Sunday, December 30, 2007

Magical Thinking

“You simply can’t run an economy as complicated as ours on ideology alone.” -- Jared Bernstein, senior economist, Economic Policy Institute
Yes, you can. Just badly.

Peter Goodman, in this morning's New York Times, asks whether belief in the "unfailingly" wise unfettered free market is, in fact, a false idol.
. . . the invisible hand is being asked to account for what it has wrought. In this country, many economic complaints — from the widening gap between rich and poor to the expense of higher education — are being dusted for its fingerprints.
Some "fervent proponents of unfettered market forces have lately come to embrace regulation," Goodman observes.

Free market fundamentalists have for years approached the market with something resembling the unquestioning ardor of their religious fellow travelers.

Religious fundamentalists (especially, charismatics) sometimes display magical thinking when applying their theology. The Bible is perfect and inerrant, so their reasoning goes. Thus, verses containing "God's promises" are vows which God must, by his ever-truthful nature, keep. Recite the incantation with the appropriate reverence, goes the syllogism, and mere humans can make the creator of the universe jump on command. Crank in Bible verse, out pops God like Jack from his box.

If the magic fails, the fault lies not in God or in the Bible, but in oneself.

"Did you plead the blood, brother?" I heard a believer ask of a friend who complained a prayer had gone unanswered. "You've got to plead the blood."

If the magic doesn't work, you didn't do the spell right. The true believer never questions his theology. It, too, is perfection.

So it is with free-market fundamentalists from Milton Friedman's Chicago school of economics, Naomi Klein observes in "The Shock Doctrine." Market forces act like unchanging forces of nature:
In the truly free market imagined in Chicago classes and texts, these forces exited existed in perfect equilibrium, supply communicating with demand the way the moon pulls the tides. If economies suffered from high inflation, it was, according to Friedman's strict theory of monatarism, invariably because misguided policy makers had allowed too much money to enter the system, rather than letting the market find its balance.

[. . .]

According to the Harvard sociologist, Daniel Bell, this love of an idealized system is the defining quality of radical free-market economics. Capitalism is envisaged as "a jeweled set of movements" or a "celestial clockwork . . ."
As true to life as the Ptolemaic and Copernican models of the universe, but with more profit potential.

Klein continues:
Like all fundamentalist faiths, Chicago School, economics is, for its true believers, a closed loop. The starting premise is that the free market is a perfect scientific system, one in which individuals, acting on their own self-interested desires, create the maximum benefits for all. It follows ineluctably that if something is wrong within the free-market economy -- high inflation or soaring unemployment -- it has to be because the market is not truly free.
Faith and pseudoscience: both unfalsifiable. Like tax cuts, as Slate's William Saletan observed in 2004 (emphasis mine):
In 1999, George W. Bush said we needed to cut taxes because the economy was doing so well that the U.S. Treasury was taking in too much money, and we could afford to give some back to the people who earned it. In 2001, Bush said we needed the same tax cuts because the economy was doing poorly, and we had to return the money so that people would spend and invest it.

Bush's arguments made the wisdom of cutting taxes unfalsifiable. In good times, tax cuts were affordable. In bad times, they were necessary. Whatever happened proved that tax cuts were good policy. When Congress approved the tax cuts, Bush said they would revive the economy. You'd know that the tax cuts had worked, because more people would be working. Three years later, more people aren't working. But in Bush's view, that, too, proves he was right. If more people aren't working, we just need more tax cuts.
Keep flying, Yossarian:
Let me see if I've got this straight: in order to be grounded, I've got to be crazy and I must be crazy to keep flying. But if I ask to be grounded, that means I'm not crazy any more and I have to keep flying.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Arguing for Edwards

A neighbor pointed out that Edwards is the only Democratic candidate with the will and experience to take on big corporate money. It's what he's done for a living.

Lambert makes the same case while addressing Obama's weaknesses. A must-read.

The creature we've created in the form of the public corporation has to be brought back under the control of its creators.

Technology -- whether political, scientific or legal -- may be used for good or for evil. There are enough cautionary tales set in the public consciousness about all three to give us pause: Terminator, Resident Evil, Aliens.

The age-old question is who is to be slave and who the master? Is government by the people or by the corporation in our future? Corporate interests are designed to serve their own interests, not ours. While extolling the benefits of globalization, unfettered markets and the global consumer paradise that awaits, in the end, are they really that likely To Serve Man?

Edwards seems to be the only one of the current Democratic crop likely to reprise Teddy Roosevelt and bring our creations to heel again.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Not available in stores

On Christmas Eve, two stories on NPR's Morning Edition celebrated the embrace of American consumer Christmas traditions in Turkey (99% Muslim) and India (80% Hindu). Red Santa hats, Christmas trees, and English-speaking, Jingle Bells-singing Chinese Santa dolls are appearing in Istanbul shopping malls and New Dehli street-vendor stalls.

Together, the stories conjured images of the Tyrell Corporation's Los Angeles, with its Latino/Asian/Anglo cultural blend and brightly lit blimps displaying Japanese advertising.

A happy Blade Runner Christmas to all, and to all renegade replicants, Good Night.

(Not available in stores . . . yet.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Bottom Line and the Flatline

Thank goodness we don't have "socialized" medicine.
RN's Statement on Death of Nataline Sarkisyan: 'CIGNA Should Have Listened to Her Doctors And Approved the Transplant a Week Ago'

On Dec. 11, four leading physicians, including the surgical director of the Pediatric Liver Transplant Program at UCLA, wrote to CIGNA urging the company to reverse its denial. The physicians said that Nataline “currently meets criteria to be listed as Status 1A” for a transplant. They also challenged CIGNA’s denial which the company said occurred because their benefit plan “does not cover experimental, investigational and unproven services,” to which the doctors replied, “Nataline’s case is in fact none of the above.”

[. . .]

CNA/NNOC Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro called the final outcome "a horrific tragedy that demonstrates what is so fundamentally wrong with our health care system today. Insurance companies have a stranglehold on our health. Their first priority is to make profits for their shareholders – and the way they do that is by denying care."

"It is simply not possible to organize major protests every time a multi-billion corporation like CIGNA denies care that has been recommended by a physician," DeMoro said. “Having insurance is not the same as receiving needed care. We need a fundamental change in our healthcare system that takes control away from the insurance giants and places it where it belongs – in the hands of the medical professionals, the patients, and their families."
Follow the link to Crook's and Liars' ABC video clip. (Quicktime format)

[h/t Crooks and Liars]

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Taking the fight to al Qaeda - NOT!

Saudis biggest group of al Qaeda Iraq fighters: study
The researchers at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center found that 41 percent of the fighters were Saudi nationals.

Libyan nationals accounted for the second largest group entering Iraq in that time period with about 19 percent of the total, followed by Syrians and Yemenis each at 8 percent, Algerians with 7 percent and Moroccans at 6 percent.

[. . .]

"The United States should not confuse gains against al-Qa'ida's Iraqi franchises as fundamental blows against the organization outside of Iraq. So long as al-Qa'ida is able to attract hundreds of young men to join its ranks, it will remain a serious threat to global security."

Not even honest criminals

"After 10 full years inside the GOP, 90 days among honest criminals wasn't really any great ordeal." - former GOP political operative, former penitentiary resident, Allen Raymond, author of "How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Safer in the shallow end

Eric Boehlert on the shallowness of the coverage of the presidential race: It's never the media's fault.

ABC's The Note took Bill Clinton to task for complaining about the media's substance-free coverage of the presidential race. Boehlert observes:
As for Clinton's actual point about campaign coverage being void of substance, The Note never bothered to refute the charge. How could it? The day Clinton made his observation, itself pretty much proved his point when, in a round-up of the day's key Clinton-related news stories, it highlighted one of its own dispatches about how the Clinton campaign had dropped a Celine Dion song as its campaign theme. It presented that breaking news nugget as further proof that it was "another rough stretch for Camp Clinton." No joke. Also, that same day, the artwork for The Note featured a photoshopped image of Clinton dressed up as a man and a photoshopped image of Obama dressed up as a woman. Again, no joke.
Boehlert quotes a survey by Harvard's Center for Public Leadership National Leadership Index:
[T]he press receives the lowest ratings of all. This is troubling, because democracies rely on a vibrant, probing, and trusted press. This year, we dig more deeply into the public's views on news media election coverage. The key finding: Americans' lack of confidence in the press stems from deep unease about bias and editorial content.
According to the survey:
88 percent agree that the news media focuses too much on trivial rather than important issues.
Surely not.

Glenn Greenwald observes today how non-establishment candidates are handled by the establishment-leaning media:
Such outsider candidates begin as the nerdy losers to be held up by our campaign journalists for adolescent, giggly mockery. If their campaigns prosper, they become the target of outright hostility (see, e.g., the media's role in the destruction of Howard Dean's candidacy in 2003). In different ways, that has been the arc of media treatment accorded to Paul, Huckabee and Edwards, all of whose candidacies -- for better or worse -- represent something significant in our political culture, represent direct challenges to prevailing conventional pieties and dominant power centers, and yet (or, rather, therefore) are treated as silly jokes when they are discussed at all.
And the FCC want's McMedia to be able to get bigger and us even dumber:
WASHINGTON - The Federal Communications Commission approved rules yesterday that allow publishers to own both newspapers and broadcast stations in the biggest US cities and that limit growth for cable companies.

Chairman Kevin Martin and the other two Republicans on the five-member panel backed the loosened rules for newspaper owners, which modify a ban adopted in 1975. Martin joined the agency's two Democrats in approving the cable limit.

Publishers Tribune Co. and News Corp. had said the ownership proposal didn't go far enough, while consumer groups said it threatened diversity in local media. The FCC disregarded 25 US senators who vowed in a letter released Monday to block the decision. They said more time is needed to review a policy that has "a substantial impact on the American people."
[h/t Glenn Greenwald]

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Atrios the Wise

After quoting Greenwald on Chris Dodd's success, Atrios puts the naysayers in their places:
One of my pet peeves has long been a certain strain of defeatism. Understandably we all feel defeated at times, but there's a certain kind of defeatist out there on the internets, people who spend most of their time chastising others for thinking it's possible to have any influence and attacking the "stupidity" of those who even bother to try. Maybe those people are right. Maybe there never is anything to be done. But if that's the case, get a new goddamn hobby. It's rather odd to spend all your time following political news and blogs if the only reason to do it is to provide justification for your view that All Is Lost. Just go out and have some fun instead.
Like he said.

Always with the negative waves, Moriarty.

Dodd rocks their world

People power forces Harry Reid to put FISA on the back burner until next year:
All throughout the day, Judiciary Democrats such as Dodd, Edward Kennedy, and Russ Feingold took aim at the bill, even as Reid professed his hope that the Senate would pass the FISA bill today, in advance of its holiday adjournment. Dodd, a margin-of-error presidential candidate, vowed to filibuster the FISA bill on the floor if it granted large telecom companies such as Verizon and AT&T immunity from civil lawsuits for allegedly cooperating with the government. The Intel Committee bill did just that.

But early this evening, Reid surrendered, saying the FISA legislation would be taken up again in January, after the recess.

Watch Dodd's video thanking 500,000 of us for pressuring Harry Reid into pulling the FISA bill from the floor until next year:

Glenn Greenwald:
The most important value of victories of this sort is that they ought to serve as a potent tonic against defeatism, regardless of the ultimate outcome. And successes like this can and should provide a template for how to continue to strengthen these efforts. Yesterday's victory, temporary as it is, shouldn't be over-stated, but it also shouldn't be minimized. All of it stemmed from the spontaneous passion and anger of hundreds of thousands of individuals demanding that telecoms be subject to the rule of law like everyone else. And this effort could have been -- and, with this additional time, still can be -- much bigger and stronger still.
[h/t Glenn Greenwald]

Monday, December 17, 2007

Kennedy got pissed

in the Senate today. And not on alcohol. About FISA. (emphasis mine)
Let’s not forget why we are even talking about this issue. At some point in 2001, the Bush Administration began a massive program of warrantless spying. New reports suggest that the Administration began its warrantless spying even before 9/11. The Administration never told Congress what it was doing. In clear violation of the FISA law and in complete disdain for the 4th Amendment, it also never told the FISA court what it was doing.

[. . .]

There is still a great deal we don’t know about this secret spying, but what we do know is alarming. Numerous reports indicate that it covered not only international communications, but also Americans’ purely local calls with their friends, neighbors, and loved ones. A lawsuit in California has produced evidence that at the government’s request, AT&T installed a supercomputer in a San Francisco facility that copied every communication by its customers, and turned them over to the National Security Agency.

Think about that. The National Security Agency of the Bush Administration may have been intercepting the phone calls and e-mails of millions of ordinary Americans for years.

The surveillance was so flagrantly illegal that even lawyers in the Administration tried to fight it. Nearly 30 Justice Department employees threatened to resign over it. The head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, testified that it was “the biggest legal mess I had ever encountered.”

Mr. Goldsmith himself acknowledged that “top officials in the administration dealt with FISA the way they dealt with other laws they didn’t like: they blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis of the operations.”

Think about that as well. The President’s own head of the Office of Legal Counsel states that the Administration’s policy has been to “blow through” laws it doesn’t like, in secret, so that its actions cannot be challenged. The Bush White House has repeatedly failed to understand that our government is a government of laws, and not of men.

[. . .]

Here’s another fact that no one should lose sight of. From the very beginning, telecommunications companies have always had immunity under FISA when they comply with lawful surveillance requests. In fact, the Senate Judiciary Committee worked closely with AT&T, and the company played a major role in drafting FISA’s immunity provisions in the 1970s.

To be completely protected from any liability whatever, all a company needs under FISA is a court order or an appropriate certification from the Attorney General. That’s it. Just get one of those two documents, and you’re off the hook.

So in this debate, let’s be clear that we’re not talking about protecting companies that complied with lawful surveillance requests. We’re talking about protecting companies that complied with surveillance requests that they knew were illegal.

[. . .]

Some of the telecoms might have been doing what they thought was good for the country. Some of them might simply have been doing what they thought would preserve their lucrative government contracts. We simply don’t know. But either way, it is not the role of telecommunications companies to decide which laws to follow and which to ignore. FISA is a law that was carefully developed over many years to give the Executive Branch the flexibility it needs, while protecting the rights of Americans. It is the companies’ legal duty—and their patriotic duty—to follow that law.

Nothing could be more dangerous for Americans’ privacy and liberty than to weaken that law, which is precisely what retroactive immunity is meant to do. Yesterday’s newspaper disclosed that in December of 2000, the National Security Agency sent the Bush Administration a report asserting that the Agency must become a “powerful, permanent presence” on America’s communications network. A “powerful, permanent presence” on America’s communications network. Under this Administration, that is exactly what the NSA has become. If the phone companies simply do the NSA’s bidding in violation of the law, they create a world in which Americans can never feel confident that their e-mails and phone calls aren’t being tapped by the government.

[. . .]

The President has said that American lives will be sacrificed if Congress does not change FISA. But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retro-active immunity. No immunity, no FISA bill. So if we take the President at his word, he's willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies.

So the telecoms were entrapped by the government into breaking the law, huh?

And they knew it was against the law? (Quest Qwest did too. Except it's legal team said no, get a court order first.)

And now the telecoms should be immune from prosecution because the government instigated it?

Every John, pimp and drug dealer caught in a sting will be demanding that deal.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Most Persuasive Case

from Prof. Amy Chua in today's Washington Post, The Right Road to America?.

Chua examines both sides of the immigration debate and argues for both tolerance and toughness. Read the whole thing, including her prescriptions.
The United States is in no danger of imminent disintegration. But this is because it has been so successful, at least since the Civil War, in forging a national identity strong enough to hold together its widely divergent communities. We should not take this unifying identity for granted.
If there is any value to identity politics, Chua's analysis suggests (indirectly), it lies in America's historic success in "forging an ethnically and religiously neutral national identity" as a means to national cohesion amidst ethnic and religious diversity instead of a " 'white, Christian' identity and what Huntington calls its Anglo-Saxon, Protestant 'core values' ."

Yet, she suggests,
America's glue can be subverted by too much tolerance. Immigration advocates are too often guilty of an uncritical political correctness that avoids hard questions about national identity and imposes no obligations on immigrants. For these well-meaning idealists, there is no such thing as too much diversity.

The right thing for the United States to do -- and the best way to keep Americans in favor of immigration -- is to take national identity seriously while maintaining our heritage as a land of opportunity. U.S. immigration policy should be tolerant but also tough.

Like all Americans, immigrants have a responsibility to contribute to the social fabric. It's up to each immigrant community to fight off an enclave mentality and give back to their new country. It's not healthy for Chinese to hire only Chinese, or Koreans only Koreans. By contrast, the free health clinic set up by Muslim Americans in Los Angeles -- serving the entire poor community -- is a model to emulate. Immigrants are integrated at the moment when they realize that their success is inextricably intertwined with everyone else's. (emphasis mine)
And that's true for each of us.

Just last night we were discussing the merits of mandatory national service for keeping the country out of wars of choice instigated by national leaders without buy-in by the citizenry. Chua's observations suggest its value as "cultural and political glue" as well.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Digby and others wonder why -- given the Bush administration's track record -- there's no introspection among the GOP's leaders about the future of their party. Instead:
They want a living incarnation of the party (Jesus, maybe, if he hated racial minorities and liked torture and tax cuts.)

The problem is that it's not easy to find a walking incarnation of a party based entirely on a dissonant image of narrow regional folkways and aristocratic privilege. Now that the Bush political franchise has been permanently tarnished, you can't just pull one off the shelf.
For a double dose of Digby, there's this:
Here's a little story from a book called "The Genius of the Jewish Joke" by Arthur Asa Berger:
Three Jews were going to be executed. They were lined up in front of a firing squad and the sergeant in charge asked each one whether he wanted a blindfold or not.

"Do you want a blindfold?" he asked the first. "Yes," he said, in a resigned tone.

"Do you want a blindfold?" he asked the second. "Ok," said the second.

"Do you want a blindfold?" he asked the third. "No," said the third.

At this point the second leaned over to the third one and said "Take a blindfold. Don't make trouble."
That's the Democratic electoral strategy in a nutshell.

Who will rid us of these ineffectual pols?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Empire Strikes Out

Jurors Deadlock in 6 of 7 Defendants

Thursday December 13, 2007 8:46 PM


MIAMI (AP) - One of seven Miami men accused of plotting to join forces with al-Qaida to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower was acquitted Thursday, and a mistrial was declared for the six others after the federal jury deadlocked.

The mistrial means prosecutors will have to decide whether to retry the six men.
Too busy chasing vote fraud.

But they're hell at propaganda.

[h/t Brad Blog]

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Civics 101

Watched the president spin the NIE Iran report this week, trying to hype a threat he's known for months the NIE wouldn't confirm.

I was struck by how this administration is a civics lesson in why the Founders gave the power to declare war to the Congress and not to one man. Congress needs to remind them (Bush & Cheney) of that fact before they preempt again.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sex on the City

The name nails it, her, him . . . whatever.