Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Exonerating the Guilty is a Thankless Job, But, As Usual, The Atlantic is Up to the Job

What is it about being confronted by the weak and powerless that brings out the douchebag in so many people? You don't want to give money to the needy? Don't do it! But at least have the decency to shut the hell up about it. And for Christ's sake stop embarrassing yourselves by trying to pretend that it's some kind of superior moral stance.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Let Me Help You Stanch That Bloodflow With This Chainsaw

So Obama has selected the Bush Torturer-in Chief to serve on a White House task force on the psychological well-being of military families:
...Dr. Larry James. James, a retired Army colonel, was the Chief Psychologist at Guantanamo in 2003, at the height of the abuses at that camp, and then served in the same position at Abu Ghraib during 2004.

Today, Dr. James circulated an excited email announcing, "with great pride," that he has now been selected to serve on the "White House Task Force entitled Enhancing the Psychological Well-Being of The Military Family." In his new position, he will be meeting at the White House with Michelle Obama and other White House officials on Tuesday...

James treated numerous detainees who were abused, degraded, and tortured, yet never took any steps to stop or even report these incidents. Last year, Steven Reisner -- senior faculty member and supervisor at the International Trauma Studies Program, who also teaches at New York University Medical School and Columbia University -- told Democracy Now: "there is a lot of evidence that has been made public showing that the torture programs in the CIA and at Guantánamo, the Department of Defense, were created and overseen by health professionals, particularly psychologists" and that psychologists were at these facilities "to use their professional expertise to break down the detainees."
He headed the BSCT program. The worst abuses continued under his watch. So of course it falls on the Democratic avatar of CHANGE to elevate him to a courtier of the inner sanctum. There aren't enough irony quotes in the whole world to contain the vomitus pouring out of this administration.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Feeling This

After a shitty, shitty few weeks, and all of a sudden I'm overcome by a feeling of brief mortality.

And also:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Welcome Vernal Equinox

Spring in Green Park, London:

Spring daffodils in Green Park, London

Another chance at life.

The Mouth of Hell has Many Doors

I'm still mulling over my feelings about the Libya attack. I would love to be able to claim a purity of thought about war; I know it's evil, and I know that evil is committed when it's waged, even if the reason for the war has the most humane of intent. War is one of those human endeavors that can take even the purest of motives and twist them into thousands of acts of horror. Apologists minimize these brutalities with the exonerating concepts of "collateral damage", and "troubled soldiers" and "Zimbardo effects",and even though we know every fresh invasion will unleash the same predictably terrific results, we behave as if, each time, we are being presented with a fresh enigma to solve, and we keep repeating the same old pantomime. The attack on Libya, whatever the motive, will rain down horror into the lives of innocents, who will have to live with the results for the rest of their lives, if they live at all---we can always make that bet with confidence.

I also know that the motives that have impelled my country to war have never been humanitarian, although that hasn't stopped us from claiming the high road when it served our purposes. Even World War II, the so-called "good war", was entered into for reasons having nothing to do with the Holocaust or the predations of the Axis powers; Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and right after that Germany and Italy declared war on us. As for the rest? None of them were necessary, except Bosnia, which the usual war hawks fought tooth and nail. All across the world, over a hundred years, the victims of genocide and nameless horrors have suffered and vanished from the earth while we ignored their misery and did business with their tormentors. Cambodia. Rwanda. Congo. Zimbabwe. Kenya. Algeria. Peru. Argentina. Guatemala. Nicaragua. The Philippines. Haiti. Franco's Spain. Chechnya. Palestine. Egypt. Cote D'Ivoire. South Africa. Burma. Tibet. Sudan. Sierra Leone. Uzbekistan. Too many more to name...and none of them were of interest to us, even when they cried out to us for help.

Now we have a pretty clear case of rebels fighting for freedom against a totalitarian dictator, known murderer, and true terrorist. And they have continuously called for help from us and the rest of the world, in the form of a no-fly zone. The Arab League has given its blessing to this, and European nations are willing to take the lead. We have nothing particular to gain materially, since the oil Libya produces makes up a miniscule amount of what we use. Unlike in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are being begged for help, and we have no plutocrats waiting in the wings to descend on a new colony, ready to make billions by raping the infrastructures and the national Treasury.

For me, the answers are elusive. I'm still on the fence, even as the New York Times reports that the air strikes have begun. Mike Mullin says “operations yesterday went very well.” But Stratfor's analysis considers the costs of civilian deaths on the ultimate outcome:
If (Gadhafi’s troops) perceive that surrender is unacceptable or personally catastrophic, they may continue to fight. At that point the coalition must decide if it intends to engage and destroy Gadhafi’s ground forces from the air. This can be done, but it is never a foregone conclusion that it will work. Moreover, this is the phase at which civilian casualties begin to mount. It is a paradox of warfare instigated to end human suffering that the means of achieving this can sometimes impose substantial human suffering itself. This is not merely a theoretical statement. It is at this point at which supporters of the war who want to end suffering may turn on the political leaders for not ending suffering without cost. It should be remembered that Saddam Hussein was loathed universally but those who loathed him were frequently not willing to impose the price of overthrowing him.
We may have hated Bush, but would we have thrown our support behind a foreign army invading to "liberate" us from him? I doubt it, and it was that inability to put ourselves in the shoes of the Iraqis that resulted in the horrors that eventually played out.

But then, we never cried out to the world to come and save us from him in the first place.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

You Dropped a Button in the Plate and Spewed Up in the Church

McCormack and Richard Tauber are singing by the bed
There's a glass of punch below your feet and an angel at your head
There's devils on each side of you with bottles in their hands
You need one more drop of poison and you'll dream of foreign lands

When you pissed yourself in Frankfurt and got syph down in Cologne
And you heard the rattling death trains as you lay there all alone
Frank Ryan bought you whiskey in a brothel in Madrid
And you decked some fucking blackshirt who was cursing all the Yids
At the sick bed of Cuchulainn we'll kneel and say a prayer
And the ghosts are rattling at the door and the devil's in the chair

And in the Euston Tavern you screamed it was your shout
But they wouldn't give you service so you kicked the windows out
They took you out into the street and kicked you in the brains
So you walked back in through a bolted door and did it all again
At the sick bed of Cuchulainn we'll kneel and say a prayer
And the ghosts are rattling at the door and the devil's in the chair

You remember that foul evening when you heard the banshees howl
There was lousy drunken bastards singing "Billy In The Bowl"
They took you up to midnight mass and left you in the lurch
So you dropped a button in the plate and spewed up in the church

Now you'll sing a song of liberty for blacks and paks and jocks
And they'll take you from this dump you're in and stick you in a box
Then they'll take you to Cloughprior and shove you in the ground
But you'll stick your head back out and shout "We'll have another round"
At the graveside of Cuchulainn we'll kneel around and pray
And God is in His heaven, and Billy's down by the bay

Monday, March 14, 2011

If I could have only taken the day off...

...I could have retained some semblance of dignity and pretended to some modicum of intelligence. These changes wrought by arbitrary time shifting fuck my head up something fierce. Why do we always seem to mess with things that need no messing with, but leave the things crying out for attention to flail and die in the wilderness?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Stuffed Man, The Hollow Man

"...Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw.
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men."

--T.S. Eliot
This is the way our dreams end
Not with a bang, but a pink slip.

Bravo, Barry. You could not have eviscerated your own ideals better with a samurai sword. But as seppuku is the course taken by the man of honor, you would not have chosen that method, anyway.

The Lament of Kings

The rich are unhappy and unfulfilled. (Actually an insightful piece).

Maybe a life-threatening disaster or two would help them sort things out.

Certainly a crack like this doesn't help.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hating On The Unions Won't Get You A Pension, But Joining One Might

This was so epic that I had to purloin the whole thing. From Matt Yglesias:
Is employee compensation driving state budget woes? No:
In the short-term, the problem for state budgets is that the recession
caused a drop in tax revenues. In the longer-term, the main issue is
Medicaid costs.
And while we're at it, let's revisit the actual state of public pensions:
  1. The drop in pension values was caused by Wall Street, not unions;
  2. Since 2000, through good times and  bad, states themselves failed to pony up the contributions they were committed to make while workers continued to pay into them;
  3. Calculations by the Right that pensions will go broke assume a "riskless rate of return" of 4-5%, when in fact pension returns have been well above that for decades (8-9% since 1984) and are likely to continue to be so (they have already recovered much of their losses);
  4. A realistic estimate of the shortfall is from $750 billion to $1 trillion over 30 years.  If the funds only saw a return similar to Treasury bonds--4.5%--they would still earn $850 billion over that 30 years and cover or nearly cover the shortfall within the needed period;
  5. If states increase their domestic product by merely .2% over that 30 years, or increase funding by 1% of their budgets, it would be enough to eliminate any shortfall;
  6. And finally, public pensions can afford to pay 100% of benefits for the next 15-20 years with no changes at all.
In the meantime, God save Japan.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tom Corbett: Husbandry Ace

Corbett began his budget address by comparing fixing state government to pruning an overgrown apple tree. Funny. Old Farmer C. hasn't raised many apple trees lately, because if he did, he'd know that pruning limbs causes even more of them to grow back, the better to make more fruit. But old Tom has a different idea: cut those suckers back and seal them up, so instead of a thriving, heavily-laden plant, he'll have a lifeless stump. Won't have any food to feed the citizens, but he won't be spending any money on fertilizer, either. It's a win-win for the gardener from Hell!

His Imperial Wrongness

The kept press notices Chris Christie's credibility gap:
Misstatements have been central to Mr. Christie’s worst public stumbles — about how the state managed to miss out on a $400 million education grant last year, for example, and whether he was in touch enough while he was in Florida during the blizzard in December — and his rare admissions that he was wrong...

Some overstatements have worked their way into the governor’s routine public comments, like a claim that he balanced the budget last year without raising taxes; in truth, he cut deeply into tax credits for the elderly and the poor...

When New Jersey narrowly lost $400 million in the federal Education Department’s Race to the Top competition last summer because of missing data in its application, Mr. Christie held a news conference blaming “bureaucrats in Washington” and said state officials had tried to supply the missing numbers at a hearing. It did not take long for the Obama administration to release a recording showing that, in reality, federal officials had requested the information at the hearing, and the New Jersey team had not had it.

Mr. Christie fired Bret D. Schundler, his education commissioner at the time, accusing him of lying about the hearing. But Mr. Schundler said he had warned the governor before the news conference that what he was about to tell reporters was false...

A few months later, in November, when the Assembly speaker, Sheila Y. Oliver, a Democrat, and the governor were sparring over pension issues, she said she had requested a meeting with the governor. Mr. Christie called that “a lie.” Ms. Oliver’s office promptly produced text messages from the Assembly staff making the request...

After the record snowfall in December, Mr. Christie defended his decision to stay on vacation in Florida with his family, saying that he had spoken with the acting governor, Stephen M. Sweeney, during the storm. When Mr. Sweeney, a Democrat and the State Senate president, said they had not talked, the governor attributed his own misstatement to lack of sleep.
That's our Chris: never wrong and always right...and he'll rip your face off if you say different. Well he has a lot of face-ripping to get to, given the volume of wrongness he's generated over his brief tenure.

And why is this suddenly a story? Where was the media when he first tossed out all these lies? I'll tell you: sitting in the audience with stars in their eyes, all gaga over a public official whose rude, crude, bullying behavior made for great infotainment, and writing about his "style", as though he had any; buying into groundless agitprop about Christie's supposed popularity. The fact that he has been ripping out the garden along with the weeds hasn't been nearly as fun to cover, has it? Lots better to play videos showing him intimidating working people and turning the state police into his personal goon squad for bouncing constituents out of public meetings. The man is a liar and a hypocrite, and his cruelty is like catnip to the kept press.

Mordor Takes All


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Ancient Travelers

Remember all those times when you were a kid, and you looked up at the stars, and swore you didn't really belong on this planet? That you were just waiting, like Peter Gabriel in Solsbury Hill, for them to "come to take me home"?

Well, maybe you knew something:
Richard Hoover's paper, along with pictures of the microscopic earthworm-like creatures, were published late Friday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Cosmology, which is available free online.

Hoover sliced open fragments of several types of carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, which can contain relatively high levels of water and organic materials, and looked inside with a powerful microscope.

He found bacteria-like creatures that he calls "indigenous fossils," which he believes originated beyond Earth and were not introduced here after the meteorites landed.

"He concludes these fossilized bacteria are not Earthly contaminants but are the fossilized remains of living organisms which lived in the parent bodies of these meteors, e.g. comets, moons, and other astral bodies," said the study.

"The implications are that life is everywhere, and that life on Earth may have come from other planets."

Gerald Kersh wrote a story about that.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Botswana or Bust!

Did everyone forget that all our problems were solved by the POS known as the "Affordable Care Act"? I guess so, because here's the zombie health insurance debate back for more brains, via Ezra Klein:
It’s very important that health-care reform leaves a lot of room for insurers to experiment with different benefit designs and ways to keep people healthy. That could slow the growth in health spending, which is why I think the administration should be as vague as possible when defining “essential benefits.” But just making insurance progressively less generous doesn’t do you much good, and may in fact do you some harm. It’s hard to imagine any good that’s going to come from a deductible that’s above five figures: If you’re paying $10,000 out of pocket for health care in one year, you’re probably quite sick and just doing whatever the doctor tells you. Meanwhile, the sorts of intensive insurance programs that might keep people from getting so sick will probably be fairly generous, even as they’re cheaper in the long-run.
"It’s very important that health-care reform leaves a lot of room for insurers to experiment with different benefit designs and ways to keep people healthy"? No. It's not. Health insurers are not in the business to keep people healthy. They are in the business to make money. They make money in the US by being parsimonious with their benefits and charging high premiums. Denying health care by making it so expensive that people spend their money on more immediate-seeming needs (or do their own home surgery) is not solving the problem, and this is basically the "solution" conservatives and insurers have chosen.

And all this dreck about how people need to take responsibility for their own health is a thinly veiled way of saying, "Don't make me worry about caring for the sick and dying." We live in a toxic soup of an environment, and rig the game so our poorest citizens live in the very worst environments under the most challenging conditions, and then rail at them for not pulling themselves up from the mess by their bootstraps. And the better off we are, the more we rail. In 2008 the World Health Organization released released a report of health disparities that included the following findings:
The world's poor tend to die prematurely and log more life-years spent ill or suffering or depressed also because they are more likely to live in dangerous neighborhoods, have limited access to clean drinking water, be forced to endure long, sometimes arduous commutes to work, labor in unsafe environments and have little representation in the governance of their local society. If you're about to lose your job, the effects of eating too many trans fats may not be high on your list of worries. "Behavior and lifestyle are determined by the circumstances in which people find themselves," Marmot says simply....

...this "gradient," or the degree to which different groups are unequal in health, is far steeper in the U.S. than in most other industrialized countries. One reason, according to commissioner David Satcher, a former U.S. Surgeon General, may be that the U.S. comprises a more diverse population than other places, mixing a high proportion of recent immigrants with long-time American dwellers, which makes it all the more difficult to tackle social determinants early in life. "Two," Satcher says, "[the U.S.] invests probably less in improving that social gradient. There are countries that really invest in making sure that all children have quality education regardless of the education of their parents. There are countries that invest in making sure that everybody has access to a [minimum] level of quality of [health] care. We're one of the few countries that does not do that."
But fear not, American deficit hawks! It can be done:
Marmot cites the national pension plan in Botswana, which shows that even poor nations manage to provide income security to their elderly; and an Indian rural employment guarantee, which assures workers a minimum number of days of paid manual labor for the state, demonstrating that the poor can still give workers some measure of job security.
Let Botswana lead the way!

Every damn one of us is only one car accident or sudden fall from medical bankruptcy, so don't give me this crap about how the unicorns would play in the chocolate fountains if only fat people would go on a diet and the smokers we rely on for taxes to care for our elderly would just stop smoking.

Really, the hypocrisy is just breath-taking.

Friday, March 04, 2011

All You Need to Know About the Budget Crisis

Brought to you by David Cay Johnston (bold mine):
We take you now to the official data for important news. Federal tax revenues in 2010 were much smaller than in 2000. Total individual income tax receipts fell 30 percent in real terms. Because the population kept growing, income taxes per capita plummeted.

Individual income taxes came to just $2,900 per capita in 2010, down 36 percent from more than $4,500 in 2000. Total income taxes and income taxes per capita declined even though the economy grew 16 percent overall and 6 percent per capita from 2000 through 2010.

Corporate income tax receipts fell 27 percent and declined 34 percent per capita, even though profits boomed, rising 60 percent.

Payroll taxes increased slightly overall, but slipped per capita because the nation's population grew five times faster than the number of people with any work. The average wage also declined slightly.

You read it here first. Lowered tax rates did not result in increased tax revenues as promised by politician after pundit after professional economist. And even though this harsh truth has been obvious from the official data for some time, the same politicians and pundits keep prevaricating. Some of them even say it is irrelevant that as a share of GDP, income tax revenues are at their lowest level since 1951, when Harry S. Truman was president.

No matter how many times advocates of lower tax rates said it, tax rate cuts did not pay for themselves, did not spur economic growth, did not increase jobs, and did not make America better off.

At some point you have to say to yourself, "Self, nothing I can say, no data or documents I can present, no oath I can take, will convince the professionally ignorant of the world of what mere observation would reveal to them. Self, it is time for a vacation." Even Galileo gave up preaching to the unconverted.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Here in PA some of us attended the Harrisburg "We are Wisconsin" rally last Saturday, and while the turnout of 1000 was respectable, I was surprised not to see a more concerted presence from the state unions. Now I know why:
March 8 is when Pennsylvania gets its first look at the new fiscal reality as interpreted by Corbett and his pro-business administration.

Whereas Walker is using Wisconsin budget deficits as an ideological excuse for gutting collective bargaining rights, Corbett is said to have started a dialogue with unions.

“From every indication we get from the Corbett administration, it’s a given these are going to be difficult times, but the governor wants to sit down with us, said David Fillman, executive director of AFSCME, which represents 45,000 of the Pennsylvania’s 75,000 state workers.

“The draconian proposal in Wisconsin is not present in Pennsylvania,” he added.

AFSCME so hopes Corbett will stick to Marcellus Shale giveaways as a policy priority that the union chose not to participate in the “We Are Wisconsin” rally at the Capitol this weekend.

“We don’t have a problem here in Pennsylvania, and we don’t want to bring any spotlight to a nonproblem. We are very supportive of the Wisconsin workers, but right now we are just doing local events in Pennsylvania,” Fillman said.
Over the long years, AFSCME's leadership here in PA has been known for timidity in negotiations. Members in my own union, SEIU, have complained on more than one occasion of the spoiling of contract negotiation terms by AFSCME, which was known to roll over on its belly at the drop of the Boss's hat when SEIU would have tried to fight on for more. The fact that AFSCME in PA maintains such a huge majority among public unions has always ensured that their negotiations would establish the baseline for all the rest of us, and as soon as they completed their negotiations, the rest of the unions simply threw in the towel and accepted the same deal.

So the fact that Fillman is making such scaredy-cat noises already about not wanting to make Corbett mad, so much so that he will not even make a nominal show of support to his brothers and sisters in Madison, can only mean the rest of us will be thrown under the bus as soon as Corbett makes a frowny face.

Last night I watched the American Experience doc on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory massacre, and the pictures of young and old women being beaten by hired thugs and police as they tried to stand together for their rights made me wonder: how many of us have the heart to stand like that, under far less dangerous conditions, for the very thing they died for? Not David Fillman, you can bet on it.

UPDATE: I forgot to comment on Fillman's remark that "We don't have a problem here in Pennsylvania..." This kind of idiotic assertion is exactly what is wrong with the negotiating brains at AFSCME. Corbett threw down the gauntlet to labor during his campaign: 10% across the board cuts to agencies, sweeping changes to workers' hard-earned pensions including a "special session" (read: constitutional amendment), and he has backing through the Koch brothers. I don't know what the hell Fillman thinks is going to happen here. A cotillion?