Let Carl Strock tell you what it’s all about:
I am all in favor of fairness, but I do think it’s a dangerous business to tout reason on so public a stage as a license plate, which can be seen by innocent children whose minds are not yet fully developed…
Who would have thought that Texas voters were capable of electing a man like Craig Watkins? Maybe someday he’ll rise as high as the absurd Rick Perry 0r the creepy Ted Cruz. And maybe someday pigs will fly.
Wait a minute. Pigs actually do fly in, at least in Texas politics. Haven’t we just established that?
From the Houston Chronicle:
The National Registry of Exonerations said it’s the first U.S. case it knows of in which an innocent defendant was identified as a result of a systematic screening and DNA testing of past convictions by a prosecutor’s office, rather than being initiated by a defendant or the defendant’s representatives.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins sought the exoneration after DNA testing identified another man as the culprit in the rape of a 16-year-old girl at a motel where both men lived.
Watkins has an ongoing project of reviewing untested rape kits, even without defendants initiating the request. Should the appeals court decide in Phillips’ favor, it would be the 34th exoneration by Watkins’ Conviction Integrity Unit. On Friday, almost a dozen other men who had been exonerated were in the audience to greet him.
Can’t say I’ve searched the entire narrow span of the MSM, but this is the first major mention I’ve come across of the remote possibility that the United States might in some minuscule fashion if you viewed the matter from just the right angle hold some microscopic measure of responsibility under certain circumstances perhaps not totally unimaginable for the present mess in Crimea. From the New York Times, and good for them:
…Safeguarding this maritime muscle may well have been one reason President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sent armed forces to seize Crimea. But is it possible that the Sevastopol base is just the most concrete manifestation of Russia’s deep interests in Ukraine that the United States and its NATO allies either ignored or forgot as they tried to bind it more tightly with the West?
For years, Mr. Putin has complained about the West moving unilaterally to reorder the Continental balance of power — promoting Western capitalism and democracy — with little indication anyone was heeding his concerns. Its courting of Ukraine, apparently, was a step too far, prompting Mr. Putin to risk sanctions and the worst conflict since the Cold War to make clear that Washington and its friends do not call all of the shots anymore…
Read the rest and then forward it to the idiot McCain and Graham, care of any of the Sunday talk shows.
The current alleged crisis over the “scandal” of Benghazi is obviously totally political, devoid of merit, of both good sense and facts.
The real facts, from a top CIA source, are: circa 2011, our guys got wind of the fact that an al Qaeda-linked cell was forming in Benghazi, Libya. So we put three agents in the U.S. consulate to use paid informers to identify the cell’s members and their “house” address — which they did — and to track back to their origins and network connections.
The problem with using paid informers, of course, is that intelligence can flow both ways. So the Benghazi cell learned about the presence of our guys, too. Then, in September 2012, taking advantage of the smokescreen of Libyan civil unrest (the so-called Arab Spring uprising), when the host country security services were fully occupied with the rioting going on in the streets, the cell members attacked our consulate preemptively, with rockets and other weapons. The limited U.S. security personnel at the compound were not in a position to prevent the attack. These are the facts. What followed is history, exaggerated by useless commentary.
Susan Rice knew nothing of all of this, of course, so she was given a text prepared for the State Department by the CIA, who quite rightly did not want to call attention to the cell connection — because they were still tracking down the source network. So the text was intentionally vague, and Rice read it, as she should. That’s it. There was and is no “crisis” and no “scandal.”
It was — and still is — totally counterproductive for would-be Congressional “patriots,” Fox News, and other irresponsible critics to harp on Benghazi, because it draws attention to methods of counterintelligence operations for tracking terrorist networks that are still in use. Note also: some of these critics are among those who would deny funding to better protect our embassies and consulates around the world.
Whatever we may think about the CIA, the fact is that they are out there risking their lives to anticipate, assess, and counter real acts of terrorism — by lawful means, we hope. The last thing we need is for self-styled “super patriots,” in trying to damage Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to weaken the security of America in the process.
Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, and Dick Cheney — draft dodgers and combat avoiders all — are hardly the ones to listen to for advice on military matters. But we should expect something a little better of John McCain, who has shown an occasional ability actually to think about certain issues. If he bothered to think about Benghazi, he would realize how counterproductive and damaging his harping on this particular issue really is to America’s security interests.
This from The Future of Socialism by Robert Paul Wolff:
At this nightmare moment in recent history, little need be said about the persistence and intensification of ethnic and religious antagonisms throughout the world. Try as we may, we socialists can no longer cling to the hope that class interests will unite men and women across national, ethnic, racial, and religious divides in a vibrant revolutionary movement to replace capitalism with a humane, just, egalitarian social order. Capitalists are doing their part. Not only are they crafting the elements of rational planning that a socialist economy would require. They are in the forefront of efforts to put the divisiveness of race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion behind us, for these divisions are not good for business. It is the people who remain mired in self-destructive and self-defeating irrationality.
As Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer is presently learning from her real base, gay money isn’t lavender. It’s green like everybody else’s.
The question of what events to put in or remove from the Olympics has been a long-standing challenge. Back in 1983, I worked for a while with IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch et al, in Lausanne, Switzerland to offer a scheme whereby “we,” namely WHO, would bring IOC drug test kits and chemicals into all regions and countries, as we had immunity from national customs officials, who then could not tip off national coaches what tests to expect, and adjust their performance enhancing drugs to evade those tests. As a result, there was a big decline in Eastern European medal winning in 1984. (Check the records.) Since then, with WHO’s help, IOC has obtained the equivalent of WHO’s international immunity for testing purposes.
At the time, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling were among the longest standing events in the Olympics. No one would dream of eliminating either. The IOC policy at the time was to add only sports that were practiced in the most numbers of countries. One difficult question then, and which continued through Jacques Rogge’s Presidency, was whether to include women’s ski-jumping. In 1983 only about six countries had national women’s jumping programs, although it seemed pretty obvious that would change, and women can jump as well as men. So, finally we have it in 2014.
Meanwhile, the IOC has added anomalies like ribbon-dancing, perhaps more for political reasons than anything else. And in 2014 we get for the first time in the Olympics “slope-style” snowboarding and skiing, although that gives a decided advantage to those few countries that have the resources to set up and maintain the courses. The Samaranch principle is perhaps being violated, but O.K. it’s fun for everyone, so why not?
But this last year some influential block-heads proposed to eliminate free-style wrestling, as from 2020, despite the fact that free-style high and college wrestling is available in almost 200 countries. As coaches of the eminently successful “Green Wave” high school wrestling program, you must have been shocked by that brainless proposal. But here’s the good news: The plenary IOC has overridden that idiotic quasi decision, and has reinstated freestyle wrestling in all future summer Olympics.
We need to get back to the Samaranch principle, and respect the original ideals and purposes of the Olympics. The Olympics is no place to demonstrate for ideological positions, no matter otherwise how valid. The Olympics are a place where deadly enemies, even those at war with each other (e.g.Athens v. Sparta v. Macedonia) can come and devote all their energies to sport, which can make its own contribution to world peace.
Thurman Arnold was a Yale Law School professor who became the chief trust buster in Roosevelt’s Justice Department and later a founder of the Washington law firm now known as Arnold & Porter. Along the way he was also a Wyoming legislator, the mayor of Laramie, and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He published The Symbols of Government, excerpted below, in 1935.
Those being times very much like ours it might be of some interest to see how things looked to Arnold back then. Not that we can do much more to fix those things than he could, this still being a nation populated by Americans rather than, say, Swedes, Costa Ricans or Finns. Different strokes for different folks.
Anyway, Merry Christmas and here’s Arnold:
From the humanitarian point of view the best government is that which we find in an asylum. In such a government the physicians in charge do not separate the ideas of the insane into any separate sciences such as law, economics and sociology; nor then instruct the insane in the intricacies of these three sciences. Nor do they argue with the insane as to the soundness or unsoundness of their ideas. Their aim is to make the inmates of the asylum as comfortable as possible, regardless of their respective moral deserts … No psychiatrist today attempts to differentiate the content of foolish ideas, and of insane ideas. It is equally possible to adopt a point of view toward government where ideas are considered only in light of their effect on conduct…
The advantages of such a theory for purposes of thinking about government is that we escape the troublesome assumption that the human race is rational. We need not condemn policies which contradict each other solely on the ground that the action of government must be logically consistent. We need not constantly worry about permanent cures, and discard day-to-day policies because of their effect in the future on the morale of the irrational people we are governing. We need not delay such necessary undertakings as public relief because we are worried about their effect on the character of the recipients. We need not compel persons on relief to pauperize themselves and surrender the insurance policies which may afford future relief to their children because of a moral notion that no one is entitled to relief who is not a pauper…
Russia under Stalin is not so far from Russia under a benevolent despot as we may imagine. It is true that the notion of equal distribution of goods to the proletariat as the chief justification for the exercise of governmental power, contains ideals which appear to be new; but if we examine them we find that they are at least as old as Christianity…
The concept of government as an insane asylum liberates us from the notion that wise men think up principles and schemes of government for their duller fellows to learn and follow, and that thus social change is accomplished. It frees us from the notion that “thinking men” decide between the relative merits of communism and capitalism, and choose the better form. Finally, the theory is based on a humanitarian ideal which seems to be indestructible in the march of society — the ideal that it is a good thing to make people comfortable if the means exist by which it can be done.
From the New York Times:
Much of the deal came down to dollars and cents. Mr. Dimon, the people said, signaled during that Sept. 24 call that he was willing to increase JPMorgan’s offer to settle an array of state and federal investigations into the bank’s sale of troubled mortgage securities before the financial crisis. The government, these people said, had already balked at the bank’s two initial offers: $1 billion and $3 billion.
And so that same week, Mr. Dimon traveled to the Justice Department in Washington for a meeting with Mr. Holder that underscored how expensive the healing process had become. At the meeting, the people briefed on the talks said, JPMorgan executives raised the offer to $11 billion, $4 billion of which would serve as relief to struggling homeowners.
But Mr. Holder wanted more money to resolve the civil cases, the people said. And despite the bank’s requests, he refused to provide JPMorgan a so-called nonprosecution agreement that would halt an investigation from prosecutors in California, who were scrutinizing the bank’s mortgage securities. Instead, the people said, he informed Mr. Dimon that the Justice Department wanted JPMorgan to plead guilty to a criminal charge in that case, an unusual show of force against a Wall Street bank.
I’m beginning to like the Attorney General, just a little bit. Now if he could only remember where he mislaid the First Amendment…
The excerpt below is from an op-ed in the New York Times by Karl W. Eikenberry and David M. Kennedy. The first is a retired general and former ambassador to Afghanistan; the second is an emeritus professor of history at Stanford. Read the whole article. It is the only intelligent and useful thing about the military you are likely to run across on Memorial Day.
…The Congressional Research Service has documented 144 military deployments in the 40 years since adoption of the all-voluntary force in 1973, compared with 19 in the 27-year period of the Selective Service draft following World War II — an increase in reliance on military force traceable in no small part to the distance that has come to separate the civil and military sectors. The modern force presents presidents with a moral hazard, making it easier for them to resort to arms with little concern for the economic consequences or political accountability. Meanwhile, Americans are happy to thank the volunteer soldiers who make it possible for them not to serve, and deem it is somehow unpatriotic to call their armed forces to task when things go awry…
To give you an idea of how truly stupid the bipartisan War Party in Congress is, its members are even stupider than the citizenry they pretend to represent:
Sixty-two percent of the public say the United States has no responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria between government forces and antigovernment groups, while just one-quarter disagree. Likewise, 56 percent say North Korea is a threat that can be contained for now without military action, just 15 percent say the situation requires immediate American action and 21 percent say the North is not a threat at all.
Louis Brown, 50, a poll respondent from Springfield Township, Ohio, said, “We don’t need additional loss of American lives right now.”
In the poll, 4 in 10 Americans cited the economy and jobs as the country’s most important problems, while only 1 percent named foreign policy.
Here’s retired (although not from blogging) professor of philosophy Robert Paul Wolff on what really matters:
A story from my Memoir. When I was twelve, my mother said to me, “Robbie, you come from a mixed marriage. Your father is an agnostic and I am an atheist. All the other little boys are going to go to Hebrew school and be bar mitzvah’ed and have big parties and get lots of presents, and you can do that too, if you want to. Or, your father and I will give you a hundred dollars and you can buy yourself some presents.” I thought about that for a bit and took the hundred. I used it to buy Natie Gold’s Lionel electric train set, which I coveted. That was my last serious engagement with organized religion. Little did I know then that I would choose a career in which a rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew would be useful.
Is this what it seems to be? Is the Senate really more responsive to the will of the people (read “more afraid”) than President Obama is? Or is it just that the president doesn’t have to run for office anymore? Here’s Dean Baker, on AlterNet:
Both the New York Times and Washington Post decided to ignore the Senate's passage by voice vote of the Sanders Amendment. This was an amendment to the budget put forward by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders that puts the Senate on record as opposing the switch to the chained CPI as the basis for the annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)…
With all the Republicans who pronounce endlessly on the need to cut entitlement spending, there was not a single Republican senator who was prepared to say that switching the Social Security COLA to a chained CPI was a good idea. And even though President Obama has repeatedly stated as clearly as he could that he supported the switch to a chained CPI, there was not one Democratic senator who was prepared to stand up and speak in solidarity with the president.
I have no idea how link to a tweet, or even what a tweet is, and so I’ll just put up this screen grab from The Maddow Blog.
From The Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell (The Modern Library, 1927). We have not, of course, made much significant progress on any of these matters since. It is what it is. We are what we are.
All sorts of intellectual systems — Christianity, Socialism, Patriotism, etc. — are ready, like orphan asylums, to give safety in return for servitude. A free mental life cannot be as warm and comfortable and sociable as a life enveloped in a creed: only a creed can give the feeling of a cozy fireside while the winter storms are raging without…
From the point of view of psychology and physiology, fear and rage are closely analogous emotions: the man who feels rage is not possessed of the highest kind of courage. The cruelty invariably displayed in suppressing negro insurrections, communist rebellions, and other threats to aristocracy, is an offshoot of cowardice and deserves the same contempt as is bestowed on the most obvious forms of that vice…
Only a man dominated by fear would join the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascisti. In a world of brave men, such persecuting organizations could not exist, and the good life would involve far less resistance to instinct than it does at present…
Poverty, since the industrial revolution, is only due to collective stupidity. Sensitiveness would make people wish to abolish it, intelligence would show them the way, and courage would lead them to adopt it.
From the Congressional Record of September 16, 1981:
The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.
Here’s Noam Chomsky, musing about, among other things, baseball:
I remember when my grandson was about ten and he was very interested in sports, he was always playing for teams for the town. Once we were over at his mother’s house and he came back pretty disconsolate because there was supposed to be a baseball game but the other team that they were playing only had eight players. I don’t know if you know how baseball works but everybody’s sitting all the time, there’s about three people actually doing anything, everybody else is just sitting around. But his team simply couldn’t give the other team an extra player so that the kids could have fun because you have to keep by the league rules.
And you thought all us old white guys were complete morons. Whereas only most of us are:
Roughly 5 percent of respondents in Reuters/Ipsos polls said they chose the Republican contender in 2008 and will switch to Obama in 2012. This number peaked at around 9 percent two separate times over the summer, according to data collected since January.
Who are these defectors?
Jeff Waltrip, 56, is a retired electrician and retail worker who has voted Republican all his life. But in his view Obama “has done a good job with what he was left with, and I truly believe that allowing Mitt Romney in there is going to make the world a whole lot worse than it is now.” Waltrip said he liked the Republican ticket in 2008 because McCain is a veteran and because Sarah Palin “made me laugh.”
The McCain-to-Obama switchers are 55 percent male, and 34 percent of them are 55 or older. (Overall, Obama trails Romney 34 percent to 52 percent among white men over 50.) About 72 percent of them are white.
Our focus at Bad Attitudes is on bringing the good news. So here’s some for all you non-hard-working American taxpayers:
Researchers in New Zealand have found that people who work at least 50 hours a week are up to three times more likely to face alcohol problems. Earlier this month, the American Journal of Epidemiology reported on a global study showing that over-workers are between 40 and 80 percent more likely to suffer heart disease than others. The lead researcher of that study had previously found that middle-aged people working more than 55 hours a week tend to be disproportionately slow-witted, and to be more at risk for dementia.
This modest legislative proposal from James Howard Kunstler deserves the widest possible circulation. So tweet it, poke it, Digg it, friend it, or whatever it is people do to make stuff go viral.
By computerizing all the phone systems we allowed every company, agency, and institution to dump all of their transactional inconveniences onto us, the customers, clients, and citizens. That was done in the name of “efficiency,” another unexamined evil buzzword from the MBA playbook of mendacious bullshit that passes for received wisdom in this deluded nation of craven Babbitts.
Thus, the Acme Corporation gets to save $250-K a year in combined salaries and benefits of what used to be called telephone operators or receptionists. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Acme callers every year get strung out, jerked off, fucked around, driven mad, and just plain lost in the wilderness of robotic phone trees they are induced to enter in the name of “efficiency…”
The sheer cruelty and stupidity implicit here is too great to calculate — has anyone ever tried? Has anyone at MIT’s Sloan School or the University of Chicago, or Wharton ever tried to measure the suffering inflicted on the American public in the name of all this vaunted efficiency?
Is there anyone reading this blog right now who had not ended such a phone call in tears this past year, or dashed their handset against the wall, or, worst of all, actually found themselves engaged in an insult match with the robot at the other end of the line…
Hence, wishing to oppose these evil and tragic tendencies in the current flow of our history, I offer a potent policy initiative to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country: the 2012 Answer the Fucking Telephone Act. My proposal won’t cost a dime. Simply get congress and the senate to pass a law stating that in X, Y, and Z essential services and business, all incoming phone calls must be answered by real human beings, with criminal penalties for failing to do so.
Add to that another layer of less essential businesses, institutions, agencies, and organizations who would not be subject to criminal penalties but would have to pay a substantial tax for every phone line not manned by a live operator — the tax designed to exceed the average salary and benefit package that could otherwise be provided to employ such a worker.
Go read this interview with Salon’s Joan Walsh. Do it now. It’s the most subtle and informed examination of our class wars that I’ve come across anywhere. Afterwards you can go out and buy her new book, What’s the Matter with White People? Why We Long for a Golden Age that Never Was, as I intend to do.
A Pew survey from 2009 asked about the permissibility of torturing people suspected of terrorism. The religiously unaffiliated and those who never attend church were more likely than Catholics, evangelicals or mainline Protestants to say that torture can rarely or never be justified. The nonreligious were also more likely than Protestants, Catholics or Mormons to oppose the war in Iraq…
From an old piece by Russell Baker, the most perceptive and sensible New York Times columnist of my lifetime:
Implicit in the politician’s call for “family values” is a summons for people to shape up and start living their messy lives the way government wants those lives lived. Listen closely and you can hear politicians insisting on a government duty to meddle in the strange ways of families. You can hear government asserting a duty to promote moral uplift. What could be more loathsome than a government supervising the moral elevation of the family?
As all of us here must know when not mesmerized by political quacks, every family is a self-governing institution and, in every case, entirely idiosyncratic. To ascribe nobility to such structures is absurd, for each operates under its own rules and morality. There are large loving families, and large families whose members detest each other while loving the blood that unites them, and dark families primed for intra-family murder, and foolish families stuffed with pride in their genealogy charts, and little two-person families headed by single parents, and divorced families, and families like Ma Jarrett’s and Ma Joad’s and Ma Barker’s.
We need more rich persons like this:
…I’m a very rich person. As an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, I’ve started or helped get off the ground dozens of companies in industries including manufacturing, retail, medical services, the Internet and software. I founded the Internet media company aQuantive Inc., which was acquired by Microsoft Corp. in 2007 for $6.4 billion. I was also the first non-family investor in Amazon.com Inc.
Even so, I’ve never been a “job creator.” I can start a business based on a great idea, and initially hire dozens or hundreds of people. But if no one can afford to buy what I have to sell, my business will soon fail and all those jobs will evaporate.
That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is the feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion a virtuous cycle that allows companies to survive and thrive and business owners to hire. An ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than I ever have been or ever will be.
When businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it is like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it’s the other way around.
It is unquestionably true that without entrepreneurs and investors, you can’t have a dynamic and growing capitalist economy. But it’s equally true that without consumers, you can’t have entrepreneurs and investors. And the more we have happy customers with lots of disposable income, the better our businesses will do.
That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When the American middle class defends a tax system in which the lion’s share of benefits accrues to the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer…
Here’s the lead paragraph of a story from The Atlantic Wire:
A 60 Minutes report on Sunday examined the ways that members of Congress trade on inside, privileged information to make themselves rich — without breaking any laws. Even though many positions in the federal government are bound by conflict of interest laws, Congresspeople are exempt from insider trading rules and are perfectly free to make business deals based on information they learn through their jobs…
My wife’s grandfather (grandfather-in-law?) was the late and truly great senator from Nebraska, George Norris. During his forty years in Congress he never bought stocks or bonds in any private enterprise, on the grounds that it would be impossible to avoid conflicts of interest. The only securities he would buy were U.S. government bonds.
When he died in 1944, he left behind a small house in McCook, Nebraska, and an old Buick sedan — as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Rural Electrification Act, and the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
I’m not suggesting by this ancient history that those were the good old days. There has never been a golden age for ethics on Capitol Hill, nor will there ever. Boys will be boys.
I’’m just sayin’, that’s all.
AMARILLO, Texas – The last of the nation's most powerful nuclear bombs — a weapon hundreds of times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — is being disassembled nearly half a century after it was put into service at the height of the Cold War.
The final components of the B53 bomb will be broken down Tuesday at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, the nation's only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility. The completion of the dismantling program is a year ahead of schedule, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, and aligns with President Barack Obama's goal of reducing the number of nuclear weapons…
The Justice Department got the headline, but the spadework for this giant bust was done by a new unit in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services called the Center for Program Integrity — created by President Obama’s health care legislation to fight the Medicare fraud that costs the taxpayers billions of dollars a year. And a highly-placed source (one of my sons, who works there) says this is just the beginning:
The Justice Department on Wednesday announced charges against 91 people including doctors, nurses and other medical professionals allegedly involved in a nationwide Medicare fraud scheme in eight cities totaling $295 million in false billing.
“The defendants charged in this takedown are accused of stealing precious taxpayer resources and defrauding Medicare – jeopardizing the integrity of our health care system and our nation’s most critical health care program for personal gain,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a press release. “Our highly coordinated, nationwide Strike Force operations are working aggressively to combat Medicare fraud and our anti-health care fraud efforts have never been more innovative, collaborative, aggressive – or effective. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and partners across government to fight against health care fraud.”
According to the Justice Department those charged are accused of a variety of fraud-related crimes including conspiracy to defraud the Medicare program, health care fraud, violations of the anti-kickback statutes and money laundering. The scheme involved home health care, physical and occupational therapy, mental health services, psychotherapy and durable medical equipment services, the Justice Department said…
CARMAGEDDON!!!! — the near-apocalpytic closure of a stretch of freeway in Los Angeles — has come and gone. I survived, although I did have to eat several of my own toes in order to do so.
There was indeed a ridiculous amount of breathless local coverage of Carmageddon throughout the weekend — it was more burdensome than the actual closure. (I will say in LA’s defense that this was a total shutdown of a ten-mile stretch of one of the busiest freeways in the world. In a number of cities and towns in this great land of ours, ten miles of freeway would be pretty much the whole town.) Now come the inevitable recriminations about the hype and hysteria that attended the run-up to the non-event, such as this one from Russ Baker.
There is, however, a rather gratifying lesson to be learned from this complete absence of disaster. In fact, it’s so gratifying that no one will ever speak of it.
Government (boo!!! hiss!!!) went out of its way to inform the citizenry what it was doing, and made the citizens participants in solving the problem. Government did what the citizens could not do for themselves - i.e. the work of improving the freeway — and gave the citizens the means to deal with the larger problem — i.e. not causing traffic jams — as they saw fit. Whereupon everyone seems to have made any number of personal decisions with the common good in mind.
Okay, so maybe that’s a little grandiose. Maybe they didn’t have the common good in mind — maybe they just didn’t want to be stuck in traffic. So, Galt-like, they selfishly stayed off the freeways altogether. Even if you put that spin on it, you’re still left with individuals acting in concert with an awareness of a larger community.
And they did this in Los Angeles!
That’s kind of how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it? That’s not apocalyptic, but I’d call that a pretty big deal.
Of course, the last thing we want people to realize in this country is that we’re all in this together, and that sometimes we can solve our problems simply by keeping that in mind. So we’ll make fun of Los Angeles for a few more days, and then move on to round-the-clock coverage of the next missing white girl...
[Ed. note: for details on the Streaker of 405, please apply here.]
From the Associated Press:
“A smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go fewer places and be able to do fewer things.” — Defense Secretary Robert Gates warning that shrinking defense budgets will mean a smaller military and a diminished American role in the world.
Is John McCain coming to his senses at last? Is the old maverick risen from the grave? From Greg Sargent’s Plum Line, here’s an excerpt from a speech the senator gave today:
“With so much misinformation being fed into such an essential public debate as this one, I asked the Director of Central Intelligence, Leon Panetta, for the facts. And I received the following information:
“The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. We did not first learn from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the real name of bin Laden’s courier, or his alias, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the man who ultimately enabled us to find bin Laden. The first mention of the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, as well as a description of him as an important member of Al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country. The United States did not conduct this detainee’s interrogation, nor did we render him to that country for the purpose of interrogation. We did not learn Abu Ahmed’s real name or alias as a result of waterboarding or any ‘enhanced interrogation technique’ used on a detainee in U.S. custody. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts, or an accurate description of his role in Al-Qaeda.
“In fact, not only did the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed; it actually produced false and misleading information. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married, and ceased his role as an Al-Qaeda facilitator — which was not true, as we now know. All we learned about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti through the use of waterboarding and other ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ against Khalid Sheik Mohammed was the confirmation of the already known fact that the courier existed and used an alias.
“I have sought further information from the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and they confirm for me that, in fact, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in Al-Qaeda and his true relationship to Osama bin Laden — was obtained through standard, non-coercive means, not through any ‘enhanced interrogation technique.’
“In short, it was not torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden. I hope former Attorney General Mukasey will correct his misstatement. It’s important that he do so because we are again engaged in this important debate, with much at stake for America’s security and reputation. Each side should make its own case, but do so without making up its own facts.”
From the Associated Press:
BOSTON — Chanting “We love sluts!” and holding signs like “Jesus loves sluts,” approximately 2,000 protesters marched Saturday around the Boston’s Common as the city officially become the latest to join an international series of protests known as “SlutWalks.”
The protest movement, sparked by a Toronto police officer’s remark that women could avoid being raped by not dressing like “sluts,” came to Boston after advocates saw similar events — largely organized through Facebook and Twitter — popped up in Canada, England and other parts of the U.S…
From Chuck Lorre Productions, #269:
I have long believed that part of our problem with resolving race issues in America is our inability to accurately name what we are. Aside from the occasional Johnny and Edgar Winter, there are no white people. Any child with a box of crayons can tell you that white people are, in fact, beige. The sickly ones are gray. Following this crayon logic, one can easily see that there are really no black people. They are brown. Or perhaps raw umber. Or maybe burnt sienna.
Frankly, every time I hear someone comment on America’s first black president, I can’t help thinking, “No, he’s not. He’s more like caramel.” Which is why I think we should all get in the habit of calling each other what we really are. How can you racially slur a man by calling him “beigey” or “umber?” The answer is you can’t. Because that’s exactly what he is. The melanin doesn’t lie. Buy a box of Crayolas and see for yourself. We are all members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Can I hear a kumbaya?
Is Barack Obama too sane to be president? Here’s Dana Milbank:
As Obama’s capacity for complex thought can become a liability, so, too, can his cool rationality. Politics often rewards the emotional over the rational. Nuclear deterrence, for example, works only if your enemy thinks you are crazy enough to destroy the world.
Such “strategic irrationality” can be useful in negotiations. If your opponent thinks you really might do something crazy — like, say, shut down the federal government over a small budget dispute — then you have more power to bluff. But because Obama is unfailingly rational, opponents aren’t afraid of him doing something crazy.
“If the logic of a threat doesn’t make sense, it can still work if [your opponents] think you will be in the grips of an emotional reaction that’s not under your control,” says Robert Frank, an economist at Cornell University who specializes in behavior and emotion. “With Obama, it doesn’t seem there would be any emotional reaction that is not under his control.”
The more I think about Joe Bageant’s early death the sadder I get — not so much for him, who now could care less, but for what the rest of us have lost. If you don’t know Joe’s work you should, and here’s a sample to show you why.
My daddy ran the eastern seaboard in a 12-wheeler — there were no 18-wheelers yet. It had polished chrome and bold letters that read “BLUE GOOSE LINE.” Parked alongside our little asbestos-sided house, I’d marvel at the magic of those bold words, the golden diamond and sturdy goose. And dream of someday “burning up Route 50” like my dad.
Old U.S. Route 50 ran near the house and was the stuff of legend if your daddy happened to be a truck driver who sometimes took you with him on the shorter hauls: “OK boy, now scrunch down and look into the side mirror. I’m gonna turn the top of them side stacks red hot.” And he would pop the clutch and strike sparks on the anvil of the night, downshifting toward Pinkerton, Coolville and Hanging Rock. It never once occurred to me that his ebullience and our camaraderie might be due to a handful of bennies.
Yessir, Old 50 was a mighty thing, a howling black slash through the Blue Ridge Mountain fog. A place where famed and treacherous curves made widows, and truck stops and cafes bloomed in the tractor trailers’ smoky wakes. A road map will tell you it eventually reaches Columbus and St. Louis, places I imagined had floodlights raking the skies heralding the arrival of heroic Teamster truckers like my father. Guys who’d fought in Germany and Italy and the Solomon Islands and were still wearing their service caps these years later, but now pinned with the gold steering wheel of the Teamsters Union. Such are a working-class boy’s dreams.
I have two parched photos from that time. One is of me and my brother and sister, ages 10, 8 and 6. We are standing in the front yard, three little redneck kids with bad haircuts squinting for some faint clue as to whether there was really a world out there, somewhere beyond West Virginia.
The other photo is of my mother and the three of us on the porch of that house on Route 50. On the day my father was slated to return from any given run, we’d all stand on the porch listening for the sound of air brakes, the deep roar as he came down off the mountain. Each time, my mother would step onto the porch blotting her lipstick, Betty Grable-style hair rustling in the breeze, and say, “Stand close, your daddy’s home.”
And that was about as good as it ever got for our family…
If you’re as ill-informed as I was until just now, you’ve never heard of the Mondragon Cooperatives in the Basque country of Spain. The Rag Blog can fill the gap. Fascinating stuff. Here’s a sample:
In a few years, armed with these ideas, [Father Arizmendi] selected five graduating students from his technical school and with donations and borrowed funds from the credit union, his team of young workers formed a small cooperative workshop, ULGOR, named from one initial of each of the five students’ names.
It brought in about 20 more workers and started to produce a small but very practical kerosene stoves for cooking and heating. The single-burner stoves were much in demand and the coop thus thrived and grew. Today it’s called FAGOR, and its 8,000 current employee-owners in several divisions produce a wide range of high-quality household appliances sold across the world.
But this small startup in 1956 contained the first secret of MCC’s success — the three-in-one combination of school, credit union, and factory, all owned and controlled by the workers and the community. Starting a coop factory or workshop alone wouldn’t work; a startup also required a reliable source of credit and a source of skills and innovation.
Typically, an MCC coop is entirely owned by its workers — one worker, one share, one vote. Worker-owners get a salary that is a draw against their share of the firm’s annual profit, and is adjusted upward or downward at the end of the year. By Spanish cooperative law, a portion of the profits has to be turned over to the local community for schools, parks, and other common projects, The remainder is set aside for the repair and depreciation of plant and equipment, health care and pensions, and emergency reserves, as well as the workers’ salaries.
Technically, MCC worker-owners are thus not wage labor, but associated producers. There is an income spread, according to skill and seniority, but this is set and modified by the workers themselves meeting in an annual assembly. The assembly also elects a governing council, which in turn hires a CEO and management team.
This sort of decency is rare among district attorneys anywhere, and virtually unheard of in the cesspool which passes for criminal justice in Texas. My new hero is Patricia Lykos.
State officials had denied his request for a pardon, but Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos agreed to review his case after she took office in 2009. New DNA tests on the forensic evidence in the case came back February 22 and conclusively ruled out Rodriguez, now 50, Lykos said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“When this scientific inquiry began, there was no legal requirement or mandate for any further work to be done by our office, because the case had been dismissed,” Lykos said. “Instead, we acted on the most important obligation of all — to see that the truth emerges, and that justice is done. Today, we can state that an innocent man has been vindicated.”
The Harris County District Attorney’s office will ask a judge to formally declare Rodriguez innocent at a Thursday hearing, she said.
Lykos, a Republican, campaigned on promises to reform the prosecutor’s office in Texas’ largest city, and she has drawn praise from defense lawyers for creating a post-conviction review process to examine new evidence. The Innocence Project, which won Rodriguez’s release in 2004, gave her an award in 2010 for that program.
From the Associated Press:
Doctors from numerous hospitals set up a station near the Capitol to provide notes covering public employees’ absences. Family physician Lou Sanner, 59, of Madison, said he had given out hundreds of notes. Many of the people he spoke with seemed to be suffering from stress, he said.
“What employers have a right to know is if the patient was assessed by a duly licensed physician about time off of work,” Sanner said. “Employers don’t have a right to know the nature of that conversation or the nature of that illness. So it’s as valid as every other work note that I’ve written for the last 30 years.”
Susie Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla just posted this:
I just got an email informing me that my friend Joe [Bageant] has cancer, a massive inoperable tumor and will be starting chemo soon. (He dictated the email — he can’t write.)
He’s hoping that with chemo and painkillers, he’ll be able to write again sometime soon.
If you have any prayers, send them his way. (He didn’t say that, I did.)
I’m very, very sorry to hear this, and hope that the good, in this instance at least, will not die young.
I only knew Joe slightly — he and his wife put me up for a night when I was passing through Winchester once — but he left me with a story that will introduce you to the man. The sharp, bitter and funny essays he had been putting on line for a while were beginning to get some attention. One day (I’m telling this from memory, not notes, but I think I have the general outlines down) he got a call from a book editor in New York who asked if he would be interested in publishing his posts as a book.
He said no, he had chewed that mouthful already and if he was ever to write a book he’d want to do it from the ground up, and that would be too much work even to consider.
Well, she said, do you think you might consider it for a $300,000 advance? He found this argument persuasive and the eventual book was called Deerhunting for Jesus.
“There I was with real money in my pocket for once in my life,” Joe said. “Now what the hell was I supposed to do? I’d been talking the talk all my life, was I going to walk the walk?”
His answer was to buy a bunch of steel cargo containers and have them hauled to an empty lot in Belize, a country where he had lived happily for a while. He hired welders to cut doors and windows, fixed up the insides, and gave the new homes away.
Go to Joe’s site, read his essays, read his books, and feel free to alter your consciousness before, during or after you do so. Believe me, he won’t mind.
And now, for a change of pace, some good news. Bill Clinton’s misbegotten child, DADT, is dead. Everybody has heard this by now, but whole generations of younger Americans can’t understand just how good this news really is. One who can is author Perry Deane Young, an army veteran and a war correspondent in Vietnam. Let him tell you how it was in the bad old days:
Like many thousands before and since, I lied when I came to this line in the Army’s health questionnaire: “Do you now or have you ever had …. homosexual tendencies?” I had been actively, if secretively, homosexual since early puberty, but I also knew the brutal consequences of being open about those “tendencies.”
There came a moment of terror for me in February of 1967 when I stood at the alphabetical end of hundreds of soldiers posing for our graduation picture at the Fort Gordon Military Police School. Lost among that anonymous sea of olive drab, I was stunned to hear my name called out by one of the officers standing down front.
Words cannot begin to describe the fear and dread going through my mind as I slowly made my way to the front. Like all homosexuals at that time, I lived in constant fear of being “found out.” I honestly felt my hopes and dreams for the future would come crashing down. In fact, I felt I would never have a future except as some silly societal category of lesser human being…
My fears turned out to be unfounded. An officer handed me my diploma and I slowly made my way back into the stands, amid the whispers of what’s he done, why’s he so special?
To this day, I have no idea why I was singled out. All I know is that in that moment, I realized that I could not live with that sort of terror. Some day, somehow, I would have to deal with it. I could not live a lie. A wise old survivor of the death camps in Nazi Germany said it best: “Freedom is not having to lie about who you are.”
How can anybody believe that being homosexual is some sort of moral choice? Nobody in his or her right mind would choose to live the way homosexuals were forced to live in the 1950s and 1960s. Even now, the taint of being homosexual is so strong the suicide rate among gay teenage is several times that of heterosexuals. The suicide of the young Rutgers student last year dramatically illustrates how far we have yet to go.
During my time as a correspondent in Vietnam, I simply got up one morning unafraid to be myself. And, yes, there were some wonderful loving moments I cherish from my days among the military in Vietnam. In his book, Dispatches, Michael Herr mentions two Marines “making love” one night during the battle in Hue. And in my own memoir, Two of the Missing, I describe having sex with a Marine in Danang, a Navy Lieutenant in Saigon and an Army captain in Phu Bai.
Simply put, there have been homosexuals and homosexual activity among service men and women for as long as there have been service men and women. John Horne Burns’ The Galleria was a barely fictionalized account of gay American soldiers in World War II Italy.
The Marine Corps commandant is simply over-reacting to outdated images of homosexuality and masculinity in his recent statements against repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He does a disservice to homosexuals and to the Marines. He helps perpetuate the myth that homosexuals are weak and can’t be trusted to control themselves in a professional manner — and he also seems to think the Marines are redneck rubes who can’t handle being around somebody different.
The truth is the commandant is not nearly as aware of societal changes or as sophisticated as the troops he commands. He is concerned about image, and nothing more. The current Marines grew up in an environment of sexual and racial tolerance where being gay is simply not an issue. They also know that the old stereotypes of homosexuals as sissies, pansies, fairies are no more valid than the old stereotypes that denigrated people of color in our country.
The Marine commandant is wrong about homosexuals and wrong about the kind of men and women who serve in the U.S. military. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, gave an eloquent summary of both counts in his testimony before a senate committee on Feb. 2, 2010:
Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally, it comes down to integrity—theirs as individuals and ours as an institution. I also believe that the great young men and women of our military can and would accommodate such a change. I never underestimate their ability to adapt.
As a gay man swiftly slouching toward the age of 70, I am dismayed by the attitudes that still cause gay men and women to kill themselves. But, I am heartened by changes in the laws that will make it possible for young gay Americans to grow up with the same freedoms everybody else enjoys. It reflects a healthier time for homosexuals and for America.
From the Wall Street Journal, of all places:
They may be an eccentric minority, or (in the view of conservatives) a lunatic fringe. But a Quinnipiac University poll this year showed nearly two-thirds of those with household incomes of more than $250,000 a year support raising their own taxes to reduce the federal deficit…
An op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times by Garrett Gruener, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, makes two important points about taxing the rich. (Mr. Gruener founded Ask.com and is the CEO of Nanomix and is a co-founder of Alta Partners, so he’s got street cred.)
First, he says tax rates don’t make or break the success of an entrepreneur — or the jobs he creates. He says he’s paying the lowest rates of his working life. But “if you want the simple, honest truth, from my perspective as an entrepreneur, the fluctuation didn’t affect what I did with my money. None of my investments has ever been motivated by the rate at which I would have to pay personal income tax,” Mr. Gruener writes.
History, he says, shows that “modest changes in the tax rate for wealthy taxpayers don’t make much of a difference if the goal is to build new companies, drive technological development and stimulate new industries…”
“What will change my investment decisions is if I see an economy doing better, one in which there is demand for the goods and services my investments produce. I am far more likely to invest if I see a country laying the foundation for future growth.”
Here’s something for all you helicopter moms and dads to think about. Not that you will.
If history is any guide, we seem to veer between overreaction and underreaction — all while defining our own response as “moderate.” There is an inherent hypocrisy in our attempts to control our odds — putting the organic veggies (there is no actual data proving that organic foods increase longevity) in the trunk of our car (researchers tell us there is “evidence” but not “proof” that car emissions accelerate heart disease), then checking our e-mail on our cellphone at the next red light (2,600 traffic deaths a year are caused by drivers using cellphones, according to a Harvard study).
And while we certainly make constant (mis)calculations in our adult lives, we seem all the more determined yet befuddled when it comes to the safety of our children. For instance, the five things most likely to cause injury to children up to age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are: car accidents, homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know), child abuse, suicide or drowning. And what are the five things that parents are most worried about (according to surveys by the Mayo Clinic)? Kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers and drugs…
“The least safe thing you can do with your child, statistically, is drive them somewhere,” said Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids,” a manifesto preaching a return to the day when children were allowed to roam on their own. “Yet every time we put them in the car we don’t think, ‘Oh God, maybe I should take public transportation instead, because if something happened to my kid on the way to the orthodontist I could never forgive myself.’ ”
A planned Quran burning Saturday in Amarillo was thwarted by a 23-year-old carrying a skateboard and wearing a T-shirt with “I’m in Repent Amarillo No Joke” scrawled by hand on the back.
Jacob Isom, 23, grabbed David Grisham’s Quran when he became distracted while arguing with several residents at Sam Houston Park about the merits of burning the Islamic holy book. “You’re just trying to start Holy Wars,” Isom said of Grisham after he gave the book to a religious leader from the Islamic Center of Amarillo.
Elise Foley reports in the Washington Independent:
One of the major complaints against immigration — both legal and illegal — is that non-Americans take jobs that could be occupied by citizens during a time of high unemployment. But immigrants actually boost incomes and productivity over time, according to a paper released Monday by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The study’s author found immigration has no “significant” effect on the number of jobs available to U.S.-born workers.
The main reason, economist Giovanni Peri argues, is that U.S. and immigrant workers tend to take different jobs, particularly because immigrants often face language barriers that make them less likely to take higher paying jobs requiring strong communication skills. This allows U.S.-born workers to shift toward these jobs, Peri writes…
From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
FORT WORTH — Each of more than 450 crosses outside New Mount Calvary Baptist Church represents a person who was killed by a shock from a Taser, according to a sign announcing the National Taser Memorial…
The memorial was established in January at the church in the 5800 block of Oak Grove Road in far south Fort Worth. A large cross bears the name of Michael Jacobs Jr., a mentally challenged man who died in April 2009 after a Fort Worth police officer used a Taser on him for nearly a minute…
“There are almost 500 people who have been tortured to death by Taser devices, not counting the ones who have been wounded,” Franklin said. “This is our way of showing our respect for those families and showing that someone really cares.”
As opposed to the church’s neighbors, who care, all right, but not in that weird Jesus-y way.
From the Washington Post:
Sarah Bassin, 99, a Washington native who co-owned Bassin’s Restaurant, the first District dining establishment to offer sidewalk seating, died June 30 in Naples, Fla. She had Alzheimer’s disease…
Led by Harry Zitelman, the restaurant’s owners began seeking permission in 1959 to open a sidewalk cafe. The idea met with fierce opposition from residents and city officials, setting off a years-long battle to allow customers to eat and drink in the open air.
City officials argued that sidewalk eateries would expose food to contamination by “windblown foreign matter” and would exacerbate pest problems, The Post reported. A deputy police chief warned that “this type of operation would provide a favorable setting for ladies of easy virtue as they ply their trade up and down the street.”
Back then I covered the District Building (Washington’s City Hall) for the late Washington Daily News. The head of the board of commissioners was the late Walter Tobriner (below), a brilliant, no-nonsense civic leader who went on to become our ambassador to Jamaica.
I sat through, and he presided over, hours of the sorts of Cover Your Ass testimony that the Post summarizes above — bureaucrat after bureaucrat moaning of the disasters sure to overwhelm his department if the commissioners were to allow their unruly and unsanitary citizenry to eat outdoors.
When the department heads had each had his whine, Commissioner Tobriner looked out over the audience, keeping an admirably straight face, and said, “There being no substantive objection, the application is approved.”
…this one from the Associated Press:
NEW YORK – A federal appeals court on Tuesday tossed out a government policy that can lead to broadcasters being fined for allowing even a single curse word on live television, concluding that the rule was unconstitutionally vague and had a chilling effect on broadcasters.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan struck down the 2004 Federal Communications Commission policy, which said that profanity referring to sex or excrement is always indecent.