February 2016 Archives

pure, uncut Koch

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Salon's look at the Koch brothers as capitalist puritans notes Steve Inskeep's labeling of the Kochs as "a political force unto themselves:"

The Kochs are, according to mainstream belief, more or less right-leaning, an assumption no doubt prompted by their propensity to sponsor Republican candidates far more often than they do Democrats.

"Charles reveals," the piece continues, "that the Kochs simply see Republicans as the current lesser of two evils:"

Or, as he phrases it, "The Democrats are taking us down the road to serfdom at 100 miles an hour, and the Republicans are at 70 miles an hour."

What the brothers are really behind, a point that might be a bit foggy in this interview, is a libertarian ideology that is reminiscent of old-school, academic, Friedman-and-Hayek-style classical economic liberalism.

When we think of the economic rationalizations of big money campaign spenders, we normally think of what leftists refer to as the neoliberal model. It describes an approach to economics that, while embracing the laissez faire utopian notions of classical liberalism, heavily favors corporate health, financialization "and a cultural project of building consent for the upward redistributions of wealth and power."

Simply put, "Charles Koch is a capitalist puritan. Milton Friedman is his Jesus, Friedrich Hayek his Peter:"

His goal for his influence is to reindoctrinate the country according to the pure theory of capital, the sole principles of which are capitalism and freedom. Pure economic liberty is the only road to true prosperity, while government intervention is the road to serfdom.

As crazy as this may sound to some given the past half-century of increasing wealth inequality, it has a certain appeal to many others who still want to hold onto hope for an individualistic utopia. The Kochs have the American Dream on their side, and they're trying to revive the notion that, with a small enough government and vibrant enough economy, any American can pick him or herself up by the bootstraps and make a respectable, comfortable living.

Talk about a delusional dogma...the parallel to religion is all too apt.

In a move that likely sends shivers down the spines of bookstores nationwide, Amazon plans to open "as many as 400 new stores:"

"But like just about everything in the digital economy," notes the article, "it's a mixed blessing at best, and a touch totalitarian at worst." As noted in Forbes, customers have to "scan the code with the camera of your smartphone and the Amazon app" to get item prices:

If you are signed into the app with your account - as is likely - Amazon is immediately able to associate its online customer records with you, the customer browsing the shelves in its physical location. It knows your preferences, your buying history, your status as an Amazon Prime and/or Amazon credit card member, and who knows what else. Armed with that data, it can feed you recommendations, offer coupons and incentives, and do whatever it needs to do to close the sale as you are holding an item in your hand that you are considering purchasing.

Sanders' movement

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Robert Reich observes of political change that it takes a movement:

There are two dominant views about how presidents accomplish fundamental change.

The first might be called the "deal-maker-in-chief," by which presidents threaten or buy off powerful opponents.

The second is "by mobilizing the public to demand them and penalize politicians who don't heed those demands:"

Teddy Roosevelt got a progressive income tax, limits on corporate campaign contributions, regulation of foods and drugs, and the dissolution of giant trusts - not because he was a great dealmaker but because he added fuel to growing public demands for such changes.

It was at a point in American history similar to our own. Giant corporations and a handful of wealthy people dominated American democracy. The lackeys of the "robber barons" literally placed sacks of cash on the desks of pliant legislators.

The American public was angry and frustrated. Roosevelt channeled that anger and frustration into support of initiatives that altered the structure of power in America. He used the office of the president - his "bully pulpit," as he called it - to galvanize political action.

Could Hillary Clinton do the same? Could Bernie Sanders?

"Such a movement is at the heart of the Sanders campaign," he concludes. TNR writes that Bernie's Army is running for Congress, and opines that "The greatest gift Sanders--the longtime independent--has given to the Democratic Party is to inspire a progressive revolution from within." The examples given are Zephyr Teachout's run for Congress in NY's 19th Congressional District, John Fetterman's challenge to Republican Pat Toomey for a PA Senate seat, Lucy Flores' candidacy for Nevada's 4th Congressional District, and several others.

Victory is not assured for any of them. But their perspective is starting to win inside the party. It's focused on taking pride in bold ideas, and on a hard-nosed belief in doing the difficult work of building coalitions to advance them.

Meanwhile, Commentary complains about a new generation of bitter liberals, whining that "Bernie Sanders lost the Iowa caucuses on Monday night to Hillary Clinton. At least, that is what you are expected to believe:"

The contest was so tight that the final results - Clinton's 49.9 percent to Sanders' 49.6 percent - may mean the difference between just a few hundred votes out of tens of thousands cast. As of Tuesday morning, votes from at least one precinct in Iowa were still missing. Clinton's ability to turn out her voters in populous parts of the state resulted in a lopsided victory for her in terms of awarded delegates. But the way in which she won some precincts, more than a handful of which were resolved by coin toss, has Sanders supporters fuming.

Smirking Chimp's look at the Wall Street worldview singles out billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, who says he's "puzzled by the amount of discontent apparently felt by other Americans these days."

"I find the whole thing astonishing and what's remarkable is the amount of anger whether it's on the Republican side or the Democratic side.... Bernie Sanders, to me, is almost more stunning than some of what's going on in the Republican side. How is that happening, why is that happening?"

One clue to "why is that happening," a clue Schwarzman presumably noticed last October, was the $39 million fine Schwarzman's Blackstone Group advisors had to pay for bilking customers. Blackstone entered into a "consent agreement" with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finding that "it breached its fiduciary duty" to its customers. The consent agreement, admitting no guilt, is a tactic often used by corporate shysters to cut their losses when caught with their hands in other people's pockets. [Note: with revenue of $7.484 billion, Blackstone's $10 million fine represents 10/7484th - or .1336% - of its income.]

ICYMI, Schwarzman has a history of wealth-induced cluelessness:

In 2010, when there was some talk of closing the carried interest loophole, Steve Schwarzman strongly objected, as if Wall Street was actually being invaded: "It's a war.... It's like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939."

ThinkProgress looks at why converts to Islam are susceptible to becoming terrorists, noting particularly that "Converts are among the most fervent adherents to any faith:"

In the age of ISIS, Muslim converts are increasingly vulnerable to adopting a creed of extremism and violence.

About 40 percent of those arrested on terrorism-related charges last year were converts to Islam according to "ISIS in America," a new report by George Washington University. That's disproportionate with the overall picture of Muslims in America, where less than one in four are converts.

"The main reason converts appear to be especially vulnerable to extremist Islam," the piece continues, "is because they may not have a firm grounding in its scripture or history:"

Converts might also seek out what they believe to be more pure -- and often more extreme -- interpretations of Islam. In an attempt to abide by what they believe to be the proper manifestation of Islam, they might eschew centuries of cultural and social shifts that have created hybridized, and often more human, versions of the faith. [...]

Part of the reason why converts make up such a high percentage of those arrested for terrorism-related charges might be because their radicalization is more likely to occur online. That could tip off law enforcement more quickly than discussions at a private home or even in a public place. While distance from Muslim communities could make converts easier targets for arrest, it could also make their radicalization process more intense since it's so likely to occur within a vacuum -- especially since ISIS recruiters are so keen to court people to their violent brand of Islam.

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