a recent interview, "that we're going to cap executive compensation for Wall Street bankers but not Silicon Valley entrepreneurs or [American] football players?"

Merely stupid or willfully deceptive? (Though this is so ridiculous I don't know who it is meant to deceive.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

I think Blicero penned this article 


The area has a watermelon museum and annual festival, not to mention the Institute for Irrigated Vegetable and Melon and Pumpkin Cultivation.Sergey D. Sokolov, a senior researcher there, said melons not only aided the digestive and excretory systems, but also lessened troubles with joints.

“We have several sanatoriums in our country where they treat people — I’m not afraid of saying it — with a watermelon diet,” Mr. Sokolov said. “And the people do no worse than when they are treated with regular medicine.”

Is Obama just an asshole? 

Obama is the one who set up the "Health Care Reform" Bill to go through the bipartisan gang of six (shitbags) in the Finance Committee. What Baucus et al. "came up with" had to have been formulated a long time ago, in consultation with Obama and Rahm Emmanuel. (Did you know that that prick founded the "Blue Dick" caucus and also was Clinton's point-man for the genocidal NAFTA?)

So Obama wants, and has always wanted, to base "Health Care Reform" on Baucus' bill, which was written by a former lobbyist for one of the largest insurance companies. Sweet.

From an Alternet article on Jay Rockefeller's announcement of his revulsion at the Obaucus bill:

"[T]here's no way that I can vote for the Senate [Finance] package for a lot of reasons and, obviously, the lack of a public option is one of them," Rockefeller told reporters -- even if it meant Baucus' proposal never made it out of the committee to face a vote by the full Senate...

...Asked about President Barack Obama's desire to get some kind of health care plan passed, and pressure by the administration to pass something -- anything -- Rockefeller told reporters, "It does represent a worry of mine … that if it becomes just a question of passing something so that you can say you did health care reform, then you really didn't do what we have an historic opportunity [to do]. That I find very distressing."

He then deferred to Yale professor Jacob Hacker, who was brought onto the call by Rockefeller to serve as an expert.

"It's been said that we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," Hacker said, "but I would also say that we shouldn't let the terrible be the ally of the expedient."

From Dr. Marcia Angell (note, people like Hacker and Angell and Jay Rockefeller are not radical agitators):

With the long-awaited release of the Baucus health plan, which is said to have Obama's approval, the fix is in. Billions of taxpayer dollars will be thrown at the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, much of it diverted from Medicare and Medicaid (despite Obama's protestations that he would not raid Medicare to shore up the private system). We'll simply pour more money into a system that's already shown itself capable of absorbing whatever we put into it without providing anything like commensurate health care.

Look at the bare bones of the plan. Americans will be required to buy health insurance at whatever price the companies choose to charge, many using government subsidies. Businesses will have to contribute or be fined. Drug companies will still be able to charge whatever they like for drugs, and continue to jack up prices at several times the inflation rate. In short, the government will deliver to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries millions more paying customers, with virtually no curbs on their profiteering. The "public option" was first gutted, then all but dropped....

... Insurers will be prohibited from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions or reducing benefits when customers have the temerity to get sick, but these prohibitions are easily circumvented...

We can get a glimpse of what lies in store from Massachusetts, which three years ago adopted a plan similar to the Baucus/Obama plan. Premiums in the state are rising at double-digit rates, benefits are often skimpy, co-payments are rising, and subsidies are costing the state far more than originally predicted. Die-hard advocates now say that universal insurance was always the first goal, to be followed by cost-control and increased benefits, but that hope is belied by the fact that things are moving in the opposite direction. Moreover, Massachusetts offers a best-case scenario, since the state already had a very low rate of uninsurance and was able to tap into a large pool of money set aside to provide free care to the indigent. The lesson is that there is not much sense in expanding coverage if it will quickly become inadequate and unaffordable.

All of this assumes that Baucus/Obama will eventually make its way through Congress in its present form. That is unlikely, but it is probable that some remnant of it will survive. It is now clear that the essential element in whatever passes will be publicly financed expansion of the insurance and pharmaceutical markets. Indeed, the purpose now seems not so much to provide universal health care as to win the heart and minds -- and wallets -- of these industries. They give copiously to Congressional campaigns, and with this health plan, the Democrats are positioned to take the lion's share of their donations. They've rolled right over the Republicans, whose health plan pretty much consists of, "Go out and buy insurance, and lots of luck." While that is good for the industries, it's not as good as the market expansion the Democrats now promise.

Insurance and drug companies will have plenty of opportunities to show their gratitude to the Democrats in the elections of 2010 and 2012. Moreover, since reform is not scheduled to be implemented until 2013, any public disillusionment won't be felt until after those elections...

So, is Obama a very conservative, tentative politician afraid to take risks and therefore conceding too much in advance to his opponents? Or is he just a cynical operator who thought he could parlay his mandate into a sneaky and highly remunerative bailout for the death industry without anyone really noticing? In other words, is Obama just an asshole?

The form of this world is passing away 

From the British economist Ann Pettifor (follower of Karl Polanyi, author of The Great Transformation, brilliant historian of debt and enslavement in the modern world):

"The wages of men should be recognized in the social order as more important than the wages of money...." Abraham Lincoln

The leaders of the world are about to gather in New York and Pittsburgh to address the catastrophic failure of the global economy at a time when many are using the stock market boom to argue that recovery is in sight. The hype around the stock bubble -- for that is what it is -- will most likely weaken any resolve to deal with the huge challenges posed by an out-of-control finance sector and a failing global economy.

The US economy has shrunk by $400 billion since the crisis began, the Japanese economy by Y 40 trillion; and the UK economy by 16 billion GBP. Unemployment worldwide is expected to rise in 2009 to the historically unprecedented level of 240 million, the highest ever level on record.

This is the G-20's challenge: do they obey their democratic mandates at Pittsburgh and recognize that the wages of men and women are more important to democracy and stability than the easy money made from the wages of money? Or do they go down in history as the wimps that fed and pandered to the destructive King Kong, the colossal and unaccountable monster that is the finance sector, towering over the global economy, destroying value and jobs, and weakening democracies?...

The casualties of this ruinous "bankers' crisis" are to be found all around Pittsburgh, site of the G-20 summit. In Pennsylvania alone more than 191,000 people have lost their jobs since August, 2008. Nationally, 25 million Americans are unemployed, or under-employed. 40 million Americans are now living in poverty -- on incomes below $11,200, according to a recent Commerce Department report. The number of Americans getting food stamps is up 700,000 since May.

At the same time as we hear talk of a housing market revival, in July alone 360,000 middle-class Americans were evicted from their properties by banks. 2.3 million properties have this year been defaulted upon, auctioned or repossessed, and the number is rising at record rates. Banks have so many properties on their books they are turning to auction houses to conduct mass sales. This affects the housing market as a whole by steadily deflating prices across the board.

Only yesterday I heard of a New Yorker who offered to buy from a bank for just $60k a repossessed house valued at a $150k. His offer was declined and the house put up for auction. He attended the auction, and purchased the same house for 25k. A massive destruction of value -- not just of that property but of all the properties in the area.

At the same time Americans are walking away from their debts. Serious mortgage delinquencies (90 days non-payment) rose to a new high of 43 percent in the second quarter of the year. A number likely to subvert any real recovery is the recent data on credit contraction by banks and other financial institutions. Over the last quarter private sector credit in the US contracted by an astonishing $2.32 trillion -- "an unprecedented event in the postwar period".

Perhaps the biggest deterrent to recovery is the decline of real incomes. For all Americans, income fell by 3.1 percent between 2007 and 8 -- and has fallen further since then.

The great delusion spun by the finance sector is that the next recovery can be built on this destruction of value and wages, as long as the wages of money can continue to grow. For against the grim backdrop outlined above, one sector is doing extraordinary well: the banking sector. "Guaranteed by the state, enjoying in essence free money and with, as yet, no increase in regulation, banks have been swinging for the fences." According to the Fed, banks have increased their assets by 10 percent to a staggering $14,200 bn.

Backed by the Federal Reserve's free money, and with taxpayer-funded bailout money bulging in their pockets, the finance sector has plunged into the Casino that is the stock market, and lured a tide of individual investors in behind them. This bubble is due to burst, and when it does many more thousands will lose precious savings.

The choice for the G20 is clear: to back the wages of men and women that elected them, or to back the wages of money. Because none of the G-20 leaders have the courage or the political backbone of either Abe Lincoln or FDR, we know which way they will choose.


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