October 2015 Archives

Jameson Parker looks at Sanders and god:

Perhaps the only thing more improbable than an unapologetic Democratic Socialist running for president, is one who also feels confident enough to not have to pander to America's religious conservatives either. And yet Sen. Bernie Sanders is still standing tall.

For years, Sanders has noted that he is "culturally Jewish" but not necessarily religious. He clearly has little sympathy for religious fundamentalists. In a recent scorecard by the right-wing Christian lobbying group Faith and Freedom Coalition, he managed to get a decisive score of "zero." On the other hand, he has spoken out passionately against religious intolerance, and has a record of standing up for religious freedom in all its forms.

"During a fascinating interview with Jimmy Kimmel," the piece continues, "Sanders was asked the dreaded 'God' question, and his answer speaks volumes about his integrity:"

When Kimmel postulated that believing in God is important for Americans and therefore necessary for a president, Sanders didn't blink before answering, "I am who I am."

Sanders explained further:

"What I believe in and what my spirituality is about is that we are all in this together. I think that it is not a good thing to believe that as human beings we can turn our backs on the suffering of other people."

In his refreshingly humanist answer, Sanders turns the "God" question around and instead reminds us of why it's less important which God a candidate believes in (if any), but rather what they believe about their fellow man. After all, any politician can say they are godly, but many are still capable of being truly nasty to men, women, and children - especially those who don't believe in the same way that they do. Isn't it much more important to know how a candidate would treat people?

Democrats need both Sanders and Clinton, writes WaPo:

The crucial distinction between Europe's social democrats and the Democratic Party in the United States is that the former have institutionalized worker power to a far greater degree than have our Democrats, who are quintessentially a party of both capital and labor. This has mattered most particularly in the post-1970 era of globalization. [...]

The great bursts of progressive reform in the 1930s and 1960s were the joint product of liberal presidents and turmoil in the streets -- general strikes in the '30s, civil rights protests in the '60s. In the United States, liberalism advances only when radicalism is bubbling, which is why Clinton and Sanders need each other, and why the Democrats need them both.


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HuffPo's piece on Amazon warehouse temp workers looks at the efforts of the 100,000 season workers brought in to supplement their 90,000 permanent employees. "Since workers at the Chester facility were typically expected to pull 100 items or more per hour, a picker could expect to walk more than 12 miles over the course of a shift," the article observes.

Although "we are living in an era of maximum productivity," the power imbalance means that "It has never been easier for employers to track the performance of workers and discard those who don't meet their needs."Labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein notes that "The entire service economy is based on this kind of hyper-flexibility:"

For employees, though, it means showing up to work every day with the knowledge that you are always disposable. You are at least one entity removed from the company where you work, and you are only as good as your last recorded input in a computerized performance monitoring system. In the event that something goes wrong in your life--illness, injury, a family crisis--you have few, if any, protections. And yet for Americans like Jeff, this precarious existence now represents one of the only remaining potential paths to a middle-class life.

Salon comments

We've learned, of course, that full-time work for Amazon, whether in a warehouse or its Seattle offices, is hardly a barrel of laughs -- but these are people who aspire to a full-time permanent warehouse job. [...] As what used to be middle-, even lower-middle-class, jobs are turned into temporary positions because companies can get work done cheaper, inequality and poverty will continue to grow.

Benghazi and BS

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Newsweek's Benghazi biopsy piece is brutal:

Moussa Koussa.

That is the name of the "classified source" in an old email from Hillary Clinton released last week by Republicans purportedly investigating the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. [...] But the CIA never said the name was secret. Nor did the Defense Intelligence Agency or the FBI. No, Koussa's role as an intelligence source is about as classified as this column. [...]

But, as they have time and again, the Republicans on the Benghazi committee released deceitful information for what was undoubtedly part of a campaign--as Kevin McCarthy of the House Republican leadership has admitted--to drive down Clinton's poll numbers. Republicans have implied--and some journalists have flatly stated--that Clinton was reckless and may have broken the law by sending an email that included thirdhand hearsay mentioning Koussa's name. The reality is that the Republicans continue to be reckless with the truth.

Newsweek calls it "an obscene attempt to undermine the electoral process:"

But to fully understand how political this latest Benghazi investigation has become, look at the records. Since March, the committee has issued almost 30 press releases related to Clinton; only five have been put out on every other topic combined.

When discussing Clinton's use of a private email system, Newsweek notes that "this was an arrangement made with the State Department allowed under the rules listed in the Federal Register:"

...which is why Colin Powell had the exact same set-up when he was secretary of state under former President George W. Bush. While that doesn't mean the approach is wise, it's hardly unusual given that a Republican who held Clinton's job did it too.

Senior White House staffers and presidential advisers did the same thing during the Bush Administration; at least 88 officials--including the White House Chief of Staff and Karl Rove, the president's senior adviser--used personal emails to conduct official business over a private internet domain called gwb43.com, which was maintained on a server at the Republican National Committee. More than 22 million of those emails were deleted. [see here]

The State Department maintains a separate, closed system for classified information. With the exception of one email with a member of the British government, none of Clinton's communications with foreign officials went through her personal email account.

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) claimed that "we all heard about the stand down order," but ""Like so many other statements made by Republicans about Benghazi, it is wrong in every particular:"

Despite his investigation, Issa either lied or did not know of the multiple military orders that went out that night--diverting Predator drones, dispatching the Commander's In-Extremis Force from Croatia, sending a special operations unit from the United States and instructing Marine platoons from Spain to prepare for deployment.

Newsweek calls them "either lying or almost criminally ignorant about the processes of government," and their thetoric "many bogus claims," "fantasy," and "completely false:"

In their refusal to read documents or accept facts over fantasies, Republican conspiracy theorists have damaged this country in ways that cannot yet be fully comprehended. No doubt, the terrorists set on attacking America are cheering them on. Nothing could delight some terrorist sitting in a Syrian or Libyan or Iraqi hovel while hearing a top Republican congressman brag on television that a relatively small attack on a U.S.compound continues to threaten to transform a presidential election in the most powerful country in the world.

MediaMatters explains 3 years of the Benghazi hoax in 5 minutes, and Salon exposes the "complete fraud" of constitutional conservatism by pointing out that "at another level, there's a larger point worth stressing:"

Using Congress, all its legal powers--and taxpayer dollars--to try to win the next election by smearing a leading presidential candidate from the other party is not just sleazy and reprehensible, it's clearly incompatible with any claim of a moral commitment to be guided by constitutional principles. The term "constitutional conservative" cannot have any defensible meaning if this is its fruit. And this is its fruit. It's been years in the making, and no so-called "constitutional conservative" has ever thought to speak out against it before. They've had their chance, and they've done nothing but support this perversion of constitutionally-granted power. They should all be profoundly ashamed.

The piece calls "constitutional conservatives...A brand that promised some sort of substance, but only delivered baseless attacks aimed at destroying the very system of trust-worthy government it outrageously pretended to uphold."

Ted Rall explains why no one on the Left cares about Benghazi, despite conservatives seeing it as "red meat:"

Republicans are more than welcome to continue framing Benghazi as a story about a feckless secretary of state who failed to send reinforcements to brave Americans who were murdered due to her negligence. If they want Democrats and others on the American left to join them in indignant rage, they should question Hillary's role starting the war in the first place.

The problem with that, of course, is that it would open the door to admitting that invading Iraq, and Afghanistan, were mistakes too.

Well, that certainly can't be allowed to happen.

Trump's grade level

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Addicting Info discusses Trump's speeches:

The Boston Globe recently analyzed the speeches of 19 presidential candidates using an algorithm called the Flesch-Kincaid readability test. The objective of the test is to find out what level of education journalists are appealing to with their writing.

Trump's style is "either an interesting perspective into the shallow mind of an idiot or the brilliant strategy of a shrewd businessman:"

Considering his failed efforts at sounding intelligent long before his announcement and his role in the birther movement, my money is on shallow-minded idiot. [...] Mike Huckabee speaks at the highest education level of all republicans, which is probably why he's floundering in the polls.


This annotated version of "Bartleby the Scrivener" calls Melville's tale "a coy document:"

Part office comedy, part ghost story, part Zen koan, the text seems determined to subvert the expectations of its reader. No wonder some critics have read the story as Herman Melville offering a middle finger to the literary establishment of his day. [...]

But "Bartleby" is much more than a grave marker (if that) for Melville's ambitions. It is a searing critique of American capitalism, a protest story, an existentialist paean to the necessity of going on in an absurd world. And, depending on whom you ask, it is also a homoerotic love story, a commentary on the rambunctious labor politics of 1840s New York, or a coded Masonic mystery (long before Dan Brown). Or it is a cipher for some other text in Melville's vast mental library--Shakespeare, or Emerson, or the Bible. It is all of these things, and none of them. One of this text's many delights is the elusiveness of its meaning.

Readers who explore the interactive annotated text will likely agree that "One hundred sixty-two years of scholarship have failed to solve its mysteries--or diminish its pleasures."

rattling the rich

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In pointing out that Sanders is "starting to rattle The Powers That Be," Naked Capitalism writes that Obama's achievement "was to implement center-right economic policies with tepid social justice measures to divert attention from how he was serving the interests of the 1% and even more so, the 0.1%:"

And the fact that his allies in Congress have in large measure been voted out of office, that Sanders is going from strength to strength despite his lack of big corporate support, and that the neoliberal diehard Clinton is being forced to feint to the left are signs that the political tectonic plates are shifting. Much more is possible now than was six years ago. That does not mean progressives will prevail, but it means there's a real opportunity to make very serious inroads. The pundit classes clearly recognize this opening; hence the eagerness to stanch populist energy and engagement through heavy doses of defeatism.

Salon purports to provide the truth about Sanders' socialism, suggesting that "Sanders could be just the man to open up our political playing field to future socialists -- or Democratic Socialists, to be more accurate -- if he can finally remove the stigma from the word:"

There seem to be two common, yet very different, thoughts that come to the minds of many Americans when they hear the word socialism. For some, it automatically means 20th century communism, i.e. a Stalinist or Maoist dictatorship where the state controls all ways of life and plans the entire economy while enslaving all dissenters. On the other hand, it is thought of as a massive bureaucratized welfare state, where citizens are lazy and rely on the government for "free stuff."

Not surprisingly, "now that Sanders has become a major presidential candidate, right wingers are falling back on their McCarthyist tradition:"

Of course [...] a centrally planned, command economy is not advocated by Sanders, and his policies have nothing to do with 20th century communism. Neither does he want to abolish private property, as most GOP candidates will begin spewing eventually.

"Democratic Socialism means democracy," said Sanders on Sunday, "It means creating a government that represents all of us, not just the wealthiest people in this country."

"Sanders' message has obviously resonated with many of the American people," concludes the piece, but:

A great deal of Americans -- especially millenialls -- seem ready to move past the paranoid tradition and fear-mongering of old. The Sanders' campaign is bringing socialism back to the mainstream, but as he has made clear, only a "political revolution" can really bring it to Washington.

Eric Foner explains how Sanders should talk about democratic socialism:

I urge you to reconsider how you respond to the inevitable questions about what you mean by democratic socialism and peaceful revolution. The next time, embrace our own American radical tradition. There's nothing wrong with Denmark; we can learn a few things from them (and vice-versa). But most Americans don't know or care much about Scandinavia. More importantly, your response inadvertently reinforces the idea that socialism is a foreign import. Instead, talk about our radical forebears here in the United States, for the most successful radicals have always spoken the language of American society and appealed to some of its deepest values.

"You could begin with Tom Paine and other American revolutionaries," he continues, and then continue through abolitionists, "the long struggle for women's rights," and Populists:

Or what about the Progressive platform of 1912, for a party that nominated Theodore Roosevelt for president, which called, among other things, for strict limits on campaign contributions, universal health insurance, vigorous federal oversight of giant corporations and other measures that, over a century later, have yet to be realized.

Your antecedents include not just FDR's New Deal but also his Second Bill of Rights of 1944, inspired by the era's labor movement, which called for the government to guarantee to all Americans the rights to employment, education, medical care, a decent home, and other entitlements that are out of reach for too many today. You could point to A. Philip Randolph's Freedom Budget of 1967, which asked the federal government to address the deep economic inequalities the civil rights revolution had left untouched. But beyond these and other examples, the point is that the rights we enjoy today--civil, political, economic, social--are the result of struggles of the past, not gifts from on high. That's what you mean when you say we need a citizens' revolution.

City Journal, however, decries any attempt at explanation as mere "rebranding," ignoring its necessity after decades of conservative misinformation:

Democratic leaders like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are road-testing a redefinition of socialism that they hope the American public finds palatable. It goes like this: government is just the things that we do together; doing things together is socialism; government is socialism. We have a government already; therefore, we have socialism already. Get over it. [...]

Bernie Sanders promises to give a policy speech in the coming weeks outlining his vision of Scandinavian-style "social democracy" for America. One imagines that he will make reference to public parks, teachers, paid family leave, and NPR. "Do you like that stuff?" he'll ask. "If you do, then you're a socialist." He won't mention socialism's unbroken record of failure and its fundamental incompatibility with human nature

It's playing out just like it usually does: Democrats try to mention some facts, and Republicans slam shut their ideological blinders.

Peter Phillips illuminates the economic nature of 21st-century fascism, noting that "global capitalism is so highly concentrated that less than a few thousand people dominate and control $100 trillion of wealth:"

The few thousand people controlling global capital amounts to less than 0.0001 percent of the world's population. They are the transnational capitalist class (TCC), who, as the capitalist elite of the world, dominate nation-states through international trade agreements and transnational state organizations such as the World Bank, the Bank for International Settlements, and the International Monetary Fund.

The contrast between their power and our powerlessness is dramatic:

The 99 percent of us without wealth and private police power face the looming threat of overt repression and complete loss of human rights and legal protections. We see signs of this daily with police killings (now close to a hundred per month in the US), warrantless electronic spying, mass incarceration, random traffic checkpoints, airport security/no-fly lists, and Homeland Security compilations of databases on suspected resisters.

TruthOut's Cynthia Kaufman explains how to challenge capitalism's grip on daily life:

In order to deal with the climate crisis and have more satisfying lives, we need to build economies that consume fewer natural resources. In other words, we need to build a "solidarity economy" based on worker-owned cooperatives, self-provisioning and barter systems, and gift-based exchanges.

This contention may sound far-fetched, but it is increasingly the consensus among economic activists across the globe who are working to build solidarity economies on a small scale.

She stresses that fact that "GDP measures the amount of capitalist activity happening in an economic system. It does not measure well-being, inequality, health or environmental impacts:"

In my book Getting Past Capitalism: History, Vision, Hope, I outline 10 important steps for building a movement to challenge capitalism in realistic ways that don't require waiting for a revolution.

1. Delegitimize capitalism.
2. Challenge capitalist cultural memes.
Annie Leonard's video "The Story of Stuff"
3. Create meaning in our lives that has nothing to do with consumerism.
4. Advocate for alternative economic indicators.
5. Challenge pro-capitalist free trade policies that are bad for labor and the environment.
6. Build alliances between movements.
7. Make the solidarity economy visible.
8. Support the development of community-controlled forms of capital.
for community projects and do not expect a fast return on their investment.
9. Develop each other's identities as agents of change.
10. Make strategic decisions.

Speaking of consumerism, TNR writes about how the free market preys on your every wrong, pointing out that "As long as there is a profit to be made, [free markets] will also deceive us, manipulate us and prey on our weaknesses, tempting us into purchases that are bad for us:"

There are four huge areas of our lives--consumer spending, investment, health and politics--in which we are making decisions that no one (on reflection) could possibly want. Yet we make those decisions, and the free market provides them, just as bountifully as it satisfies our more benign impulses.

First, even in the US, as rich as we are by all historical standards, most of us go to bed at night worried about how to pay our bills. We are continually tempted, and have a very hard time sticking to a budget. [...]

Second, there are financial booms and busts because stories--what we are saying to ourselves and what we say to each other when we make our decisions--spread like epidemics. Those stories lead people into bad investments, and then, when those investments go sour, there are declines in confidence that threaten the whole financial system. Humpty Dumpty has a great fall and only slowly is pieced back together again.

Third, regarding health, the market gives us tobacco, which, according to Centers for Disease Control estimates, is responsible for almost 20% of deaths in the United States. The pharmaceuticals industry sells us drugs with unknown long-term effects, which are sometimes severe. And Big Food serves us sugar and fat, so that two-thirds of Americans are overweight, with more than half of them also obese. The list goes on.

Finally, the political system in a democracy is like a market system: there is a competition for votes. But that too has a "phishing equilibrium." To keep their jobs, politicians have to raise money from "the interests" and use it for TV ads that show what nice folks they really are.

The smiley face of free-market fascism...

still shocking

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Hal Niedzviecki discusses 45 years of Future Shock:

The book Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler (with contributions from his wife, Heidi), has been in print since its publication in 1970, selling six million-plus copies all over the world. To this day, the book has endured as a touchstone and a psychological concept.

"Future Shock," he continues, "became the first, and arguably only, book on the subject of technological progress and psychological stress to enter the popular consciousness:"

The book provides a blueprint for accommodating one's existence to the needs of a consumer society constantly churning out the new and improved. Escape from future shock won't come from lamenting the rise of a techno-industrial age and trying to push back against it by what the Tofflers dismiss as a "return to passivity, mysticism and irrationality." The answer isn't to question the path we're on. The answer is to fully embrace the potential of the one and only path--future change all the time. We must merge with the future and go wherever that takes us.

Even as the Tofflers continue to write, lecture and promulgate all over the world, we, virulent adoptees of the cure for future shock, have gotten steadily worse.

NRA paranoia

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The NRA admits that the odds of using a gun defensively "are actually so low that it is difficult to accurately measure the number of defensive gun uses that occur each year:"

Meanwhile, gun violence is so frequent in the United States that more than 100,000 gunshot injuries are recorded every year (a figure that does not include crimes committed with guns where no one is shot).

Despite admitting the rarity of defensive gun uses, the NRA commentary video did not admit the logical conclusion of that fact, which is that guns do not typically make people safer.

As MediaMatters concludes, "the NRA's typical paranoid message [...] that guns should be permissively purchased and carried so that gun owners can confront constant threats to their lives."

Matthew Rozsa identifies the right (and wrong) way to discuss socialism:

At the beginning of Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate, Anderson Cooper challenged Sen. Bernie Sanders on the Vermont liberal's willingness to describe himself as a democratic socialist. Indeed, the CNN host went so far as to pointedly ask, "How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?" This is because, for more than a century, socialism has been a dirty word in American politics. [For details, see John Nichols' book The 'S' Word.]

"Although the political climate has changed considerably in the early 21st century," Rozsa continues, "the nasty undertone associated with "socialist" is still strong enough that it's frequently used as a political insult," and "every Democratic president since FDR can rely on being called a socialist by his critics." Rozsa cites Bill Maher's remark that "They hear socialist and they think herpes, Bernie!" and comments:

That is why, in the end, we should be encouraged by the likely legacy that Sanders' campaign will have, regardless of whether he is ultimately nominated and elected. By virtue of being taken seriously, it's a sign that Americans may finally be ready to think about major issues in a way that doesn't require labels.

AlterNet points out that Sanders is attracting conservative voters:

Sanders has been extraordinarily clear about the kind of shift he'd like to effect: Republicans "divide people on gay marriage. They divide people on abortion. They divide people on immigration. And what my job is, and it's not just in blue states. . . [is] to bring working people together around an economic agenda that works. People are sick and tired of establishment politics; they are sick and tired of a politics in which candidates continue to represent the rich and the powerful."

"My new Republican friends," the piece continues, "didn't know they were not 'supposed' to like a 'liberal' like Bernie Sanders:"

Then they heard what he was saying, and liked what they heard. How many are there like them? That's what I've been trying to begin to find out.
However, Anderson Cooper offers no apology for his obnoxiousness, perhaps due to this fact:
The richest person on that Las Vegas stage was CNN moderator and Vanderbilt heir Anderson Cooper, whose $100 million net worth ($100,000,000) is greater than all the candidates' worth combined (about $84,000,000). In a very real, if unspoken sense, this "debate" was more like an exclusive club interview with Cooper vetting the applicants for their class credentials.

"Anderson Cooper seemed most interested in promoting a food fight among the candidates," continues the piece, calling his treatment of "yellow journalism red-baiting:"

Cooper's approach uses "socialism" as something that is by definition pejorative and comes out of a deep, common bias in the US. The American ruling class has cultivated fear of "socialism" for close to two centuries, not because it's a threat to people's freedom but because it's a threat to the wealth and power of people like the 158 families funding most of the 2016 race for the presidency.

Cooper's snark that "the Republican attack ad against you in a general election -- it writes itself" is also examined:

We are at the beginning of what might be a long learning curve as we find out what our country is truly about. Bernie Sanders offers an opportunity to look at realities in broad daylight and make up our minds about them. Anderson Cooper is but one of a legion of self-serving, self-preserving One Per Cent propagandists who will do all they can to keep the Sanders message in the dark.

AntiCap asks why democratic socialism? and answers by citing Albert Einstein's 1949 essay warning against "an oligarchy of private capital." The great observer (not just of physics, either) writes that "The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job:"

Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers' goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

"I am convinced," he adds, "there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils:"

...namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals.

A far less erudite voice, that of frequently-wrong pundit George Will [see here, here, and here for starters], purports to explain what Bernie Sanders doesn't understand about economic inequality:

Today's Democratic Party is frozen, like a fly in amber, in the New Deal preoccupation -- but with less excuse than Democrats had during the Great Depression. The party believes that economic inequality is an urgent problem, and that its urgency should be understood in terms of huge disparities of wealth. Neither proposition is (to use the term Jefferson used when he wrote equality into America's catechism) a self-evident truth.

"The fundamental producer of income inequality," claims Will, "is freedom.:"

Individuals have different aptitudes and attitudes. Not even universal free public education, even were it well done, could equalize the ability of individuals to add value to the economy. Besides, some people want to teach, others want to run hedge funds. In an open society, rewards are set not by political power but by impersonal market forces, the rewards of which will differ dramatically but usually predictably. Beyond freedom's valuable fecundity in producing unequal social outcomes, four other facets of today's America fuel inequality.

Sorry, George, but that's bullshit! The fundamental producer of income inequality is not "impersonal market forces," but power--which wants to perpetuate the inequality.

Here Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is doing well, if not good, by reducing the debate about equality to resentment of large fortunes. He should read Harry G. Frankfurt's new book "On Inequality." It is so short (89 pages) that even a peripatetic candidate can read it, and so lucid that he cannot miss its inconvenient point: "It is misguided to endorse economic egalitarianism as an authentic moral ideal."

Will is wrong again--if the debate is about "resentment" of anything, it's of poverty and squalor and mortality. Nonetheless, Will blunders on:

Sanders focuses less on empathy for the poor than on stoking the discontent of those who are comfortable but envious. They will ultimately be discomfited by the fact that envy is the only one of the seven deadly sins that does not give the sinner even momentary pleasure.

This correction by Salon's Conor Lynch does an admirable job:

While Will is certainly correct that economic freedom is a part of income inequality (while capital/intellectual ownership may be called the 'fundamental producer of wealth inequality'), he goes on to say that "big regulatory government inherently exacerbates inequality because it inevitably serves the strong" (italics are mine).

As an apologist for unregulated capitalism, this notion, that regulations can only worsen the inevitable inequality of a free market, is very convenient for Will. Of course, it is pure hogwash. Regulatory agencies and the government itself can indeed be corrupted, and over the past few decades, they have been. The revolving door and the flow of money into our political system have caused this, but it is hardly an inevitability. The elimination of private campaign financing and the reversal of Citizens United, as Sanders advocates (and Will opposes), would be a start in cleaning up the government and having it work for the many. But Will doesn't want the corruption to end, because it is a part of his argument -- i.e. that the government and its agencies will inevitably be bought by industries, so why not just eliminate them?

On the inequality front, Lynch points out that "Will's concept of value is fuzzy:"

He seems to believe that the top 25 hedge fund managers are simply worth the same as all of America's Kindergarten teachers combined (about 158,000), or that they add the same "value to the economy," because, y'know, the impersonal market is never wrong. So, 25 men (and they are all men), who move around money for other very rich people, speculating on various investments -- and who, thanks to the carried interest loophole, tend to pay lower tax rates than middle class working people -- are worth more than the education of America's children.

"It is a Republican way of saying: Shut up and stop complaining," writes Lynch. He also observes that "Will has Sanders completely wrong:"

The senator does not promote envy of the rich. He promotes worker rights, and fair pay for one's labor. He is running against the plutocracy that has formed in American politics, where every candidate relies on the donor class to get elected, and then goes on to grant favors to that donor class. And he is running against the greed (one of the seven deadly sins, I might add) of Wall Street and corporate America. He is, in other words, running to save American democracy.

So then, it seems a more appropriate headline for Will's latest editorial would have been: "What George Will does not understand about Bernie Sanders."


The Democrats are indeed returning to their New Deal roots, and it's about damn time. Of course, Will is stuck in the supply-side eighties, and it's no secret which era built, and which era destroyed the middle class. It's time to build once again, Mr. Will.

Sanders' Fusion interview with Felix Salmon shows what Sanders is actually concerned about:

Q: Thank you for doing this. As an Englishman, I'm glad to see proud socialists running for president. Do you believe in redistribution of wealth?

A: Yeah. I think what's happened is that there has been mass redistribution of wealth in this country for the last 30 years. The problem is it's gone from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1%. And I think we have to redistribute it back to working families and the middle class so that they can have a decent standard of living. [...]

I believe that we have got to raise the minimum wage in the country to a living wage, which I think is $15 an hour over the next several years. [...] We need pay equity for women workers, who should not be making 79 cents on the dollar compared to men. We need to especially focus on youth unemployment because Hispanic youth unemployment in this country is 36% and underemployment. African-American unemployment and underemployment is 51%. We end up having more people in jail than any other country on earth. So I think I would rather invest in jobs and education, rather than jails and incarceration.

Sanders' suggestion that we turn post offices into banks is described by Solomon as "quite sensible:"

"Postal banking"--which just means that post offices run savings accounts, cash checks, and perform other basic financial services--is common in most of Asia and Europe, and only about 7 percent of the world's national postal systems don't offer some bank-like services. Postal banking is a really good way to reach people who haven't had access to standard savings accounts.

The current situation--where "somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of the population has to rely on check-cashing or payday-lending services"--is untenable. Sanders wants to help fix it, but all his detractors (such as George Will) see is envy.


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Julia Belluz digs into the now-familiar "amazing origin story" of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes:

Holmes, the company's founder, dropped out of Stanford as a sophomore in 2004. She said she'd started the company both to address her phobia of needles -- one that she realized many people shared -- and out of the desire to help people diagnose potential diseases faster and at more accessible prices.

Over the next decade, Holmes managed not only to get her own Stanford professor and mentor on board, but also to attract $400 million from venture capitalists, and assemble a star-studded board that included former US Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz.

Holmes became "one of the youngest self-made billionaires around" without having to deliver solid results:

Two years ago, the company started offering blood tests that it claimed required only a finger prick -- and could deliver results of up to 30 tests in hours using its own lab testing instrument (called "Edison machines"). In numerous interviews, Elizabeth Holmes, the 31-year-old founder of the company, argued that this technology would be revolutionary, slashing costs in the $75 billion-a-year blood testing industry. Investors and media loved it, and last year the company was valued at $9 billion.

"But recently," Belluz continues, "Theranos has started attracting doubters and critics"--including a prominent WSJ feature alleging false claims:

Theranos has allegedly been collecting blood samples the traditional way and then diluting them so they could be run on machines made by other companies -- not their much-hyped Edison technology.

What's more, the Journal's investigation, as well as a follow-up story, suggested there were major concerns about the accuracy of Theranos's test results. It's a messy story, full of wild claims and regulatory clashes.

More questions emerged regarding the lack of FDA and the absence of peer-reviewed results, and Belluz concludes that "This whole episode should be a cautionary tale:"

If a secretive tech company is claiming to revolutionize an entire industry with technology that still hasn't been validated, be skeptical.

Amanda Marcotte examines Captain America's liberalism, and begins by making the following observation:

There's no surer evidence that conservative media coasts on exploiting the ignorance of its audience (and in many cases, the willful ignorance of its pundits) than the hissyfit being thrown over the first issue of a new run of Captain America comics.

In it, Sam Wilson (the super-hero formerly known as the Falcon) has assumed the role of Captain America. As Marcotte points out:

He also helps out undocumented immigrants that are being plagued by white supremacists. Oh yeah, and he's black, something white conservatives know better than to be openly angry about but Allen West will go ahead and get angry over for them.

Breitbart, Daily Caller, and Fox News all threw utterly fact-free temper tantrums over this new development, whining that Captain America's progressivism is somehow new and different and that his stance against racist conservatives is somehow a new development for the character.

Marcotte also references the 2013 essay "Captain America isn't just any hero" [see here] before diving into Cap's portrayal in the MCU:

The first movie is an allegory about how strength is useless without the liberal value of protecting the vulnerable behind it. The second movie is overtly political, a story that openly suggests that the "war on terror" is becoming indistinguishable from fascism.

The Steve Rogers from the movies is unmistakably liberal: Anti-racist, a lover of independent women, and a man who believes that the best patriot is one who questions his government instead of blindly follows orders. This characterization is consistent with the canonical Steve Rogers of the comic books, who has long been an icon of progressive patriotism, a believer that fighting for America should only be done if America defends its own liberal values.

"The fact that so many conservative outlets assumed, without even pausing to check their facts, that Captain America was a conservative character," she continues, "tells you nothing about the actual character, but everything about how conservatives mindlessly equate patriotism with reactionary politics:"

But, in reality, Captain America, particularly in his best stories, is an exploration of how patriotism is not the same thing as nationalism. Some of the best Captain America stories explore the dangers of nationalism, how it leads to paranoia and racism and war and the loss of basic freedoms. This latest story, where the new Captain America makes a stand against white supremacy and argues for the humanity of undocumented immigrants, is just following the long-established spirit of Captain America.

(Conservatives expressing ignorance of history while pretending to defend it--what a surprise!)

Eric Ravenscraft explains in no small detail why being poor is too expensive:

When you're broke, you can't do all the little things that will improve your budget over the long run. It actually costs more to be poor.

When you're poor, you can't buy your food in bulk, buy high quality stuff that will last, or own your own tech instead of renting. It costs money up front to save money over the long run. Worse yet, being poor often comes with hidden, intangible costs that make digging yourself out of poverty even harder.

Let's look at food, shall we? "According to research from the Harvard School of Public Health," he writes, "healthy meals cost an average of $1.50 more per day (or ~$45 per month) than unhealthy meals:"

When $1.50 a day can account for nearly 5% of your yearly salary, it's no surprise you choose the $1 soda over the $4 orange juice. Who the hell cares about "long-term health consequences" when you can barely pay rent? You know what has some serious "long-term health consequences"? Getting evicted. I'll pay rent today and worry about heart disease later.

When it came to transportation costs (like new brake pads), he reminisces that "Waiting was often my only option:"

Unlike buying healthy food, there were times I literally didn't have the money. Not "I have this money, but I shouldn't spend it." More like, the car repair is $145 and I have $12 in my account. And I still have to drive my car to work. There's no third option.

Dressing well, he continues, "is an awkward catch-22:"

No matter how many people advised against borrowing money when you're broke, I simply couldn't afford the clothing I needed to look presentable to an employer before getting the job I was applying for.

"Avoiding fees," in all sorts of ways, "is a life or death survival trait for low income households:"

This gets its own category because when you're poor, fees are everywhere. Fees for having a bank. Fees for not having a bank. Fees for paying late. Fees for paying with a certain type of card. Fees for not being able to pay a fee. A person can drown in the various fees that disproportionately hurt poor families. [...]

Banks may charge a ton of fees for using basic services like checking. A simple traffic ticket can spiral out of control, sometimes even leading to being arrested, plus more fees. Utilities may charge fees if you pay by debit card. If you can't get approval at a bank, payment schemes like pay cards can have charge you fees just to use your money. All these fees add up to huge pains that hurt a lot worse when you don't have money. Failing to pay those fees only leads to more fees, which means that, like most areas in life, it costs more to be poor.

"Sure," he admits, "you can make choices that lighten the load on yourself, but the margin of error is much thinner:"

Meanwhile, the amount of extra work you have to do just to break even is much higher. You could spend tens of hours each week trying to optimize every dime in your budget, just to have one mistake ruin you for a month.

Adam Johnson points out that this sort of precarity leaves the service class at the mercy of...well, just about everyone (but especially the upper crust). Johnson takes aim at Richard Cohen's piece in defense of tipping, which Johnson observes, "quickly devolves into a 50-shades of Grey-type description of how much he enjoys the asymmetrical power dynamics of tipping for their own sake:" Cohen, writes Johnson, "seems to be ignoring the creepy power dynamics at work and the compulsory performance his waitstaff is required to put on:"

How turning a dining experience into a Randian exercise in accountability and class power makes eating more enjoyable - to say nothing of more just - is never revealed. Richard Cohen doesn't want to get rid of tipping because it has any societal value, he doesn't want to get rid of it because, and I don't say this flippantly, the power game seems to slightly get him off. The whole description is him relishing his position as arbiter of how someone worth a fraction of his wealth is performing their grueling, thankless tasks. [...]

It's a strange impulse and one limited to the entirely detached, sociopathic, and/or wealthy. Waiters serve food for one reason: our capitalist overlords haven't invented a robot that can do it cheaper. Cohen is holding on to a classist, dated romantic vision of waiting tables that's far more about the waitstaff acting happy than being happy. A steady paycheck, health insurance, not having to grovel to every creepy geezer who walks in -- this is what waiters want.

Cohen declares, "I love tipping," but his reasoning is the very epitome of expense-account entitlement:

I am a healthy tipper (once a waiter, always a tipper) because this is my way of recognizing a good job. A healthy tip is like a pat on the back. [...] I like to reward, but occasionally I like to punish. Make my meal an ordeal, make me anxious about whether you got the order straight, and no 20 percent tip will come your way.

20% is healthy? In whose world?! Try 30%, you clueless elitist.

update (10/21 @ 8:52am):
Jezebel provides an even snarkier smackdown:

"Occasionally I like to punish." "OCCASIONALLY I LIKE TO PUNISH." Holy popesicles. I can't even really describe what happened to my body when I read that sentence other than that it looked something like this, except with more flailing:


Bob Cesca dismantles the Right's most cherished lies about Benghazi:

Early in October, Trey Gowdy, the notorious chairman of the House select-committee investigating Benghazi, sent a letter to Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, accusing Hillary Clinton of sending an email containing the name of a highly classified CIA source. The email was allegedly forwarded by Clinton to someone on her staff.

"Cummings fired back to Gowdy," Cesca continues, "in a Sunday letter to the controversial chairman:"

Cummings wrote, "The CIA [on Saturday] informed both the Republican and Democratic staffs of the Select Committee that they do not consider the information you highlighted in your letter to be classified. Specifically, the CIA confirmed that the State Department consulted with the CIA on this production, the CIA reviewed these documents, and the CIA made no redactions to protect classified information."

Whoops. But it gets worse for Gowdy.

The tenacious chairman outed the name of the CIA agent in his response to Cummings. [...] Gowdy publicly revealed the agent's name while simultaneously accusing Clinton of doing the same. Whoops, again.

Cesca describes "The GOP's business model" as "make stuff up and never apologize. The calculus is arguably the most cynical brand of politics imaginable." This plays out in any number of ways:

As long as any junior congressman can invoke the far-right shibboleths "Benghazi," or "Planned Parenthood," or "Obamacare," they continue to score points with the base despite the reality that none of these words mean what they think they mean.

To date, the Benghazi select committee is the longest-running of its kind, even outpacing the Warren Commission and the Watergate hearings. Given its duration, you'd think there'd be something to show for the time and taxpayer dollars spent. On the contrary, there's been zero evidence uncovered showing malfeasance on behalf of the Obama administration, including Hillary Clinton.

Republicans, however, will "keep on screwing that Benghazi chicken until they bleed every last drop of outrage from their tea party disciples:"

The Republicans love, love, love their stories. And as long as their people continue to uncritically devour these tall tales, the GOP will continue to make more. And the raw sewage that's being cranked out by the Benghazi select committee shows no sign of ending.

again and again

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Bisexuality means coming out all over again to find community, writes Beth Sherouse:

I've lost count of the number of times I've come out, too often in response to questions like, "So does this mean you're gay now?" when I began dating a woman, or "So you're not gay anymore?" when I was dating a man.

Bisexuality doesn't work that way.

Despite the prevalence of bisexuality ("about half of the LGB community describes their sexual orientation as bisexual"), she writes that "Biphobia is literally killing us:"

From suicide to major health disparities, we're unhealthier than our non-LGBT and our lesbian and gay peers, and we also have the lowest levels of social support.

Bisexual youth need role models.

"Biphobia is rampant within the LGBT community," she points out, "and visibility is a step toward stopping it."

Only recently have I come to understand the importance of proudly claiming my bisexual identity, even though there are still days when I'm just plain tired of coming out. Even with a supportive partner and affirming friends and family, facing biphobia and constantly correcting people's assumptions about my identity can be tedious and even daunting.

But I try to be as out as possible, and to address biphobia wherever I see it.


Robert Parry explains the Second Amendment's fake history, noting that the Oregon massacre is "one more mind-numbing slaughter made possible, in part, by an erroneous understanding of the Second Amendment:"

A key reason why the United States is frozen in political paralysis, unable to protect its citizens from the next deranged gunman and the next massacre, is that many on the American Right (and some on the Left) have sold much of the country on a false history regarding the Second Amendment. Gun-rights advocates insist that the carnage can't be stopped because it was part of what the Constitution's Framers designed. [...]

But the Constitution's Framers in 1787 and the authors of the Bill of Rights in the First Congress in 1789 never intended the Second Amendment to be construed as the right for individuals to take up arms against the Republic. In fact, their intent was the opposite.

The Second Amendment, he observes, "was enacted so each state would have the specific right to form 'a well-regulated militia' to maintain 'security,' i.e., to put down armed disorder and protect its citizens:"

One of the first uses of the new state militias formed under the Second Amendment and the Militia Acts, which required able-bodied men to report for duty with their own muskets, was for President Washington to lead a federalized force of militiamen against the Whiskey Rebellion, a tax revolt in western Pennsylvania in 1794.

In the South, one of the principal reasons for a militia was to rally armed whites to put down slave uprisings. Again, the Second Amendment was meant to maintain public order - even an unjust order - rather than to empower the oppressed to take up arms against the government.

Parry is spot-on about the deliberate omission of the Amendment's context-setting preamble:

When right-wing politicians talk about the Second Amendment now, they don't even bother to include the preamble that explains the point of the amendment. The entire amendment is only 26 words. But the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, another Republican presidential candidate, find the preamble inconvenient because it would undercut the false storyline. So they just lop off the first 12 words.

The tl;dr version might look like this:

The Second Amendment was designed for states to maintain "security," whether that meant putting down a tax rebellion in Pennsylvania, a slave revolt in the South or a Native American uprising on the frontier. One can disagree about the rightness of those actions by state or federal authorities, but the history is clear.

The Second Amendment was not designed to encourage violence against the government or - for that matter - to enable troubled individuals to murder large numbers of their fellow citizens.

Salon's exclusive Q&A with Slavoj Zizek is conducted by Michael Schulson, who sets the stage with this:

Žižek has written more than 60 books, and starred in a number of documentaries. In "Trouble in Paradise" -- recently released in the United States -- Žižek searches out ways to "think beyond capitalism and liberal democracy as the ultimate framework of our lives."

The following meditation on violence reminds me of his book on the subject:

I almost think -- okay, this may almost sound racist -- that civilizations which had this idea of calm inner lives, small rituals, and so on, are usually the most brutal civilizations. I love Japan. But what always disturbed me is some of the features in Japanese, and also in Chinese, everyday life, which is usually taken as their gentleness, and so on. Let's take bonsai trees. How do you grow them? You underfeed and torture them terribly. For me, when you have this superficial gentleness, it's just a screen, calm reflection. Look for extreme brutality beneath it.

You can see violence everywhere, though, can't you?

It is everywhere. It is everywhere. The world is hell. My vision, basically, in religious terms -- though I'm atheist, of course -- is some kind of Protestant view of the fallen world. It's all one big horror. I despise Leftists who think, you know, violence is just an effect of social alienation, blah, blah, blah; once we will get communism, people will live in harmony. No, human nature is absolutely evil and maybe with a better organization of society we could control it a little bit.

His latest book, as mentioned above, is Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism.

"bro jobs"

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In AlterNet's publicity campaign for Jane Ward' Not Gay, Carrie Weisman comments:

At this point, lesbian sex (the porny kind) is practically considered vanilla. But when it comes to two self-identified straight guys getting together, we tend to stiffen up, and not in the fun way.

Sex therapist Susan Block quotes author Ward as writing, "By understanding their same-sex sexual practice as meaningless, accidental, or even necessary, straight white men can perform homosexual contact in heterosexual ways." Weisman continues:

Block suggests that for men looking for free, no-strings-attached sex, a male partner may be their best bet. Removing sex from its prescribed context is often discouraged in heterosexual relationships. If you're looking to have sex for sport, doing it with another man might make some sense.

I'm not convinced that one can have gay sex in straight ways, but "The fact that society is starting to have more open discussions about sex is good:"

The fact that society only wants to discuss certain kinds of sex leaves something to be desired. But if we take a step back we might find that what traditionalists deem "unnatural" sexual behavior (i.e. anything outside the confines of heterosexual marriage) can be fairly intrinsic. However those participating in them want to self-identify is up to them.

Kyle Schmidlin laments the corporatization of higher education, reminding us that "Students aren't the only ones feeling the financial pinch of college:"

Faculty members are, too, particularly adjunct professors and recent hires. According to Service Employees International Union analysis, "Thirty-one percent of part-time faculty members and 14 percent of all faculty are living near or below the federal poverty level."

But nationwide, a growing movement is attempting to change that. In solidarity with Fight for $15 and with the support of labor organizers like SEIU, faculty are calling attention to the crisis of poverty wages and demanding solutions.

"Increasingly," she points out, "both public and private colleges are being run on the cost-cutting model of American business:"

Which presents a burning question: If faculty are being paid less, class sizes are growing and tuition is higher than ever, where is the money going? [..] According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only about 30 percent of an average university's expenditures are for faculty salaries. Another 12 percent is spent on research. More than half is being put to some non-academic purpose.

Unions can help put some of that money back in workers' pockets:

The efforts of Faculty Forward, an SEIU campaign aimed at reforming higher education, are some of the boldest in the labor movement today. Perhaps its most ambitious goal is raising the national standard for per-course pay from $2,800 to $15,000.

A 500 percent increase may sound lofty, but these instructors usually have at least a master's degree, if not a Ph.D., and right now many are making minimum wage. Adjuncts are passionate about their jobs; they'd have to be to remain in them for the kind of pay and minimal benefits they currently receive. None of them are opposed to hard work, nor is demanding a living wage looking for a handout.

Addicting Info predicts that the NRA will lose its shit over tweeting US gun violence:

While the left is adamant about making it clear that guns are the common denominator with death that sets America apart from the rest of the civilized world, the righties stick their ignorant heads in the sand, protecting the unmitigated sale and use of firearms at all costs.

Essentially, "The NRA isn't going to like the website Angieproject.com:"

The designers have built a program that scans every news feed in America for gun violence, posting the results on Twitter in real time. Gun nuts won't be able to blame "thugs" for every shooting in the country when yet another toddler kills his little sister accidentally, or a student with a grudge kills a person and wounds three others at his dorm.

The feed on Twitter is @AngieProduct, and it is a chilling reminder of just how often a gun is used in this country:

Erin Gloria Ryan's piece on running grossness (things like missing toenails, growing feet, blisters, chafing) has a poignant aftermath to her 2013 Chicago Marathon finish:

I frowned at my Kool Aid-looking piss and flushed. If it happened again, I'd call a doctor or something. Maybe running that far is bad for you? a little voice in my brain whispered. I ignored it.

trolley problem

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The infamous Trolley Problem gets discussed by Lauren Cassani Davis:

A runaway streetcar is hurtling towards five unsuspecting workers. Do you pull a switch to divert the trolley onto another track, where only one man works alone? Or do you do nothing?

She continues by pointing out that "this imaginary scenario has profoundly shaped our understanding of right and wrong:"

In the past 40 years it has occupied the attention of brilliant minds, from academic ethicists to moral psychologists to engineers. It has helped them try to answer profound questions--how do we act, and how should we? But in its fifth decade, is the trolley problem starting to show its age?

It still has some utility, as it "vividly distilled the distinction between two different concepts of morality:"

...that we should choose the action with the best overall consequences (in philosophy-speak, utilitarianism is the most well-known example of this), like only one person dying instead of five, and the idea that we should always adhere to strict duties, like "never kill a human being." The subtle differences between the scenarios provided helped to articulate influential concepts, like the distinction between actively killing someone versus passively letting them die, that continue to inform contemporary debates in law and public policy. The trolley problem has also been, and continues to be, a compelling teaching tool within philosophy.

Paul Starr writes that the politics of frustration are driving both parties toward make-believe:

To some extent, both the conservative and progressive frustrations have the same origin--limited power in a divided government. Neither side is able to get its way because neither party controls all the levers of power. But there is an additional parallel. Both conservatives and progressives say the parties' agendas aren't radical enough.

Even so, it's not a symmetrical situation:

The Republican primaries are a case study in a social psychological phenomenon known as "group polarization." When people talk only with those who share their views, they tend to move toward the extremes. None of the candidates, except occasionally Ohio Governor John Kasich, dares talk like a moderate.

On the Democratic side, the candidates are unlikely to race to the left in a way that's comparable to the Republican race to the right. But the idle talk about adopting single-payer health care and emulating a Scandinavian welfare state has a similar air of unreality about it. Without a total remaking of American society and politics, these ideas have no chance of being enacted outside of Vermont (which didn't get anywhere with single-payer after initially approving it).

I get that Democrats need to inspire their base, but I have never found political delusions inspiring. The Republican candidates ought to provide motivation enough for Democrats to show up at the polls.

"The Democrats now face one political imperative above all others," he observes, and that is "holding the presidency so as to restore a liberal majority on the Supreme Court:"

To be sure, Democrats will have a chance to move the Court further if they also regain control of the Senate, but the presidency is the key. The next four years will likely bring at least one and possibly two retirements among the Court's liberal justices, and if a Republican president replaces them, conservatives will be able to consolidate their majority and entrench far-right constitutional ideas.

If Democrats can prevent that from happening, there will come a time when they can again pass substantial liberal legislation. But it is not likely to be in the next four years because of the Republican hold on the House.

Quick-Draw Carson

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Salon examines the Right's Dirty Harry fantasy--using Trump's quick-draw pantomime and Ben Carson's bravado as examples:

"I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say: 'Hey, guys, everybody attack him! He may shoot me, but he can't get us all.'"

"While Trump and Carson may have personalities that are polar opposites in terms of temperament," the piece continues, "they do have a couple of important things in common (besides crackpot politics):"

They are both outrageously arrogant and they both see themselves as Hollywood-style heroes. This notion they are personally so tough that if anyone threatened them with a gun, they'd either out-draw them or inspire everyone to run straight into a hail of bullets, is ludicrous. Neither of these men are trained military veterans or have any professional experience with firearms -- except in their own Walter Mitty fantasies. These comments are embarrassing for both of them.

"In fact," Salon continues, "the High Noon scenario is not confined to vacuous right wing 'solutions' to mass shooting. [...] It defines the right's philosophy on gun rights in other ways that are changing the way we think about the law and our moral responsibilities:"

The most obvious example is the recent legal concept of "stand your ground" -- the legal doctrine which replaced the self-defense element of "duty to retreat" that had been part of common law definitions of self-defense for centuries. Civilized societies had long required that if a person had the ability to elude a deadly confrontation rather than engage in one, he had to take that option. Using deadly force must always be a last resort. The basic idea was based upon the common sense observation that if more people backed down, retreated or stepped aside, fewer people would be killed.

With stand your ground, there is no obligation to try to spare lives in a potentially deadly situation and a person is considered to be justified in killing someone solely if there is a perceived threat. The consequences of this are severe; an investigation by the American Bar Association found that homicide rates had risen in states which had enacted Stand Your Ground laws.

[While continuing to decline elsewhere, one should point out.]

Paul Waldman comments on Ben Carson's remarks as well:

"I would not just stand there and let him shoot me," Carson said on "Fox and Friends" Tuesday morning. "I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can't get us all.'" [...]

"As a Doctor, I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies," he wrote. "There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking - but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away."

"Let's take these one at a time," Waldman writes:

Was it unspeakably insulting to the victims of the Oregon shooting and their families to suggest that they were killed or injured because they didn't have the physical courage and quick thinking that a hero like Carson would have displayed had he been in their shoes? Of course. And is it an absurd fantasy that in the instant he was confronted by a gunman, Carson would in the space of seconds organize a bunch of terrified strangers to mount an assault on someone ready to kill them? You bet it is.

"All of this," Waldman observes, "is driven by the fantasy of the gun owner as action hero:"

Think for a moment about how we reorganized our government, our airline industry and entire swaths of our society, spending hundreds of billions of dollars, creating a new apparatus of surveillance, all because nearly 3,000 people were killed on Sept. 11, 2001. We didn't like spending all that money, creating all that fear, compromising our privacy and constitutional principles and making everybody take off their shoes at the airport, but it was a price we had to pay because of those 3,000 deaths, right?

It takes about a month -- every month, month after month -- for that many Americans to be killed with guns.

Then he drives the point home:

But unlike their position on terrorism, the position that the entire Republican Party now adopts -- not necessarily all its voters, but virtually all its elected representatives -- is that a toll that size is simply not meaningful enough to justify any action to not even restrict, but merely to inconvenience Americans' ability to own as many guns as they want and to get them as easily as they want. Presumably there would be some level of carnage that would make even Republicans sign on to gun restrictions -- say if a million Americans every year were being shot down, or 5 million or 10 million. But 33,000 a year? Not a big enough deal.

truly insulting

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Dave Armstrong claims that there is an atheist obsession with insulting Christians, writing that "It's always been as highly amusing as it is annoying to me to observe the constant stream of atheist invective and epithets hurled at Christians and Christianity:"

I take pains to note that not all atheists act in this fashion; but online, it sure seems like those who don't are a tiny minority of, maybe 10-15%. Many have opined that the frequently unsavory nature of Internet discourse tends to bring out the loudmouths and jerks of any given group (including Christians; very much so).

At particular issue for him is the fact that, as he puts it, "the brand of Christianity featured in [atheist] deconversion stories is almost invariably some version of 'fundamentalism' which features anti-intellectualism and hostility to culture and science:"

This is then (also invariably) projected onto all of Christianity, as if this is what Christianity is; when in fact it is a tiny fringe, extreme portion of Christianity. Thus, the atheist arguments (if in this vein) become a huge exercise of fighting straw men.

Despite the fact that this tiny extremity wields enormous political power in the US, Armstrong persists in asking, "what causes [atheists] to overreact in such an extreme fashion?"

I submit that it could very well be a strong insecurity in one's own position, or a sort of faux-pride that it is stronger than it is. [...]

But why can't atheists be content in talking about their own worldview, in their own circles; preaching to the choir, rather than constantly bitching and complaining about what they are not / what they used to be? Can't they ever "get over" that?

If doing so would leave the public square in exclusively Christians hands, I think that's not going to happen.

Here's your chance, atheists (i.e., of the angry, obsessed irrational sort) to try something different for a change: to make a calm, rational reply and explain (hopefully, condemn) the phenomena that everyone observes in your ranks. Here's your golden opportunity to actually display the tolerance and reason that you are always talking about.

I'll turn that around, and challenge Christians to discuss atheism with "tolerance and reason"--without an analogy to evil, or a suggestion of nihilism, or a claim that atheists don't have a conscience, etc. I submit that those he's complaining about a a fringe extreme portion largely consisting of straw men.

Peter Mosley offers the Christian obsession with insulting atheists as a parallel, and comments, "I get why these kinds of insults get on Dave's nerves; I really do:"

I have been, as an atheist, told I deserve eternity in hell. And not just by the random Christian. But by their book. A straightforward reading of their book says that I deserve eternity in hell. [...]

You can do all the theological gymnastics you want, but when it comes right down to it most Christians are saying that because I don't believe (or don't have this special "Holy Spirit" making me believe, or whatever the theology) that some godman died on a cross for the sins listed in the Old Testament, walked out the tomb three days later, and floated up to heaven...I'm going to hell. And because they believe this, they aren't.

That's insulting. That's saying, when you get right down to the brass tacks, that I deserve to go to hell, but you don't because Christ has "saved" you. I know a lot of Christians don't like it in that raw form, but if you look at the raw facts of the case, from our perspective -- you think you're going to spend eternity with Jesus, and that we're going to go to hell. That's insulting. You can remix it and arrange it any which-way you like. But when it comes to this insulting business, y'all started it, not us.

"There's the Bible," he reminds us, "which has jewels like this (from Revelation 21, NIV):"

"But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur."

I would never, ever, ever, ever say something so insulting about anyone as what's in Revelation 21. And, contra David Armstrong, who tries to say these are "fringe" Christians (where he seems part of this "fringe" himself), the more conservative form of Christianity, which most likely to believe the most offensive forms of this nonsense, is not the side exception to US Christianity, but the largest and most stubborn of its forms.

Then he really gets on a roll:

We "insult" you by saying your beliefs are wrong and harmful. You've been actually insulting us over the past couple thousand years by not only saying our stance is wrong and harmful, but that we, personally, deserve to go to hell for all eternity.

And we've been relatively silent here in the West for most of Western history. It's only recently that we've begun to talk back -- but for thousands of years y'all were burning us at the stake and torturing us if we even dared utter that we doubted a godman rose from the grave 2000 years ago.

As A.C. Grayling remarked:

Religious apologists complain bitterly that atheists and secularists are aggressive and hostile in their criticism of them. I always say: look, when you guys were in charge, you didn't argue with us, you just burnt us at the stake. Now what we're doing is, we're presenting you with some arguments and some challenging questions, and you complain.

He continues by writing, "here are the facts:"

Christians who think I'm going to hell (however you define it) because I deserve it (however that fits into your theology) are pissed off at ME for being upset at that theology -- a theology directly affecting my family, friends, and culture.

That's really fucked up.

When it comes to the insulting business, you started it, and you're perpetuating it. For you to complain when people verbally fight back is thoroughly hypocritical.

Or, arguably, in other words, Christianity as usual.

Cass Sunstein's piece on free-market fools discusses the book Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, and notes that "behavioral findings about human fallibility" illuminate a number of psychological failings: overconfidence, unrealistic optimism, poor risk assessment, a short-term bias, and the fact that "most economists have not had much to say about the problem of inequality"

There is a strong argument that within the economics profession, these problems are closely linked, and that they have had unfortunate effects on public policy. Most economists celebrate free markets, invoking the appealing idea of consumer sovereignty. If people are buying potato chips, candy, and beer, or making risky investments, that's their business; they know their own values and tastes. Outsiders, and especially those who work for the government, have no right to intervene.

"By emphasizing human fallibility," he continues, "the group of scholars known as behavioral economists has raised a lot of doubts about this view" that "competitive markets are generally trustworthy:"

Their catalog of errors on the part of consumers and investors can be taken to identify a series of "behavioral market failures," each of them calling for some kind of government response (such as information campaigns to promote healthy eating or graphic warnings to discourage smoking). But George Akerlof and Robert Shiller want to go far beyond behavioral economics, at least in its current form. They offer a much more general, and quite damning, account of why free markets and competition cause serious problems.

"Both Akerlof and Shiller have won the Nobel Prize," he notes before presenting their argument:

Akerlof and Shiller believe that once we understand human psychology, we will be a lot less enthusiastic about free markets and a lot more worried about the harmful effects of competition. In their view, companies exploit human weaknesses not necessarily because they are malicious or venal, but because the market makes them do it. Those who fail to exploit people will lose out to those who do. [...]

Akerlof and Shiller contend that the invisible hand guarantees "rip-offs," which are "fertile ground to find phishing for phools." At the closings of home sales, for example, people face a baffling array of transaction costs. [...]

Akerlof and Shiller make related arguments about the marketing of pharmaceuticals (with reference to the Vioxx scandal), the success of Facebook (which, they argue, is a mixed blessing for young people in particular), the sale of junk bonds, and the democratic process.

"Akerlof and Shiller make a convincing argument," he concludes, "that phishing occurs because of the operation of the invisible hand, not in spite of it:"

If a company can make money by deceiving or manipulating people, someone is going to create such a company, and it will prosper (unless the law regulates it). And if it prospers, companies that do not deceive or manipulate people may well be at a competitive disadvantage. Of course there are a lot of consumers out there, and some of them will avoid phishermen. In fact markets might well be segmented into sophisticates and phools, with the former avoiding, and the latter flocking to, complex (but risky) financial products, expensive closing fees, tobacco, and alcohol.

Free-market fundies will, of course, object to any sort of liberal "paternalism," regardless of the money or lives saved.


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The Thinker asks, what's going on with CJ Werleman? as a means of examining "a rift [that] has opened up and deepened among liberals over the way we view Islam:"

On the one side, some liberals think that Islam is a religion of peace and that criticizing it offends millions of Muslims and amounts to racism, or anti-Muslim bigotry. On the other side, another group of liberals stands opposed to any ideology or religion that flagrantly violates basic liberal values, and they recognize Islam as doing so.

The piece continues by noting that Werleman's "views on Islam make him a member of what Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris call the regressive left:"

Regressive lefties are basically liberals who blame the regressive beliefs of extremist groups like those of radical Islamists entirely on Western imperialism and socio-economic factors. [...]

To them, Muslims are always the victim of the white imperialists, and to acknowledge that Islam is the source of at least some of the violence among Muslims ruins the simple black and white world that they want to see this issue as. They want to see it as evil Western imperialists vs repressed innocent Muslims. But by doing this, they turn a blind eye and give cover to the real life extremists in the Islamic world and their regressive morality that in many ways is antithetical to everything liberalism stands for. They are blinded by their intense hatred of Western foreign policy and the neocons that any criticism of Islam in their mind becomes racism and tacit support for Western imperialism.

"What Werleman doesn't get," The Thinker continues, "is the nuance involved in such a complex subject. Yes, Western foreign policy has done some terrible things. [but] Islam is sometimes the motivator for violence committed by Muslims:"

ISIS is not killing Yazidis and selling the women into sexual slavery over the Israeli occupation of Palestine. They are doing it because a literal reading of the Koran allows women to be taken into sexual slavery during wartime. You can be against the neocons who spearheaded the invasion of Iraq, and the Christian fundamentalists who support Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine, and acknowledge that Islam can motivate Muslims to kill in its name. It is not one or the other. [...]

The regressive left is made up mostly of white liberals like Werleman who know little to nothing about Islam. They often confuse Islam with a race and think that any criticism of it is therefore racist. Unfortunately, there is anti-Muslim bigotry in the world, mainly among the far-right in Europe and the US.

Oregon shooter

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Yesterday's revelation from his father that "if [the Oregon shooter] had not been able to get a hold of 13 guns, it wouldn't have happened" is expanded by Salon's report that his mother stockpiled weapons:

The 26-year-old man who walked into a writing class last Thursday armed with six guns, spare ammunition magazines and body armor to carry out the latest American mass shooting, had even more weaponry stockpiled in the home he shared with his mother. In total, law enforcement officials confiscated 14 guns belonging to Christopher Harper-Mercer or his mother, Laurel Harper.

"According to multiple reports," the piece continues, "the shooter's mother boasted online about her arsenal and feared that gun ownership would soon be restricted:"

"When the mood strikes," Harper reportedly wrote on Facebook, "I sling an AR, Tek-9 or AK over my shoulder, or holster a Glock 21 (not 22), or one of my other handguns, like the Sig Sauer P226, and walk out the door." Shotguns, she said, "are a little too cumbersome to open carry."

Shelly Steele (who hired Harper for family healthcare) talked to the New York Daily News:

"She told my husband she just purchased some new guns a few weeks ago and took him shooting. I thought the whole situation was very strange. If you know your son has mental health issues, do you encourage a fascination with guns?" [...] Harper-Mercer's father, Ian Mercer, said he hadn't seen his son since he left California in 2013 and had no idea that his son and ex-wife owned so many guns.

TPM helps us to understand our country's choice on guns:

As Pew's Carroll Doherty noted in this Pew write-up, "as recently as 2007, 48% of Republicans and GOP leaners said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 47% said it was more important to protect gun rights."

The dawn of the Obama era brought a transformation that you can see powerfully in this chart of Pew data over the last quarter century.


Going slightly beyond what the data tells us, it seems clear that being pro-gun has become a key element of Republican self-identification. That is to say, it's not just that many Republicans' views have changed since Obama took office but that being pro-gun has become an elemental part of what it means to be a Republican.

Launa Hall, a teacher in Arlington VA, discusses how to conduct lockdown drills for pre-K children:

'Remember that activity when we all get in the closet and pretend we're not even there, so our principal can't find us?" I choose my words carefully as I prep my pre-kindergarten students for the lockdown drill scheduled for that afternoon. [...] I don't say "quiet," because I can't risk them shushing one another while they are crammed together, practically sitting in each other's laps. And because it's not quiet that's required for this drill, but rather complete silence. As silent as children who aren't there at all. [...]

We don't quite fit, 16 tiny bodies sitting crisscross applesauce, hands in laps, plus two adults. But I nudge my way in, and I begin to work the room, pulling out every teacher trick I know to maintain the silence while we wait.

And wait.

She notes with dismay that "I teach in a country awash in weaponry:"

In 13 minutes, according to my gruesome and involuntary mental calculus, a single gunman with his effortlessly obtained XM15-E2S rifle and 26 rounds in each of two additional magazines could potentially kill 78 of us. Even considering the time it takes to calmly reload.

Instead of controlling guns and inconveniencing those who would use them, we are rounding up and silencing a generation of schoolchildren, and terrifying those who care for them. We are giving away precious time to teach and learn while we cower in fear.

It's time to stop rehearsing our deaths and start screaming.

A large portion of the blame is due to right-wingers who don't understand the Second Amendment:

Lately, every time there's a spree shooting in the United States, the right wing gets up in arms, but not about the death toll. Instead, they strong-arm the discussion toward preserving the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, particularly "the right to keep and bear arms," fearful that gun safety laws will lead to large scale-disarmament. [...]

Moreover, considering that the 2nd Amendment was designed and subsequently used to neutralize armed rebellions by citizens wanting to overthrow the government, as was the case in the Whiskey Rebellion, the growing number of lunatic mobs who have the nerve to call themselves "patriots" but stockpile weapons in anticipation of overthrowing the government are exactly the kind of treasonous scum that George Washington abhorred.

The conservative evasion on guns was, of course, demolished by Obama:

This is something we should politicize. His statement was remarkable for violating the etiquette as to what a leader should say after another slaughter by a deranged gunman and the conventional wisdom about how politicians have to pretend that they are not engaged in politics.

But Obama was forcing us to face reality. It's politics that has rendered our nation powerless in the face of butchery. [...] Conservatives all over the world are aghast at our nation's permissive attitude toward guns. Is a dangerous and harebrained absolutism about weaponry really the issue on which American conservatives want to practice exceptionalism?

They are the reason that the 5 best gun control laws are not in the US:

Finland: Handgun license applicants may only buy firearms if they can prove they are active members of a regulated shooting club. Also, before they can get a gun, all applicants are required to pass an aptitude test, submit to a police interview, and prove they have a proper gun storage unit.

France: All firearms licence applicants must not have a criminal record and they must also pass a background check which carefully considers the reason for the gun purchase along with evaluating the criminal, mental, and health records of the applicant.

Germany: To buy a gun, any person under the age of 25 must first pass a psychiatric evaluation.

Italy: To secure a gun permit, the applicant must first establish a genuine reason for the need to possess a firearm. Applicants must also pass a background check which takes into consideration both the criminal and mental health record of the applicant.

The United Kingdom and Japan: Handguns are illegal for private citizens. Period. End of discussion.

Here's the kicker:

Of course, should we be inclined to pass any of these sensible controls in America, the NRA will holler, dump tons of money on members of Congress, and claim that if guns are regulated even a tiny bit, the government will try to impose tyranny and subject all citizens to horrible consequences. But since it hasn't happened in any of the countries listed above, why should anyone even listen to the propaganda and lies the NRA so willingly spews out?


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LifeHacker's look at multitasking the right way is intriguing:

In The Age of the Infovore, author Tyler Cowen points out that, despite its known cognitive downsides, multitasking does something you can never underestimate when it comes to our work: it keeps us interested.

Equally interesting is the observation that "Multitasking can make menial or dreaded tasks something we actually want to get done:"

The key here is choosing the right types of "reward tasks" to layer with your productive tasks. It's best to avoid things that constantly interrupt you or require a great deal of switching your focus. Your goal with these rewards is to layer them in tandem with your tasks, not distract you from your tasks completely. Listening to music, having a TV show you've already seen on in the background, or eating your favorite snack are good examples.

Boston Review's examination of the Christian America myth looks at John Adams' remarks:

"It was never pretended that any persons employed in [drafting the founding documents] had interviews with the gods or were in any degree under the inspiration of heaven." Ours was a government "founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretense of miracle or mystery."

The piece then asks, "But if the Founders did not intend to enshrine the country as a Christian nation, how did the claim of a Christian founding arise in the first place?" and writes that:

Two recent books--Steven Green's Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding and Kevin M. Kruse's One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, which documents a mid-twentieth-century scheme to roll back the welfare state--go far in answering that question...

"Green dates the idea of a Christian nation to the Second Great Awakening," while "Kruse contends that our modern version of Christian America has some of its roots in a plan hatched by conservative corporate leaders to overthrow the New Deal:"

The plan escaped their control. They didn't accomplish their goals, but they helped to trigger what might be called the Third Great Awakening.

In the 1930s and early 1940s, worried about a decade of political losses and their own deep unpopularity, a group of conservative industrialists--as conservative rich are wont to do--began to grow anxious about American values. They came up with the idea of freedom under God, which was a kind of Christian libertarianism that emphasized a religious understanding of the Fourth of July and America's founding. Realizing their own limits as spokespeople for freedom under God, they recruited--largely but not entirely--Protestant clergy, the most notable being Abraham Vereide and eventually Billy Graham. The goal was to argue for individualism and individual salvation and against claims of a larger public good. They wanted to restore self-reliance and oppose unions and welfare. Just as the first advocates of Christian America had sought to intertwine republicanism and Christianity, the advocates of this new version sought to intertwine capitalism and Christianity.

It is that mythology that haunts us still.

Gilgamesh plus

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"A newly discovered clay tablet," writes the History Blog, has corrected the order of chapters, filled in blanks and added 20 lines to the Epic of Gilgamesh:"

Since the invasion of Iraq and subsequent orgy of looting, the museum has a matter of policy paid smugglers to keep artifacts from leaving the country, no questions asked. The tablet was acquired by the museum in late 2011 as part of a collection of 80-90 tablets sold by an unnamed shady character. Professor Farouk Al-Rawi examined the collection while the seller haggled with museum official Abdullah Hashim. When Al-Rawi he saw this tablet, he told Hashim to pay whatever the seller wanted: $800.

About the size of a paperback book, the tablet is from the Neo-Bablyonian period (2000-1500 BCE). See "Back to the Cedar Forest: The Beginning and End of Tablet V of the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgameš" (PDF) for more information. H/t to Open Culture, which comments:

That's a pretty good deal for these extra lines that not only add to the poem's length, but have now cleared up some of the mysteries in the other chapters. These lines come from Chapter Five of the epic and cast the main characters in a new light. Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu are shown to feel guilt over killing Humbaba, the guardian of the cedar forest, who is now seen as less a monster and more a king. Just like a good director's cut, these extra scenes clear up some muddy character motivation, and add an environmental moral to the tale.

Columbine Effect

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Today's must-read article looks like Mother Jones' "The Columbine Effect" on--what else?--mass shootings:

Ever since Columbine, the FBI has been studying what drives people to commit mass shootings. Last fall it issued a report on 160 active-shooter cases, and what [supervisory special agent Andre] Simons could disclose from its continuing analysis was chilling: To a much greater degree than is generally understood, there's strong evidence of a copycat effect rippling through many cases, both among mass shooters and those aspiring to kill. Perpetrators and plotters look to past attacks for not only inspiration but operational details, in hopes of causing even greater carnage. Emerging research--including our own analysis of the "Columbine effect"--could have major implications for both threat assessment and how the media should cover mass shootings.

"Legions of young men," the piece observes, "love violent movies or first-person shooter games, get angry about school, jobs, or relationships, and suffer from mental health afflictions:"

To gauge just how deep the problem goes, Mother Jones examined scores of news reports and public documents and interviewed multiple law enforcement officials. We analyzed 74 plots and attacks across 30 states whose suspects and perpetrators claimed to have been inspired by the Columbine massacre. Law enforcement stopped 53 of these plots before anyone was harmed. Twenty-one plots evolved into attacks, with a total of 89 victims killed, 126 injured, and 9 perpetrators committing suicide.

The data reveals some disturbing patterns. In at least 14 cases, the suspects aimed to attack on the anniversary of Columbine. (Twelve of these plots were thwarted; two attacks ultimately took place on different dates.) Individuals in 13 cases indicated their goal was to outdo the Columbine body count. And in at least 10 cases the suspects referred to Harris and Klebold as heroes, idols, martyrs, or God.

Salon mentions the paranoid Right's lies and distortions after every massacre, pointing out that "Christopher Harper-Mercer's massacre at Oregon's Umpqua Community College is just one more installment in an ongoing American tragedy:"

This most recent event will likely have the same (non) resolution as the events that preceded it. Despite the fact that the majority of the American people want reasonable and sensible gun control policies enacted, nothing will be done, because the National Rifle Association and its lobbyists have American democracy in a chokehold.

While talking about the mass shooting in Oregon, President Obama was visibly frustrated and upset by having to (again) discuss mass murder committed by someone armed with multiple guns. Obama knows that (like most presidents before him) he is impotent before the gun lobby.

This is where hope has faded to hopelessness:

But alas, this tragedy primes the fears and anxieties of paranoid and fearful authoritarian voters, feeds the "War on Christians" narrative, and is red meat for movement conservatives who instead of responding to mass shootings with human empathy and reason about smarter gun policy, instead decide to hold their guns even closer to their hearts and groins.

Over at Naked Capitalism, Eric Draitser of CounterPunch Radio interviewed Michael Hudson, author of Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy. Hudson observes that "In nature, the parasite makes the host think that the free rider, the parasite, is its baby, part of its body, to convince the host actually to protect the parasite over itself:"

That's how the financial sector has taken over the economy. Its lobbyists and academic advocates have persuaded governments and voters that they need to protect banks, and even need to bail them out when they become overly predatory and face collapse. Governments and politicians are persuaded to save banks instead of saving the economy, as if the economy can't function without banks being left in private hands to do whatever they want, free of serious regulation and even from prosecution when they commit fraud. This means saving creditors - the One Percent - not the indebted 99 Percent.

He also mentions that "The first thing the neoliberal Chicago School did when they took over Chile [in 1973] was to close down every economics department in the country except the one they controlled at the Catholic University:"

They started an assassination program of left wing professors, labor leaders and politicians, and imposed neoliberalism by gunpoint. Their idea is you cannot have anti-labor, deregulated "free markets" stripping away social protections and benefits unless you have totalitarian control. You have to censor any idea that there's ever been an alternative, by rewriting economic history to deny the progressive tax and regulatory reforms that Smith, Mill, and other classical economists urged to free industrial capitalism from the surviving feudal privileges of landlords and predatory finance.

This rewriting of the history of economic thought involves inverting the common vocabulary that people use. So, the idea of the parasitism is to replace the meaning of everyday words and vocabulary with their opposite. It's DoubleThink.

For a local example, see his point about US education:

MH: I should point out when I went to get my PhD over a half a century ago, every university offering a graduate economics degree taught the history of economic thought. That has now been erased from the curriculum. People get mathematics instead, so they're unexposed to the concept of economic rent as unearned income. It's a concept that has been turned on its head by "free market" ideologues who use "rent seeking" mainly to characterize government bureaucrats taxing the private sector to enhance their authority - not free lunchers seeking to untax their unearned income. Or, neoclassical economists define rent as "imperfect competition" (as if their myth of "perfect competition" really existed) stemming from "insufficient knowledge of the market," patents and so forth. [...]

The word "rent" originally was French, for a government bond (rente). Owners received a regular income every quarter or every year. A lot of bonds used to have coupons, and you would clip off the coupon and collect your interest. It's passively earned income, that is, income not actually earned by your own labor or enterprise. It's just a claim that society has to pay, whether you're a government bond holder or whether you own land, [...]

The difference, of course, is that in past centuries this was viewed as corrupt and a crime. Today, neoliberal economists recommend it as the way to raise "productivity" and make countries wealthier, as if it were not the road to neofeudal serfdom.

When Draitser mentions "the quasi-economic realm like von Hayek in The Road to Serfdom," Hudson dives right in, pointing out that "Its policy conclusion actually advocates neo-serfdom:"

MH: Real serfdom was when families had to pay all their income to the landlords as rent. Centuries of classical economists backed democratic political reform of parliaments to roll back the landlords' power (and that of bankers). But Hayek claimed that this rollback was the road to serfdom, not away from it. He said democratic regulation and taxation of rentiers is serfdom. In reality, of course, it's the antidote.

On the common complaint about economic planning, he makes a cogent point:

MH: If government is not the director and planner of the economy, then who is? It's the financial sector. It's Wall Street. So the essence of neoliberalism that you were mentioning before, is indeed a doctrine of central planning. It states that the central planning should be done by Wall Street, by the financial sector.

The problem is, what is the objective of central planning by Wall Street? It's not to raise living standards, and it's not to increase employment. It is to smash and grab. That is the society we're in now.

Obama was not the populist reformer we wanted; as Hudson reminds us:

MH: He was the Wall Street candidate, promoted by Robert Rubin, who was Clinton's Treasury Secretary. Basically, American economic policies can run by a combination of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, often interchangeably.

MH: Ron Suskind [...] said that Obama said, "I'm the only guy standing between you and the pitchforks. Listen to me: I can basically fool them." (I give the actual quote in my book.) The interesting thing is that the signs of this meeting were all erased from the White House website, but Suskind has it in his book. Obama emerges as one of the great demagogues of the century. He may be even worse than Andrew Jackson. [...] He ran as the candidate of Hope and Change, but his real role was to smash hope and prevent change. By keeping the debts in place instead of writing them down as he had promised, he oversaw the wrecking of the American economy.

For more on Suskind's "pitchforks" quote, see another Counterpunch piece by Paul Street:

In his book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (2011), the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind tells a remarkable story from March of 2009. Three months into Obama's presidency, popular rage at Wall Street was intense and the leading financial institutions were weak and on the defensive. The nation's financial elite had driven the nation and world's economy into an epic meltdown [...] and millions knew it. Having ridden into office partly on a wave of popular anger at the economic power elite's staggering malfeasance, Obama called a meeting of the nation's top thirteen financial executives at the White House. [..]

"My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks," Obama said. "You guys have an acute public relations problem that's turning into a political problem. And I want to help...I'm not here to go after you. I'm protecting you...I'm going to shield you from congressional and public anger." [...]

The massive taxpayer bailout of the super fat cats would continue, along with numerous other forms of corporate welfare for the super-rich, powerful, and parasitic. This state-capitalist largesse was unaccompanied by any serious effort to regulate their conduct or by any remotely comparable bailout for the millions evicted from their homes and jobs by the not-so invisible hand of the marketplace. No wonder 95 percent of national U.S. income gains went to the top 1% during Obama's first term.

"Liberal intellectuals who have claimed to be 'surprised' and 'disappointed' by Obama's corporatist record have either been disingenuous pretenders or bamboozled fools," writes Street, an assessment which is supported by Frontline:

KEN LEWIS, CEO, Bank of America, 2001-09: The president made it pretty clear when he talked to us, you know, "We're between you and the pitchforks, guys. And you need to just acknowledge that."

JOSHUA GREEN: I think it's clear it was an opportunity lost. He had a room full of very frightened CEOs. He was in a position then to make demands, and he didn't.


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TCJ's Doug Harvey evaluates Jack Kirby's "Comic Book Apocalypse" exhibit, observing that "Kirby's full-throttle content - both in terms of his remarkable draftsmanship and literary bent - is what sets this exhibit apart from your run-of-the-mill comics-in-the-museum junkets." He also lauds "Mike Royer's faithful renditions of Kirby's pencils" on the Kamandi series:

A couple of actual size printed scans are included, but -- most ingeniously -- the entire story has been loaded onto a digital tablet with an interface that allows you to morph between the penciled and inked versions of each page. With commercial comic book art, a constant paradox is the fact that the trace of the artist's hand is almost always covered over by another, lesser craftsman's translation. In this case, the evidence reassures the faithful of what was already evident about the high fidelity of Royer's inks.

Harvey reminds his readers that Kirby "was constantly breaking new ground aesthetically and politically:"

Such examples of Kirbys phenomenal artistry abound, and are brought to the forefront with the inclusion of a large non-figurative 1975 ink and watercolor painting called Dream Machine in which the Kirbytech has finally engulfed the entire picture plane, and a small but potent selection of his idiosyncratic collage work, which he regularly tried to incorporate into his published narrative work. These works are possibly the most convincing regarding Kirby's authenticity as a visionary artist - clotted with the same horror vacuii density of information as his best splashes (or an initial page from The Book of Kells), they regularly repurpose images through spectacular shifts of scale, conjuring planets from micrographs of crystals: infinity in a grain of sand.

(Jack Kirby, Ðream Machine, 1975)

He ends with an exhortation to "Buy the limited edition catalog, which includes a reprint of my 2000 essay on Kirby's Fourth World, as well as contributions from Howard Chaykin, Andrei Molotiu, Dan Nadel, Ben Saunders, and more!"

It should be available on 27 January 2016.

Jason Gots asks that we stop competing over who can stay at work the longest:

Even in a funky, startupy media office like mine, everybody works long hours. And they spend most of those hours hunched over their desks, eyes glued to their computer screens. It's the nature of the work, of course, that it requires so much screen time. We're part of the "idea economy", and that's not going to change. But countless organizational psychologists and management gurus have passed through these doors and told us and our audience that people are happiest, most creative, and most productive when they take regular breaks, get up periodically and walk, and when they are not in a constant state of sleep deprivation with 600 tasks in various states of completion.

Yet of all the people who work here, I may be the only one who regularly eats lunch away from my desk. [...] And while nobody has ever said anything to me about it, it takes real willpower on my part not to conform to what feels like a cultural expectation of total-all-the-time-hunched-over-your-deskness. But I do it: almost every day I eat lunch somewhere other than at my desk and, when the weather permits, I take a longish walk afterward**, wondering always if one day, when other things aren't going so well, it'll come up in a performance review.

[**The fact is, walking is almost never "downtime" for me. It's creative time--I'm writing headlines in my head, reworking a story, thinking through all the things that get tied up in knots when I'm stationary.]

Taking work home isn't necessarily a problem. Neither is working hard. It's the performance of work at the expense of real productivity that is foolish, and harmful. Real productivity doesn't always look anything like "first to work, last to leave."

He sighs with dismay that "this collective slide into workaholism is starting to feel like an epidemic," and asks, "Is anybody out there working on a cure?"

Yale's Jim Sleeper writes that we're not just dodging bullets in modern America--there is also "a sophisticated, multi-trillion dollar drive to short-circuit deliberation and dialogue in order to spur the self-centered impulse buying that is ruining our civil society:"

...it's driven by fiduciaries and managers of anonymous, ever-shifting whorls of shareholders pursuing maximum profit and market share. They're civically mindless even when they're trading on fear and rage by pushing violent video games, guns, and devices to forestall armed home invasion, all in their increasingly financialized rush to bypass our brains and hearts on the way to our lower viscera and wallets.

The fusillades continue on many fronts:

Growing numbers of Americans are responding to the unending tsunami of titillation, unsubtle intimidation, and destruction of their political and economic options with heart-breakingly impulsive, socially corrosive and self-destructive behavior that includes not only the shootings but road rage, sale-day rampages, gladatorialization in sports, degrading and sadistic entertainment, sexual assaults, bullying, and, in futile response, the militarization of police, mass incarceration, intrusive surveillance, and new toleration of torture.


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AlterNet identifies 7 myths that prop up our mass-shooting culture:

Too many Americans are in denial that access to guns exacerbates violence. They're in denial about the extent of gun tragedies, from murders to severe injuries in domestic disputes and crime. Many politicians are in denial, fearing the National Rifle Association and ignoring pleas by police and mayors to toughen gun laws.

The historical reasons are gone, and "The U.S. isn't filled with settlers whose fortunes depend on the ethnic cleansing of native Americans or labor of slaves, which is where America's dependence on guns began:"

Nor is the country filled with subsistence farmers and multitudes who must hunt to eat. But somehow, Americans don't question right-wingers' twisted belief that the Second Amendment gives them a right to have any gun, anywhere. Their fetish that protecting gun rights is more integral to being free than protecting the lives of innocent gun violence victims is sick, but it goes unanswered.

NPR cites The Onion:

You might have seen the article by now: "'No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.'" The Onion, a satirical news site that runs fake news stories, has published a story with that headline three times over the last year and a half: this week after a shooter killed nine people at an Oregon community college; in June of this year after a violent rampage in a black Charleston church that also killed nine people; and last May, after a shooting at the University of California Santa Barbara that killed seven.

Obama is right, notes Addicting Info:

The American ammosexual is a different breed of human being. Uneducated and crass, with a need to overcompensate for their shortcomings with deadly weapons, plus the desire to use them, they stand out as society's simpletons.

They are the people who find it necessary to blame school shootings on gun-free zones rather than inherent gun violence. They are also the fear-mongers who will have you believe that you are far more likely to be killed by someone screaming, "Allahu Akhbar!" than by a senseless act of stupidity.

As Obama exhorted:

"I would ask news organisations - because I won't put these facts forward - have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who've been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who've been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports.

"This won't be information coming from me; it will be coming from you."

Here's a chart:


The shooter wasn't anti-Christian, observes Friendly Atheist:

"The shooter would call a person: 'You, stand up,'" Salas said, recalling what her son told her. "And then he would ask them if they were a Christian, knew God, or had religion. And it wasn't like it was stated on TV. It wasn't about that he was just trying to pinpoint Christians, no."

The shooter would tell them it wouldn't hurt.

"And then he would shoot them," she said.

Still horrifying. Still tragic. But one more piece of evidence that this wasn't an anti-Christian massacre. As far as we know, it wasn't even an anti-religious massacre. Mercer killed people at random. He just appeared to have different parting words for them depending on how they answered the religion question.

By the way, if Mercer really said things like, "I'll see you soon," it also suggests he believed in the afterlife. Not really what you'd expect from an atheist. [...] The more we learn, the less sense it makes to call this violence part of some war on Christianity. [emphasis added]

fact-free GOP

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AlterNet notes that today's fact-free GOP is all but demanding, "We don't want a commander-in-chief. We want a narrator-in-chief:"

In the post-Reagan era, the grand narrative of the Republican Party is unfettered capitalism. Government is the villain. Business is the hero. In this epic there is no place for the misery caused by the deregulated financial sector, or for people who falter through no fault of their own. Tax cuts for the captains of capitalism and spending cuts for public goods like education and infrastructure have made the United States one of the most unequal countries in the world, but that fact gets no narrative traction.

Economically, though--as in other areas--"evidence doesn't win elections:"

Is that any way to run a democracy? Jefferson said that the success of our system depends on an educated citizenry. The goal of education is critical thinking, but in one of the most critical decisions we make--the presidential vote--we defer to our inner cave-dweller, spellbound by the saga unfolding around the fire. Why do we accept the primacy of stories over facts?

Democrats will need a compelling narrative to win in 2016--because the facts alone won't be enough.


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Excerpted from John Biguenet's new book, Silence, the concept of silence as a luxury good--a commodity "bought and sold at prices rivaling our most sought-after consumer goods"--is evident in places such as economically-segregated airport lounges, where "muted lighting and dampened sound...greet one in its reception vestibule:"

For beyond the free chips and fresh fruit, the complimentary soft drinks and house wines, and the selection of trade magazines offered for the guest's reading enjoyment, travelers primarily purchase respite from the bustle of the terminal.

The layout of such lounges segregates silent work areas from carpeted bars and soundproofed playrooms for children. Even in their most convivial areas, where television screens display market news and sporting matches, a hushed decorum is maintained, with outbursts a rarity. Offered by airlines to first-class ticket holders and frequent fliers who have purchased annual club memberships, airport lounges make clear both in their promotional literature and their discreet entrances that segregation of noise from silence is an expression of segregation by class.

In other areas of life as well, Biguenet notes that "noise is an affliction of the poor:"

The hushed halls of affluence buffer the rich from the hubbub of poverty, but for the poor, the clatter of modern life--like other forms of pollution--is inescapable. And as noise continues its inexorable advance into the quietest eddies of wilderness, even the rich may find a silent retreat impossible to locate.

Margaret Cho tweaked the Bible-thumpers by tweeting about a Biblically-sanctioned abortion:

Thanks! Read this http://t.co/1z1TXiaWZ7 where the Old Testament shows you how to perform an abortion #IStandWithPP https://t.co/qt5g6qpEBC

-- Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) October 3, 2015

The priestly abortion in Numbers 5 is only part of what the Bible says about abortion. Particularly notable is the fact that the Bible places no value on fetuses, or on infants less than one month old:

And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver. (Leviticus 27:6)

In fact, infants less than one month old do not have personhood status in the Bible.

Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them. And Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD. (Numbers 3:15-16)

Oregon shooting

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Bill O'Reilly's comments on the Umpqua Community College shooting were predictably odious:

"People around the world must wonder what's going on in the land of the free. And it is our freedom that allows insane individuals to kill so many people. Guns are legal in America under the Second Amendment." [...] "The mass murder today could not have been prevented by any legislation in my opinion."

As AI remarks:

Yes, you read that correctly, he says freedom, specifically the Second Amendment, allows people to murder others, and he doesn't believe anything can be done to stop it.

Not only are those disgusting, apathetic and revolting remarks, but it's also a monumental cop-out. [...] In fact, by pushing that idea, they are endorsing the next mass shooting.

Wonkette quotes Obama

Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let's be clear: at some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.

before commenting:

Guess we've been distracted by other issues since then. Oh well. If we can't get to it now, no rush, we can always deal with it after the next mass shooting. Or the one after that. Or maybe the one after that. Or the one after that ...

The shooter, not surprisingly, was a conservative Republican:

Perhaps the most revealing sources of what we know come from a blog he kept, interviews with a handful of people who knew him, and an online dating profile.

In that profile, at Spiritual Passions, Mercer used the name IRONCROSS45. The Iron Cross is known as a Nazi symbol. [...] Under Political Views he listed "conservative, republican," under Religious Views he listed "Not Religious, Not Religious, but Spiritual."

Limbaugh is full of shit, as usual, with his assertion that the shooter was a Democrat:

RUSH LIMBAUGH: The shooters are always mentality disturbed or -- they're just -- they have allegiances and loyalties to some of the oddest, most deranged famous organizations and people in the world. [...] The people that are shooting up schools more than likely vote democrat when you get right down to it, if they vote.

HuffPo reminds us about the bigger picture--that 36 people die every day from gun violence:

A gunman killed at least 10 people and wounded seven before police fatally shot him. It marked the 45th shooting on a school campus this year, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group pushing for legislative reforms to reduce gun violence. It was the 142nd shooting at a school since the December 2012 rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

"That toll," the piece continues, "makes Wednesday a relatively peaceful day in the U.S.:"

An average of more than three times that many people have been killed by guns each day this year, which has seen more than 9,900 gun deaths so far. More than 20,000 people have been injured by guns in 2015.

Following from this Telegraph article, Addicting Info identifies a hero in the carnage, writing that "without the bravery of Chris Mintz, it is very likely that many more citizens would have lost their lives when the 26-year-old shooter struck the college."

30-year-old Mintz had just completed 10 years in the U.S. Army, and moved to Oregon to take care of his six-year-old son. He was enjoying his very first week at UCC, training to become a fitness trainer. He must have felt sheer disbelief when he heard the familiar sound of gunfire on Thursday morning, so far from the battlefields he thought he'd left behind.

But instead of running away, he ran toward the danger, committed to use his experience to save the civilian students on campus.

"His aunt, Wanda Mintz, told Q13Fox what happened""

"[He] Tries to block the door to keep the gunman from coming in gets shot three times hits the floor looks up at gunman and says its my son's birthday today, gets shot two more times."

It's time we stopped making killers famous, which is why he won't be named in this piece. We'd like you to make sure that instead, the heroic actions of Chris Mintz become the legend and the lesson from Oregon.

Slate calls out cheap handguns, as "Roseburg joins Charleston, Isla Vista, Newtown, Aurora, and Oak Creek on the long list of small towns and quiet cities marred by horrific gun violence." Slate also quotes journalist Jill Leovy:

For most of America's post-Emancipation history, officials were indifferent to violence against blacks, either from whites or from other blacks. "When people are stripped of legal protection and placed in desperate straits, they are more, not less, likely to turn on each other," says Leovy. Taken together, these conditions breed violence, which is why black homicide rates have always been higher than ones for whites. [...]

Put simply, our focus on Roseburg-style shootings--as much it makes sense--obscures the extent to which most victims of gun homicide are poor, black, and live in America's most isolated communities.

WaPo contextualizes the Oregon shooting:

Charleston. Lafayette. Virginia. Now, Roseburg Oregon. But beneath the steady drumbeat of these high-profile cases lay the hundreds daily mass shootings that most of us never hear about. 11 wounded in a Georgia barroom. Six shot outside a Tulsa nightclub. A pregnant mom and grandmother killed, an infant wounded in Chicago.

We've gone no more than eight days without one of these incidents this year.

After more depressing statistics, WaPo is exasperated: "These numbers only tell the smallest part of the story. And these very numbers will need to be updated again tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that."

In reference to Obama's speech, Addicting Info points out that "Oregon's will be the 294th mass shooting in just 274 days. America now averages more than one 4+ victim shootings a day:"

The sheer obviousness of America's gun problem and our inability to do a single thing about it, had President Obama, whose presidency must seem to him like a never ending series of somber statements expressing condolences to gun shot victims' families, was "visibly angry and frustrated" when he hastily met reporters in the press briefing room to speak about Oregon. His anger was understandable.

Despite the daily massacre happening on American streets due to guns, Congress has stonewalled any attempt to even tweak gun laws to make them better. Instead, Republicans - flush with NRA cash - have actually spent the last few years rolling back many existing gun restrictions - an act comparable to enthusiastically pouring more water onto the decks of an already sinking ship.

Of course, conservatives are blaming "gun-free zones":

It did not take long for [conservative personalities and gun activists] to pin the blame on "gun-free zones"--the worst of liberal do-gooders' awful deeds--regardless of whether the Umpqua Community College campus was one such zone (it wasn't).

In order to win, "The passive majority needs to become the vocal majority:"

Those who support modest, "common-sense" gun control need to make that position top priority, right up there with jobs and the economy. Obama would be among the first to acknowledge that this won't be easy. But with our clunky system of government, where enacting even the most modest of changes on anything is a Herculean effort, it's the only way.

Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee proved Obama's prediction correct that "Somebody somewhere will comment and say, 'Obama politicized this issue.'"

With few facts, Obama is quick to politicize this tragedy to advance his liberal, anti-gun agenda. #USSshooting

-- Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) October 2, 2015

Obama can shamelessly try and exploit any tragedy he wants, but it's clear that gun free zones are sitting duck zones. #UCCshooting

-- Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) October 2, 2015

"This is something we should politicize," Obama said on Thursday. "It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic."

The shooter's 13-gun arsenal is also relevant:

Investigators recovered 13 guns linked to the Oregon community college shooter, all of which were purchased legally, a federal official said in a press conference Friday.

Celinez Nunez, the assistant special agent in charge of the Seattle division of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms And Explosives, said six guns were recovered at Umpqua Community College in the wake of a shooting massacre on Thursday that left 10 dead, including the shooter. Another seven guns were found at the gunman's residence.

In this open letter to lawmakers, Melissa Duclos explains what it was like on her "second day of class as a writing instructor at a community college in Oregon." She writes that "According to my school's Emergency Response Guide, I am told what to do if that shooter does in fact enter our classroom:"

"There is no one procedure that can be recommended in this situation," the manual informs me with grim honesty, before adding, "[i]f you must fight, fight to win and survive."

Fight to survive. I am a teacher, with a master's degree in creative writing, and this is part of my job.

She also explains how this affects elementary school kids, including her own son:

At 5 years old he and his classmates, in addition to learning reading and math, will be walked through lockdown drills by a teacher who will likely be hiding an immense terror as she has students practice finding a cozy place to hide and times how long they can remain quiet. It will probably seem like a game to him at first, but eventually my son and the rest of America's schoolchildren who are learning the same lessons will ask why. Why have we allowed our schools to become a place where children must hide, and teachers must fight to survive?

Her words to lawmakers are spot-on:

This week, when I speak to my students about what happened at Umpqua and about our own emergency procedures, what do you advise I say after I explain that the stapler and whiteboard markers -- the only classroom supplies I have in my room -- are critical to our survival?

I could tell them that your thoughts and prayers are with us. I could tell them we have your deepest sympathies. But I am teaching a class on argument, instructing my students on the importance of facts. So instead I will tell them the truth: They have to be prepared to hide out of the line of fire, and I to fight for our survival, because you, our lawmakers, haven't done your jobs. I will tell them that their rights, my rights, the rights of my 5-year-old, to attend school without fear of facing senseless slaughter by machine-gun fire, are not important to you, that we must be prepared to fight tooth and nail, stapler and whiteboard marker, because you refuse to fight the gun lobby in this country.

The next time you have an opportunity to sponsor or vote on common-sense gun legislation, instead of fearing the attack ads the gun lobby will undoubtedly launch against you, the lost campaign revenue, or the threat to your job, I hope that you think of me and my students, of the rest of the educators and students across the country, who have been asked to stand up to gunmen because you are too scared to stand up to a handful of lobbyists.

support PP

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Dani McClain provides 4 ways you can support PP, and delivers "the message that Republican hardliners refuse to hear:"

The American public is not falling for the lies or the narrative that the deceptive, highly edited videos that started this mess seek to portray. Sixty percent of those polled this week believe that any federal budget agreement must maintain funding for Planned Parenthood.

So what now? What beyond that highly successful "pink out" and the hashtags? Here are four ways to stay engaged.

1. Correct the rampant misinformation floating around.
2. Organize to preserve and expand abortion access.
3. Donate to an abortion fund.
4. Become a clinic escort.

All needed efforts, indeed.


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Joe Biden discusses realism vs idealism by proclaiming, "Listen, I'm not Bernie Sanders. He's a great guy, by the way. No, he really is. I'm not a populist. But I'm a realist." Samuel Warde comments, "I'm tired of this so-called 'realism' and the American people are tired of it as well:"

There is a reason Bernie Sanders generated $26 million in campaign donations this past quarter--a mere $2 million less than Hillary Clinton's juggernaut. The reason is simple: The American public is fed up with politics as usual. We are tired of Wall Street and the bankers and the Koch brothers and corporations getting all the breaks while the rest of us are left to fight for the crumbs.

Warde continues by proclaiming that "Joe Biden isn't Bernie Sanders and that is precisely why he is not my candidate of choice:"

He [Sanders] doesn't want, nor does he need, money from Wall Street or corporate interests. What he does need is an electorate that is paying attention and will elect him and a Congress that will work with him to change the direction of this country and take us where we thought we were headed when we elected Barack Obama in 2008.

downsized dreams

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Although "Surveys continue to show that Americans, in large numbers, still believe in many of the tenets of the American dream," Marianne Cooper writes about how it's being downsized:

For the majority of Americans, the 2000s was a "lost decade," with wages flatlining or declining. Middle-class jobs disappeared during the Great Recession and many have never come back. Instead, many of the fastest-growing sectors are those that pay the least. Median income remains below pre-recession levels. How is all of this influencing how Americans are feeling about the American dream?

She notes that "there are signs that the very idea of the American dream is changing:"

The American dream has long been equated with moving up the class ladder and owning a home. But polling leading up to the 2012 election revealed something new--middle-class Americans expressed more concern about holding on to what they had than they were with getting more. [...]

For more and more families, achieving the traditional American dream has become just that--a dream. Instead, what surveys indicate is that people are downsizing their definition of the American dream. Today, the desire to own a home or to move up economically is often replaced by a desire to be debt free and to have financial stability.

That reminds me of the 'having-a-job-is-the-new-raise' snark...


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Lawrence Krauss writes about theories of everything, setting up the problem's context this way:

Newton's universal law of gravity, for example, was, after all, universal! It applied to falling apples and falling planets alike, and accounted for every significant observation made under the sun, and over it as well.

With the advent of relativity, and general relativity in particular, it became clear that Newton's law of gravity was merely an approximation of a more fundamental theory. But the more fundamental theory, general relativity, was so mathematically beautiful that it seemed reasonable to assume that it codified perfectly and completely the behavior of space and time in the presence of mass and energy.

The advent of quantum mechanics changed everything. When quantum mechanics is combined with relativity, it turns out, rather unexpectedly in fact, that the detailed nature of the physical laws that govern matter and energy actually depend on the physical scale at which you measure them. This led to perhaps the biggest unsung scientific revolution in the 20th century: We know of no theory that both makes contact with the empirical world, and is absolutely and always true. (I don't envisage this changing anytime soon, string theorists' hopes notwithstanding.) Despite this, theoretical physicists have devoted considerable energy to chasing exactly this kind of theory. So, what is going on? Is a universal theory a legitimate goal, or will scientific truth always be scale-dependent?

He name-drops quantum electrodynamics, quantum chromodynamics, and the ever-elusive Grand Unified Theory, while dismissing superstring theory by remarking, "there is not any evidence that it actually describes the universe we live in:"

Over the past 40 years we have been searching for direct evidence of this--in fact the Large Hadron Collider is just now searching for a whole set of new elementary particles that appear to be necessary for the scaling of the three forces to be just right. But while there is indirect evidence, no direct smoking gun has yet been found.


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Julia Greenberg explains plogging via Facebook's Notes, Slack's Posts, and Twitter's flirtations with extending the 140-character limit:

Blogging emerged during the Silicon Valley doldrums between the dotcom bust and the Facebook boom. But, as readers' attention has migrated to apps and platforms, blogs have faltered. Standalone websites where writers unspool their daily musings are a tough sell when social platforms funnel huge streams of status updates to a single destination.

She continues, "The blog--a shortening of 'weblog' is on its way out. Now we're blogging on platforms. We are--yes, we're going to say it--plogging:"

Blogs and the longer forms of expression they accommodate won't die. You're just likely to start finding more and more posts distributed through fewer channels. So long blogging. Hello plogging.

the war on cops

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Bill O'Reilly's War on Cops is as fake as his War on Xmas, despite his assertion that "many are claiming that the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore have given rise to a climate of hostility towards law enforcement in which these crimes are more likely." As Salon explains:

Even if it were true that policing has grown more difficult or dangerous in the wake of Black Lives Matter, it would be absurd to blame the movement for this. The problem is rampant abuse of authority and public trust by law enforcement, not that citizens have grown more vigilant against it. And the solution would be to reform these institutions and practices in order to address the causes of unrest, and for that matter, crime.

But it turns out that the narrative is completely false: thus far, police fatalities actually declined by 17% in 2015 over the previous year--commensurate with a steep downward trend that has been ongoing since the early '80s.

Here are some of the details:

A total of 27 law enforcement officers were shot to death in the line of duty so far in 2015. Meanwhile, during this same period, the police have killed 762 civilians with their guns--overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately minorities-more than 1 in 10 of which were unarmed. That is, for every 1 police officer shot to death in the line of duty, cops shot 28 civilians; police are nearly 3 times more likely to kill an unarmed civilian than a civilian is to shoot a cop. About 1 out of every 13 lethal shootings in 2015 have been carried out by police.

Look, for example, at police brutality in September:

During the first week of September, police killed more civilians than the total number of police officers killed so far this year. By the end of the month, 99 people were killed, according to the Killed By Police database.

Paul Krugman shows how the GOP tax-cut voodoo never dies, noting that Trump's tax plan "would, it turns out, lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit:"

This is in contrast to Jeb Bush's plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, and Marco Rubio's plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.

For what it's worth, it looks as if Trump's plan would make an even bigger hole in the budget than Jeb's. Jeb justifies his plan by claiming that it would double America's rate of growth; The Donald, ahem, trumps this by claiming that he would triple the rate of growth. But really, why sweat the details? It's all voodoo. The interesting question is why every Republican candidate feels compelled to go down this path.

For contrast, he takes us back to the end of the Reagan/Bush era:

Some readers may remember the forecasts of economic doom back in 1993, when Bill Clinton raised the top tax rate. What happened instead was a sustained boom, surpassing the Reagan years by every measure.

Undaunted, the same people predicted great things as a result of George W. Bush's tax cuts. What happened instead was a sluggish recovery followed by a catastrophic economic crash.

Krugman notes that "every Republican who would be president is committed to a policy that is both demonstrably bad economics and deeply unpopular," but that won't matter:

Of course, once the Republicans settle on a nominee, an army of hired guns will be mobilized to obscure this stark truth. We'll see claims that it's really a middle-class tax cut, that it will too do great things for economic growth, and look over there -- emails! And given the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism, this campaign of obfuscation may work.

But never forget that what it's really about is top-down class warfare. That may sound simplistic, but it's the way the world works.

Prins on Trump

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Nomi Prins' piece on Donald Trump is an instructive overview:

Donald Trump, like Ross Perot back in the 1992 and 1996 elections, has played quite a different trick on the money-saturated American political system. He has removed the billionaire as middleman between citizen plebeians and political elites, and created a true .00001% candidate, because he's... well, a financial elite unto himself, however conveniently posed as the country's straight-talking "everyman." [...]

Though you might not know it from the incessant media coverage of his candidacy or his P.T. Barnum-ish self-glorification, there are plenty of pieces missing from his financial story that call into question both his skill as a dealmaker and his business acumen.

Prins makes the obligatory observation that "a number of his companies effectively went bankrupt by closing down or being bought out at bargain basement prices:"

In 1989, for instance, Trump purchased the Eastern Air Shuttle, connecting New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. with hourly flights, for roughly $365 million. But the Trump name didn't carry the day and passengers didn't pony up for the line's fancier seats and gold lavatory fixtures. Instead, in 1990 Trump defaulted on the loans he had taken out to finance the company, and its ownership reverted to its creditors, led by Citibank. The Trump Shuttle was then merged into a new corporation, Shuttle Inc., and in April 1992, its routes were assumed by USAir Shuttle, which is one way the rich make problems disappear.

She also notes the "Trump University" scam:

Trump banked $5 million personally from the scam. Trump had also ignored 2005 warnings not to use the word "university" in the name.

Could Trump possibly be more of a charlatan than "Texan" Dubya?

Rolling Stone lists 4 pro-gun arguments we're sick of hearing:

While victims are being rushed to the hospital, many right-wing pundits and politicians are no doubt readying their talking points to explain why the 264th mass shooting of the year does not mean the United States should tighten up access to deadly firearms.

Well, guys, I hate to break it to you, but we heard you the first time. And the second time. And the hundreds of times since that our country has grappled with an individual eager to take out as many lives as possible with a firearm. We can recite your arguments in our sleep, and they haven't grown better through repetition.

Here are the four fallacious arguments:

1. "Guns don't kill people. People kill people."

2. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." ("If you prefer pithy sayings to hard evidence, I can see why this would be convincing.")

3. "But, mental health!"

4. "Second Amendment, baby."

Here's a good time to remind everyone that the Second Amendment was written by slaveholders before we had electricity, much less the kind of weaponry that would-be murderers can buy today. But sure, if you think it's that precious, we can compromise: If you love Second Amendment that much, feel free to live in a powdered wig and shit in a chamberpot while trying to survive off what you can kill with an 18th century musket. In exchange, let those of us living in this century pass some laws so we can feel safe going to class, or the movies, or anywhere without worrying that some maladjusted man will try to get his revenge by raining death on random strangers.

The Awl looks at "a future anti-democratic right:"

Neoreaction--aka NRx or the Dark Enlightenment--combines all of the awful things you always suspected about libertarianism with odds and ends from PUA culture, Victorian Social Darwinism, and an only semi-ironic attachment to absolutism. [...]

For all the talk of neo-feudalism and geeks for monarchy, it's less a single ideology than a loose constellation of far-right thought, clustered around three pillars: religious traditionalism, white nationalism, and techno-commercialism (the names are self-explanatory). This means heavy spoonfuls of "race realism," misogyny, and nostalgia for past hierarchies, leavened with transhumanism and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Mencius Moldbug's "Open Letter to Open-minded Progressives" is the centerpiece of the NRx canon, and he invented a number of the movement's key terms and concepts--along with British philosopher Nick Land, who "emerge[d] openly as a major thinker of the far-right:"

The most comprehensive account of this transformation is his twenty-seven-thousand-plus word essay, "the Dark Enlightenment," where Land lays out, among other things, a long critique of democracy. It's unfocused, but it's also one of the most-read pieces of neoreactionary writing on the web, and Land convincingly frames neoreaction as a direct descendant of older conservative, libertarian, and classical liberal thought.

"Land would prefer to simply abolish democracy and appoint a national CEO," the article continues, and "Anti-democratic sentiment is uncommon in the West, so Land's conclusions appear as shocking, deliberate provocations, which they partly are:"

But though his prescriptions for "corporate dictatorship"--adopted from Moldbug--are obviously radical, the critique of democracy isn't. [...] This brand of authoritarian capitalism has a certain fascist sheen, but in truth it's closer to a rigidly formalized capitalist technocracy. There's no mass mobilization, totalitarian social reorganization, or cult of violence here; governing will be done by the governors, and popular sovereignty replaced by the market Mandate of Heaven. There is a strange sort of disillusioned cultural conservatism here as well, albeit one absolutely stripped of moralism.

That would be strange--but without religious fervor, all they have left is force of arms.

changed plans

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The modest building at 45 Park Place in Manhattan (called the "Ground Zero" mosque, but known as Park51 in the real world) now appears to be becoming "a seventy-story ultra-luxury condominium tower" by 2017:"

...in 2010, the local community board voted twenty-nine-to-one, with ten abstentions, to approve plans for a fifteen-story, hundred-million-dollar community center modeled on the 92nd Street Y. Abdul Rauf referred to it as the Cordoba House; El-Gamal referred to it as Park51; and around the country, people referred to it, variously, as the "Ground Zero mosque," the "Ground Zero terror mosque," and the "Victory Mosque." [...]

Last week, Soho Properties released details of the project to Bloomberg Businessweek: a seventy-story, ultra-luxury condominium tower, including at least fifteen full-floor units to be marketed at prices higher than three thousand dollars per square foot. There will be a fifty-foot swimming pool in the basement and concierge service. A public plaza will connect the condos to the (much reduced) Islamic museum and prayer space at the site. Above three hundred feet, all of the apartments will be full-floor units with private elevators and twelve-foot floor-to-ceiling windows offering unobstructed views of Midtown, the Hudson River, and the Statue of Liberty. "You can't see Ground Zero from our current building and on completion of our planned building some years from now, there won't be any views of the Ground Zero memorial from the building," El-Gamal said in his July 2010 interview with beliefnet.com. Now, however, the 9/11 Memorial would appear to be visible from the planned condos above three hundred feet. Plans change.

VW reached some milestones this year, becoming both the world's leading auto manufacturer and its biggest criminal:

A "defeat device" placed into the software of VW and Audi models with four-cylinder diesels--a hack only recently uncovered by a university lab in West Virginia while conducting independent tests--temporarily lowered the emission of regulated oxides of nitrogen (NOx) to acceptable limits. But the tweak had a sinister nature: The reduction happened only during that exceedingly rare moment--once in a car's lifetime--when it might randomly undergo testing. For the rest of their service lives, however, these diesel cars might spew up to 40 times the legal limit of NOx, a compound implicated in the creation of ozone and smog and linked to asthma and emphysema. [...]

Catching the bad publicity wave head-on, VW announced that its official count of illegally programmed, overpolluting cars had actually increased 2,300 percent--from 482,000 to 11 million units, not confined to the United States but spread around the world. Conceding guilt, the carmaker announced that it had already earmarked 6.5 billion euros to fund future payouts related to the debacle. [...] For breaking federal emissions law, Volkswagen is potentially liable for as much as $37,500 per each occurrence, or a grand total of $18 billion in possible fines in the United States alone.

"Heads needed to roll," the article continues, from the top down:

CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned on September 23, and several other executives were suspended. Though he has claimed utter surprise, Winterkorn's eight years at the helm completely dovetail with the period in question, likely making him one of many dozens or hundreds who must have been in on the hatching and execution of VW's diesel caper. At the very least, he is certain to never work in the automobile industry again, which is one of the things that must make him grateful for the $66.9 million farewell package specified in his contract.

The piece also looks at the bigger picture:

Inevitably, we'll learn that Volkswagen is not alone, and that its crimes are the tip of the iceberg. With the computer controls found in today's cars, any major car manufacturer or its suppliers might fudge a car's emissions profile, especially if no one is looking. The problem is self-certification: It doesn't work.

Slate looks for villains, and observes that "the cheating device itself is more colorful and malevolent than any of the purported wrongdoers we've seen so far." It also fingers "the sclerotic and incestuous boardroom culture of Volkswagen" and explicitly calls out "Ferdinand Porsche and a powerful member of the Porsche clan that controls Porsche and VW:"

With his reputation for tightly controlling Volkswagen's operations and carefully shaping its executive ranks, Piech owns the company's successes over the last 20 years. He ought to own this scandal too.

This is an audacious, outrageous, and very intentional feat. Indeed, such coordinated large-scale fraud, across multiple divisions (VW, Audi, Skoda, and others), required significant participation from engineers and management both. In a written statement, Winterkorn said: "Above all, I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group. I am doing this in the interests of the company even though I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part." Yet Winterkorn doesn't claim he was unaware of wrongdoing in the statement. That doesn't seem like an accidental omission.

I don't see any accidents here.

MediaMatters covers Limbaugh's rant about NASA "lying and making up false charts," which I've excerpted here:

I said, "What's the big deal about flowing water on Mars?"

I said 'what do you think they're gonna do with this news?' I said 'look at the temperature data, that has been reported by NASA, has been made up, it's fraudulent for however many years, there isn't any warming, there hasn't been for 18.5 years. And yet, they're lying about it. They're just making up the amount of ice in the North and South Poles, they're making up the temperatures, they're lying and making up false charts and so forth. So what's to stop them from making up something that happened on Mars that will help advance their left-wing agenda on this planet?' [...] I guarantee, let's just wait and see, this is September 28, let's just wait and see. Don't know how long it's going to take, but this news that there is flowing water on Mars is somehow going to find its way into a technique to advance the leftist agenda.

Limbaugh, of course, whines about his remarks being taken "totally out of context," although the 441-word quote published by Media Matters was word-for-word accurate when compared with the transcript on his own website. For a detailed take, see Politico's Eliza Collins, writing about Limbaugh's criticism of the media reports on his remarks:

"POLITICO has a story: 'Rush Limbaugh Pans Evidence of Water on Mars as Part of Leftist Agenda,' and they take it out of context, too, which is typical," he said on his show Tuesday. "I don't think this guy, Eliza Collins... I doubt that he went to my website to find out what I really said. Just looked at these 'watchdog' websites and took it from there."

(See the note above about the watchodog website being complete correct.)

The original story on POLITICO cited a transcript and video of Limbaugh from the left-leaning website Media Matters, a long-time critic of the radio host that has called on advertisers to boycott his program. A transcript posted on Limbaugh's own website, however, matches Media Matters' version word for word.

"This Mars thing is just totally all over the place out there, and every one of these people talking about it, from local TV news, say, in Dallas, or The Politico, are getting it totally out of context from our old buddies at Media Matters for America, which wouldn't know the truth if it knocked them unconscious," Limbaugh said Wednesday.

It's not clear, however, how exactly Limbaugh felt he was being misinterpreted. A spokesman for the radio host declined to elaborate.

Of course not--that would require accuracy and honesty.

ebook evolution

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Craig Mod explains why digital books have stopped evolving. After an experiment of "four years of devout screen reading," he reveals that "I lost the faith:"

Gradually at first and then undeniably, I stopped buying digital books. I realised this only a few months ago, when taking stock of my library, both digital and physical. Physical books - most of all, works of literary fiction - I continue to acquire voraciously. I split my time between New York and Tokyo, and know that with each New York trip I'll pick up a dozen or more volumes from bookstores or friends. My favourite gifts, to give and to receive, are still physical books. [...] The great irony, of course, is that I've never read more digitally in my life.

This exacerbates his dismay with the digital UX. "Unfortunately, Kindle's interface makes it difficult to keep tabs on those expanding digital libraries:"

...at best, we can see a dozen titles at a time, all as inscrutably small book covers. Titles that fall off the first-page listing on a Kindle cease to exist. Compare that with standing in front of a physical bookshelf: the eye takes in hundreds of spines or covers at once, all equally at arm's length. I've found that it's much more effortless to dip back into my physical library - for inspiration or reference - than my digital library. The books are there. They're obvious. They welcome me back.

The pile of unread books we have on our bedside tables is often referred to as a graveyard of good intentions. The list of unread books on our Kindles is more of a black hole of fleeting intentions.

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