London After Midnight's official blog

This is the blog for Sean Brennan and London After Midnight. For more information please see the LAM website at londonaftermidnight.com.

TwitteriTunesstoreInstagramcommunityYouTubemailFacebookFacebookFacebookamazon

Shop at the LAM store

Friday, August 26, 2011

Republicans Are Racists - Matin Luther King Jr Warned Us - Obama, More Conservative Than Ever - Republicans Wanted to Arm Qadhafi (who we just overthrew) - Fracking and Earthquakes? - Vegan Stuff - Greenwald on Cheney (video)

- On Eve of Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Arizona Republicans Sue to Overturn Voting Rights Act
    It took years for Arizona to recover from right-wing Governor Evan Mecham’s disgraceful act to rescind the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in 1989.Now, on the eve of the unveiling of the national memorial to the civil rights leader in Washington, DC, Attorney General Tom Horne has joined a lone county in Alabama to make Arizona the first state to file a suit against the Obama administration to strike down parts of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 — spurred by the horrific violence encountered by King and civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama — as unconstitutional.
- Hansen Says Obama Will Be 'Greenwashing' About Climate Change if He Approves Keystone XL Pipeline
    NASA scientist James Hansen, who galvanized the environmental movement decades ago with his congressional testimony about the dangers of climate change, said yesterday that President Obama has a rare opportunity to show he is not a "hopeless addict."
    The climatologist, who will appear at the National Press Club on Monday before joining protests at the White House, where he expects to be arrested, told ClimateWire in an email interview that the Keystone XL pipeline awaiting approval from the president is like a dirty needle from a fellow oil addict, Canada.

    The pipeline, if built, would run 1,700 miles from Canada to Texas and bring in a form of crude to the United States that releases more carbon dioxide emissions in the production process than traditional oil.

    "If Obama chooses the dirty needle it will confirm that Obama was just greenwashing all along, like the other well-oiled coal-fired politicians, with no real intention of solving the addiction," Hansen said.
- Obama approves oil pipeline from Alberta tar sands to Texas coast
    The Obama administration gave an important approval yesterday to a controversial pipeline that will pump oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Texas coast.
- Leaked cable: John McCain pushed to arm Qadhafi
    A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable shows that Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain promised to help Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi obtain U.S. military hardware in 2009.
    The cable, released by the open information group WikiLeaks, reveals the pledge came at meeting that was attended by other prominent members of Congress, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
- Secrecy, leaks, and the real criminals Glenn Greenwald
    Shane notes that the government's censorship effort "amounts to a fight over who gets to write the history of the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath," particularly given the imminent publication of a book by CIA agent Jose Rodriguez -- who destroyed the videotapes of CIA interrogations in violation of multiple court orders and subpoenas only to be protected by the Obama DOJ -- that touts the benefits of the CIA's "tough" actions, propagandistically entitled: "Hard Measures: How Aggressive C.I.A. Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives."
- Did Fracking Cause the Virginia Earthquake?
    Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of [fracturing] a rock layer, employing the pressure of a fluid as the source of energy. The fracturing is done from a [hole] drilled into reservoir rock formations, in order to increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas and coal seam gas.
    According to geologists, it isn't the fracking itself that is linked to earthquakes, but the re-injection of waste salt water (as much as 3 million gallons per well) deep into rock beds.
- Bathing Beauty Makes a Splash in Scotland
    ...it takes the equivalent of 50 bathtubs filled with water to produce just one steak."Not only does the meat industry inflict cruelty, it also wastes huge amounts of water and damages the planet," says Megan. "You can't eat meat and be an environmentalist."
- Chris Hayes, Glenn Greenwald Rip Dick Cheney, President Obama (VIDEO)


MLK Warned Us, But Are We Listening?
Published Fri, Aug 26, 2011 at Pink Tank

When a frack-quake cracks the Washington monument just as a memorial for civil rights and anti-war organizer Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is about to be unveiled in the nation’s capital, we hope vacationing members of Congress take note. The military industrial complex that Dr. King and President Eisenhower warned us about has captured all branches of the federal government, in league with for-profit energy corporations scrambling after dwindling fossil fuel resources at the peril of the very planet we live upon. Add a complicit information control industry to the toxic mix, and you have some very deep structural damage to our national foundation.

Dr. King is of course best known for his work to realize a dream where his children would be judged by their character rather than by the color of their skin. He did not live to see an African-American First Family in the White House. As we now know, Dr. King was assassinated after years of FBI surveillance and harassment. His death followed an historic speech at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967 on “Why I Am Opposed To The War In Vietnam.”
There is…a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed that there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, and new beginnings. Then came the build-up in Vietnam. And I watched the program broken as if it was some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money, like some demonic, destructive suction tube.
“Money for war, but can’t feed the poor” is a slogan still chanted in the streets of U.S. cities devastated by recession, high unemployment, police brutality, and failure to invest in public education. The victims of a Congress that allocates over 50% of its discretionary budget to military expenditures are disproportionately Black, Latino and indigenous people. A recent study of women’s net worth found the median for white women was $41,000 as compared with $100 (yup, that’s one hundred dollars) for African-Americans and $120 for Latinas. When the U.S. Conference of Mayors met this summer in Baltimore – a city with 24% of residents receiving SNAP (food stamps) – they sent a  message to Washington DC: stop funding wars and bring the money home to provide urban areas with essential services and infrastructure.

But Washington doesn’t appear to be listening. President Obama is golfing in Martha’s Vineyard, and  eighty-one members of Congress are being wined and dined in Israel by an AIPAC affiliate. A so-called “Super Committee” of twelve legislators is tasked with making budget decisions on behalf of our elected representatives, but all twelve are deep in the pockets of corporations who profit from military contracts. Indications are that Obama will rely more heavily on Wall St. financing for his re-election campaign. What happened to government of, by, and for the people?

Dr. King would no doubt be appalled to see the country he fought so hard to improve galloping toward epic failure. U.S. military “Special Forces” now operate in 70 countries, we have 800+ military bases in other countries, and we’re bombing Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and occupying Iraq. We use depleted uranium weapons, and along with Israel we’re in the vanguard of using drones and other robots to kill innocent civilians.

Dr. King warned that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” His voice has now been silenced. It’s up to the rest of us to restore the voice of the people to the national helm. The common good must take priority over private profit, else spiritual death may be followed swiftly by environmental collapse, and the end of life on Earth. Time to repair the cracks in the nation’s foundation and rein in the military industrial complex now – before it’s too late.

Sean

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A vegetarian's guide to talking to carnivores - Cheney's Criminality - Nukes - Vaccines Safe - Conservatives Rewrite History - Climate Change Will Drive War - more

- The fruits of elite immunity
    Less than three years ago, Dick Cheney was presiding over policies that left hundreds of thousands of innocent people dead from a war of aggression, constructed a worldwide torture regime, and spied on thousands of Americans without the warrants required by law, all of which resulted in his leaving office as one of the most reviled political figures in decades. But thanks to the decision to block all legal investigations into his chronic criminality, those matters have been relegated to mere pedestrian partisan disputes, and Cheney is thus now preparing to be feted -- and further enriched -- as a Wise and Serious Statesman with the release of his memoirs this week: one in which he proudly boasts (yet again) of the very crimes for which he was immunized.  As he embarks on his massive publicity-generating media tour of interviews, Cheney faces no indictments or criminal juries, but rather reverent, rehabilitative tributes, illustrated by this, from Politico today:
    That's what happens when the Government -- marching under the deceitful Orwellian banner of Look Forward, Not Backward -- demands that its citizens avert their eyes from the crimes of their leaders so that all can be forgotten: the crimes become non-crimes, legitimate acts of political choice, and the criminals become instantly rehabilitated by the message that nothing they did warrants punishment.  That's the same reason people like John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales are defending their torture and illegal spying actions not in a courtroom but in a lush conference of elites in Aspen.
- Climate cycles drive civil war
    Natural climate cycles seem to have a striking influence on war and peace around the equator. Tropical countries face double the risk of armed conflict and civil war breaking out during warm, dry El Niño years than during the cooler La Niña phase of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), according to an analysis published today in Nature.
    The study throws light on the hotly contested issue of whether climate change has any notable effect on violence and societal stability, particularly in poor countries.
- Rewrite, Sugarcoat, Ignore: 8 Ways Conservatives Misremember American History—for Partisan Gain
    The mortgage crisis began in 2006 and it’s all President Obama’s fault—at least according to Fox News host Sean Hannity. Hannity recently blamed Obama—“his policies, his economic plan, his fault”—for the mortgage crisis, ignoring who was actually president (that would be George W. Bush) as the housing market slipped.Hannity’s is just one example of the selective memory and historical revision frequently on display in the conservative movement.
- WikiLeaks cables reveal fears over China's nuclear safety
    Cables highlight US lobbying and say that cheap, out-of-date technology is 'vastly increasing' risk of nuclear accident
- Vaccines still safe, non-celebrities with medical expertise report
    ...there is no link whatsoever between the M.M.R. vaccine and autism. “The M.M.R. vaccine doesn’t cause autism, and the evidence is overwhelming that it doesn’t,” said Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton, who knows what she's talking about despite not being a celebrity.
- This Labor Day We Need Protest Marches Rather than Parades
    Perhaps there would still be something to celebrate on Labor Day if government was coming to the rescue. But Washington is paralyzed, the President seems unwilling or unable to take on labor-bashing Republicans, and several Republican governors are mounting direct assaults on organized labor (see Indiana, Ohio, Maine, and Wisconsin, for example).
    So let’s bag the picnics and parades this Labor Day. American workers should march in protest. They’re getting the worst deal they’ve had since before Labor Day was invented – and the economy is suffering as a result.


A vegetarian's guide to talking to carnivores
If you decide to quit eating meat, you'll need to brace yourself for these absurd arguments
By David Sirota
Published Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at Salon.com

Following my recent column about vegetarianism, I received a wave of hate mail from meat eaters. This came as no surprise -- as food has finally become a political issue in America (as it should), some carnivores have become increasingly aggressive toward anyone or any fact that even vaguely prompts them to critically consider their culinary habit. Although the stereotype imagines vegetarians sententiously screaming at any meat eater they see at the lunch counter or dinner table, I've found quite the opposite to be true. In my personal life, I go out of my way to avoid talking about my vegetarianism while I'm eating with friends, family or work colleagues, but nonetheless regularly find myself being interrogated by carnivores when they happen to notice that I'm not wolfing down a plate of meat.

Having been a vegetarian for more than a decade now, and having been raised in a family of proud meat eaters, I'm going to use this space to publish a brief primer for both vegetarians and those who are considering vegetarianism -- a primer on what kind of blowback you should expect to face when you are forced to publicly explain your personal dietary decision, and what succinct, fact-based responses are most appropriate when confronting the tired cliches that will be thrown at you from enraged carnivores.

Carefully Consider Your Public Explanation Before Speaking
 
To those thinking about becoming vegetarians and those who have recently become vegetarians, you should spend some time figuring out what your public rationale will be when asked -- and you should consider that question separate from what your actual rationale is. Why? Because regardless of why you really decided to become a vegetarian, how you publicly explain your choice will almost guarantee the kind of reaction you will get.

Today, there are three levels of explanation that generally generate three distinct reactions from carnivores on a sliding continuum that runs from completely accepting all the way to belligerently hostile.

The first -- and safest -- public explanation is personal health. With science telling us that meat eating is linked to heart disease, cancer, obesity, E.coli poisoning, Salmonella poisoning, Mad Cow disease and other such ailments, this rationale is the one that's most easily accepted by angry carnivores because it doesn't imply judgment. It allows meat eaters to rationalize their flesh consuming fetish by telling themselves that what may not be healthy for you is perfectly healthy for them. It probably isn't, of course, especially if the meat eater you are talking to is an average American consuming the typical (and unfathomably huge) 194 pounds of flesh a year. But that's beside the point.
The second public explanation you can offer is environmentalism. Again, the science is clear and overwhelming.

Meat protein takes an obscene amount of energy to produce compared with vegetable protein. As Cornell University reports, "Animal protein production requires more than eight times as much fossil-fuel energy than production of plant protein while yielding animal protein that is only 1.4 times more nutritious for humans than the comparable amount of plant protein." Meanwhile, meat production generates huge amounts of toxic waste (Google "hog farm" and "lagoon" for a taste). This is why the United Nations has called the meat industry -- and therefore, meat eating -- "one of the ... most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global."

However, with the environmental rationale, you are likely to get at least some vitriol from carnivores because it does imply a level of judgment. When you say you are a vegetarian because you want to do right by the planet, it implies that the person across the table who is happily shoving that bloody steak down his throat doesn't really care about the environment.

The third public explanation you can use (and the one I use because I feel so strongly about it) is morality -- but beware: This is almost guaranteed to get you screamed at because it's seen as a direct judgment of the meat eaters' personal value system.

So, when you are inevitably asked about your vegetarianism, any hint that you don't want to eat meat because you don't want an animal to have to die for your palate will likely get you either condescendingly ridiculed as a tree-hugging hippie or viciously attacked as an arrogant, conceited holier-than-thou freak.

Typically, this will involve all sorts of laughably labyrinthine arguments from carnivores. They'll insist that because you sometimes swat mosquitos, you're a self-delusional hypocrite, and that because they have enough guts to buy nice vacuum-sealed packets of bloodless, viscera-free pre-killed beef at the supermarket, they are the truly moral, consistent and courageously honest heroes of the food world. Some will further insist that they only eat "humane" meat, and that they are therefore actually making a more "humane" decision than many vegetarians who ever dare to eat non-organic vegetables. Based on consumer statistics, though, this is, in almost all cases, a total lie -- only a tiny sliver of meat eaters eat "humane" meat. And regardless, the "humane" meat argument doesn't really address your central rationale because, of course, a grass-fed cow, free-range chicken and wild-caught fish all have to be slaughtered for someone to enjoy a meal out of them.

Quick Answers to Typical Attacks On Vegetarians
 
As I said, in reaction to my recent column about raising my son in a vegetarian family, I received a flood of predictable hate mail, calling me everything from a weak unmanly eunuch to a child abuser to Adolf Hitler (no joke -- we'll get to that in a second). The following is an amalgam of these carnivore-defending banalities, and some easy retorts vegetarians can use to answer them.

Carnivore Justification: Because humans have incisors and stomachs that can digest meat, we must eat meat -- and to raise a child in a vegetarian household is akin to child abuse.

Vegetarian Response: The human body can eat and digest lots of things. It can, for example, chew up and digest other humans. It can also eat animals while those animals are still alive. In most cases, we refrain from doing these things. Why? Because "civilization" means recognizing that just because we can do something doesn't mean we must do something.

Carnivore Justification: Humans have been eating meat for thousands of years, so we simply must continue the tradition.

Vegetarian Response: While this is technically true, we haven't been eating the American average of 194 pounds of meat every year for thousands of years. We've been eating significantly less. Additionally, humans have done lots of things for most of human history that we now choose not to do. A few examples: for most of human history we've embraced the institution of slavery, treated women like property, engaged in mass genocide and permitted all forms of monstrous public torture/execution. While this kind of thing still happens in a few shadowy corners of the globe, for the most part, civilization has largely deemed it no longer acceptable. In other words, just because we've done something in the past, doesn't mean we should continue doing it without question.

Carnivore Justification: Being a meat eater makes humans stronger and men more manly -- and being a vegetarian physically weakens people and makes men into wimps. Therefore, we must eat meat.

Vegetarian Response: Of course, the average meat-obsessed American fatty is obviously more manly than and could clearly beat up (among others) NFL running back Ricky Williams, clean-up slugger Prince Fielder, MMA fighter Mac Danzig, and, of course, that classic embodiment of wimpiness, Mike Tyson.

Carnivore Justification: Vegetarianism is exclusively a "rich person issue" or a "white person issue" of a "First World problem" but just not that important if you purport to care about poor people.

Vegetarian Response: Tell that to the global poor, who are disproportionately not rich and not white, and who will be disproportionately harmed by global climate change. That environmental disaster, of course, is intensified by the carbon-emissions-intensive meat industry. Additionally, as Cornell University has reported, "If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million." In light of persistent starvation crises, it's more than a little silly for carnivores to pretend vegetarianism is a form of limousine elitism.

Carnivore Justification: Animals are just glorified crops -- killing them is as humane as cutting down an ear of corn.

Vegetarian Response: There's no real right or wrong answer here, because the notion of "humane" is inherently subjective. However, it's more than a little bit telling that few, if any, Americans use this rationale as a justification for eating their pet dog, which is not nearly as smart, cognizant as, say, a pig. Indeed, the idea that animals with a brain and central nervous system are on the same intelligence and self-awareness plane as a plant is not only belied by science, but is so non-sensical as to be humiliating for the person making the argument.

Carnivore Justification: Hitler was supposedly a vegetarian, so that must mean vegetarianism is a form of Nazism (yes, I really did get emails making this argument).

Vegetarian Response: First of all, it's not really clear that Hitler was actually a vegetarian. But even if he was, Hitler also wore boots. And went to the bathroom. And had a mustache. So unless you are willing to say that anyone who wears boots, goes to the bathroom or sports a mustache is a genocidal Nazi, this line of argument is silly.

Carnivore Justification: Some people, such Eskimos who fish or Mongolians who hunt, are forced by geographic circumstance to eat meat in order to subsist. Therefore, making moral judgments about all meat eating is a form of ethnocentric relativism.

Vegetarian Response: By this logic, because the plane crash survivors in "Alive" had to embrace cannibalism in order to survive, we shouldn't be offended by anyone becoming cannibals in the future.

Carnivore Justification: It's better for the environment to eat a locally-raised, grass-fed steak than it is to eat beans flown in from halfway across the world.

Vegetarian Response: This is what magicians refer to as "misdirection" or linguists call a "non-sequitur" -- it's an attention-grabbing talking point that seems wholly impervious to challenge, but that's really an unrelated distraction. After all, you would also be right to say that it's better for the environment to eat a locally-raised beans in your garden than it is to eat a steak flown in from halfway across the globe. The fact remains that when comparing apples to apples (or apples to hulking sides of beef, as it were), locally grown beans are inherently less expensive, less energy intensive and less carbon emitting to produce than any form of locally grown meat.

Carnivore Justification: Humans must eat meat to get enough protein to be healthy.

Vegetarian Response: Arguably, those with extremely severe cases of iron deficiency anemia and some other very rare conditions might be able to stake a tiny claim to this argument, but almost everyone else cannot. There is no definitive scientific evidence that shows humans need to eat meat to survive. This is especially true in developed nations like the United States, where plant protein is widely available, and often more affordable than meat protein.

UPDATE: A number of commenters have said what commenter Jeffrey P. Harrison said: "I am a carnivore [and] it's none of your damned business." This is usually where the conversation with angry, over-aggressive carnivores ends up -- with the carnivore going libertarian, refusing to discuss the substance and science of food decisions, other than to declare it an entirely "personal choice." The problem, of course, is that these decisions are everyone's business when they threaten our collective air, water and ecosystem, as meat eating disproportionately does (as shown above). Indeed, trite "live and let live" platitudes sound great in theory, but they aren't applicable in the case of food -- and specifically when meat eaters' culinary obsessions are unduly threatening the planet's future.
  • David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com. More: David Sirota

Sean

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

US Media Warps Everything - War $$$- Why We Fight: Libya's Oil - LEDs - Climate Change - Earthquakes and Nuke Plants - Remembering the Iraq War Cheerleaders - Verizon Sucks

- The Scramble for Access to Libya’s Oil Wealth Begins
    The fighting is not yet over in Tripoli, but the scramble to secure access to Libya’s oil wealth has already begun.
- A progressive case for Obama's foreign policy greatness? Glenn Greenwald
    I'm genuinely astounded at the pervasive willingness to view what has happened in Libya as some sort of grand triumph even though virtually none of the information needed to make that assessment is known yet, including: how many civilians have died, how much more bloodshed will there be, what will be needed to stabilize that country and, most of all, what type of regime will replace Gadaffi?
- For Energy Savings, LEDs Outshine Solar Panels
    A new report finds that replacing old lightbulbs with light-emitting diodes offers more energy savings than installing photovoltaics... [recently, in an effort to stir up their ignorant and naturally angry and paranoid base of voters, Republicans have been attacking calls to phase out energy inefficient lighting citing the "freedom to chose" when buying light bulbs. MORONS]
- Penn State climate-change researcher cleared of misconduct
     An investigation by the National Science Foundation has found no evidence of wrongdoing or misconduct by Penn State climate-change researcher Michael Mann.Mann, Penn State professor of meteorology, was the target of accusations from climate-change skeptics after thousands of e-mails exchanged between climate-change researchers were hacked from the University of East Anglia and made public.
- Regulators aware for years of understated seismic risks to nuclear plants
    Nearly six years before an earthquake ravaged Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, U.S. regulators came to a sobering realization: seismic risks to nuclear plants in the eastern two-thirds of the country were greater than had been suspected, and engineers might have to rethink reactor designs.
- What are the risks of an earthquake beneath a reactor near you?
    U.S. regulators knew for years that seismic risks to some nuclear reactors are greater than anticipated when built. But regulators haven't settled on new safety standards for the plants...
- Pentagon spending: Just how safe are you?
    The killing of Osama bin Laden did not put cuts in national security spending on the table, but the debt-ceiling debate finally did. And mild as those projected cuts might have been, recently minted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was already digging in his heels and decrying the modest potential cost-cutting plans as a "doomsday mechanism" for the military. Pentagon allies on Capitol Hill were similarly raising the alarm as they moved forward with this year's even larger military budget.None of this should surprise you. As with all addictions, once you're hooked on massive military spending, it's hard to think realistically or ask the obvious questions. So, at a moment when discussion about cutting military spending is actually on the rise for the first time in years, let me offer some little known basics about the spending spree this country has been on since September 11, 2001, and raise just a few simple questions about what all that money has actually bought Americans.
- The Final Word Is Hooray! Remembering the Iraq War's Pollyanna pundits
    Weeks after the invasion of Iraq began, Fox News Channel host Brit Hume delivered a scathing speech critiquing the media's supposedly pessimistic assessment of the Iraq War.
    "The majority of the American media who were in a position to comment upon the progress of the war in the early going, and even after that, got it wrong," Hume complained in the April 2003 speech (Richmond Times Dispatch, 4/25/04). "They didn't get it just a little wrong. They got it completely wrong."

    Hume was perhaps correct--but almost entirely in the opposite sense. Days or weeks into the war, commentators and reporters made premature declarations of victory, offered predictions about lasting political effects and called on the critics of the war to apologize. Three years later, the Iraq War grinds on at the cost of at least tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

    Around the same time as Hume's speech, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas declared (4/16/03): "All of the printed and voiced prophecies should be saved in an archive. When these false prophets again appear, they can be reminded of the error of their previous ways and at least be offered an opportunity to recant and repent. Otherwise, they will return to us in another situation where their expertise will be acknowledged, or taken for granted, but their credibility will be lacking."

    Gathered here are some of the most notable media comments from the early days of the Iraq War.
- Dark Horizon for Verizon Ralph Nader
    The most recent illustration of this three-decade reversal of nearly a century of American economic advances for employees is the numerous demands by Verizon [phone company].


[Not that dogs aren't important, but...]
American Dogs Count More Than Afghan People
Helicopter Shootdown Story Unmasks Bigoted Media
by Ted Rall
Published on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

New York Times war correspondent Dexter Filkins couldn't help liking the young American soldiers with whom he was embedded in U.S.-occupied Iraq. Recognizing that, Filkins tried to maintain some professional distance. "There wasn't any point in sentimentalizing the kids; they were trained killers, after all. They could hit a guy at five hundred yards or cut his throat from ear-to-ear. They had faith, they did what they were told and they killed people," he wrote in his book of war vignettes, "The Forever War."

Alas, he was all but alone.

All wars demand contempt for The Other. But the leaders of a country waging a war of naked, unprovoked aggression are forced to rely on an even higher level of enemy dehumanization than average in order to maintain political support for the sacrifices they require. Your nation's dead soldiers are glorious heroes fallen to protect hearth and home. Their dead soldiers are criminals and monsters. Their civilians are insects, unworthy of notice. So it is. So it always shall be in the endless battle over hearts and minds.

Even by these grotesque, inhuman rhetorical standards, the ten-year occupation of Afghanistan has been notable for the hyperbole relied upon by America's compliant media as well as its brazen inconsistency.

U.S. and NATO officials overseeing the occupation of Afghanistan liken their mission to those of peacekeepers--they're there to help. "Protecting the people is the mission," reads the first line of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Commander's Counterinsurgency Guidance statement. "The conflict will be won by persuading the population, not by destroying the enemy. ISAF will succeed when the [Karzai government] earns the support of the people."

Of course, actions speak louder than words. Since 2001 ISAF has been doing precious little protecting of anything than America's geopolitical interests, using Afghanistan as a staging ground for thousands of drone attacks across the border in Pakistan. Protecting Afghanistan civilians has actually been a low ISAF priority, to say the least. They've been bombing civilians indiscriminately, then lying about it, sometimes paying off bereaved family members with token sums of blood money.

The verbiage deployed by American officials, dutifully transcribed by journo-stenographers at official press briefings, sends nearly as loud a message as a laser-guided Hellfire missile slamming into a wedding party: Afghan lives mean nothing.

The life of an American dog--literally, as we'll see below--counts more than that of an Afghan man or woman.

In the worst single-day loss of life for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Taliban fighters shot down a Chinook CH-47 transport helicopter in eastern Wardak province with a rocket-propelled grenade on August 6th.

(I lifted that "worst single-day loss of life" phrase from numerous press accounts. The implication is obvious--the U.S. isn't accustomed to taking losses. But tens of thousands of Afghans, possibly hundreds of thousands, have been killed in the war that began in 2001.)
Western media's attitude toward the Afghans they are supposedly trying to "assist" was as plain as the headlines. "U.S. Troops, SEALs Killed in Afghanistan Copter Crash," reported Timemagazine. (SEALS are U.S. Navy commandos.) "31 Killed in Afghanistan Chopper Crash," said the ABC television network. "31 Dead in Afghanistan Helicopter Crash," shouted Canada's National Post. (The number was later revised to 30.)

Eight Afghan government commandos died too. But dead Afghans don't rate a headline--even when they're working for your country's puppet regime. As far as the American press is concerned, only 30 people--i.e., Americans--died.

An initial Associated Press wire service report noted that the dead included "22 SEALs, three Air Force air controllers, seven Afghan Army troops, a dog and his handler, and a civilian interpreter, plus the helicopter crew."

The dog. They mentioned the dog.

And the dog's handler.

After 9/11 American pundits debated the question: Why do they [radical Muslims] hate us [Americans] so much? This is why. It is official Pentagon policy not to count Afghan or Iraqi or Pakistani or Libyan or Yemeni or Somali dead, civilian or "enemy." But "our" guys are sacred. We even count our dogs.

Lest you think that I'm exaggerating, that this was merely another example of a reporters larding his account with excessive detail, consider this maudlin missive by Michael Daly of the New York Daily News, one of the biggest newspapers in the United States:

"Among the SEALs were a dog handler and a dog that would remind outsiders of Cujo [a rabies-infected beast in one of Stephen King's horror novels], but held a special place in the hearts of the squadron," wrote Daly "SEALs have a soft spot for their dogs, perhaps partly because a canine's keen senses can alert them to danger and give them a critical edge. A dog also allows resolutely reticent warriors to express a little affection; you can pet a pooch, if not another SEAL."

Get a grip, Mike. Lots of people like dogs.

"Many of the SEALs have a dog stateside," continueth Daly. "To take one on a mission may be like bringing along something of home."

Or maybe they just come in handy for Abu Ghraib-style interrogations.

Daly tortures and twists his cheesy prose into the kind of savage propaganda that prolongs a war the U.S. can't win, that is killing Afghans and Americans for no reason, that most Americans prefer not to think about. Soon a group of elite commandos--members of Team Six, the same outfit that assassinated Osama bin Laden--become helpless victims of the all-seeing, all-powerful Taliban of Death. In Daly's bizarre world, it is the Afghan resistance forces and their 1980s-vintage weapons that have all the advantages.

Note the infantile use of the phrase "bad guys."

"The bad guys knew when the Chinook helicopter swooped down into an Afghan valley that it would have to rise once those aboard were done. All the Taliban needed to do was wait on a mountainside. The Chinook rose with a SEAL contingent that likely could have held off thousands of the enemy on the ground. The SEALs could do nothing in the air against an insurgent with a rocket."

Helpless! One could almost forget whose country these Americans were in.

Or what they were in Wardak to do.

Early reports had the dead Navy SEALs on a noble "rescue mission" to "assist" beleaguered Army Rangers trapped under "insurgent" fire. Actually, Team Six was on an assassination assignment.

"The American commandos who died when their helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan were targeting a Taliban commander directly responsible for attacks on U.S. troops," CNN television reported on August 7th. "Targeting" is mediaspeak for "killing." According to some accounts they had just shot eight Talibs in a house in the village of Jaw-e-Mekh Zareen in the Tangi Valley. Hard to imagine, but U.S. soldiers used to try to capture enemy soldiers before killing them.

Within hours newspaper websites, radio and television outlets were choked with profiles of the dead assassins--er, heroes.

The AP described a dead SEAL from North Carolina as "physically slight but ever ready to take on a challenge."

NBC News informed viewers that a SEAL from Connecticut had been "an accomplished mountaineer, skier, pilot and triathlete and wanted to return to graduate school and become an astronaut."

What of the Afghans killed by those SEALs? What of their hopes and dreams? Americans will never know.

Two words kept coming up:

Poignant.

Tragedy (and tragic).

The usage was strange, outside of normal context, and revealing.

"Of the 30 Americans killed, 22 were members of an elite Navy SEAL team, something particularly poignant given it was Navy SEALS who succeeded so dramatically in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden," said Renee Montaigne of National Public Radio, a center-right outlet that frequently draws fire from the far right for being too liberal.

Ironic, perhaps. But hardly poignant. Soldiers die by the sword. Ask them. They'll tell you.
Even men of the cloth wallowed in the bloodthirsty militarism that has obsessed Americans since the September 11th attacks. Catholic News Service quoted Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, who called the Chinook downing a "reminder of the terrible tragedy of war and its toll on all people."

"No person of good will is left unmoved by this loss," said the archbishop.

The Taliban, their supporters, and not a few random Afghans, may perhaps disagree.
This isa war, after all. Is it too much to ask the media to acknowledge the simple fact that some citizens of a nation under military occupation often choose to resist? That Americans might take up arms if things were the other way around, with Afghan occupation forces bombing and killing and torturing willy-nilly? That one side's "insurgent" "guerillas" are another's patriots and freedom fighters?

Don't news consumers have the right to hear from the "other" side of the story? Or must we continue the childish pretense that the Taliban are all women-hating fanatics incapable of rational thought while the men (and dog) who died on that Chinook in Wardak were all benevolent and pure of heart?

During America's war in Vietnam reporters derided the "five o'clock follies," daily press briefings that increasingly focused on body counts. Evening news broadcasts featured business-report-style graphics of the North and South Vietnamese flags; indeed, they immediately followed the stock market summary. "The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 16 points in light trading," Walter Cronkite would intone. "And in Vietnam today, 8 Americans were killed, 18 South Vietnamese, 43 Vietcong."

Like the color-coded "threat assessment levels" issued by the Department of Homeland Security after 2001, the body counts became a national joke.

In many ways America's next major conflict, the 1991 Gulf War, was a political reaction to the Vietnam experience. Conscription had been replaced by a professional army composed of de facto mercenaries recruited from the underclass. Overkill supplanted the war for hearts and minds that defined the late-Vietnam counterinsurgency strategy. And reporters who had enjoyed near total freedom in the 1960s were frozen out. Only a few trusted journos were allowed to travel with American forces in Kuwait and Iraq. They relied on the Pentagon to transmit their stories back home; one wire service reporter got back home to find that the military had blocked every single account he had filed.

Citing the five o'clock follies of Vietnam and declaring themselves incapable of counting civilian or enemy casualties, U.S. military officials said they would no longer bother to try. (Covertly, the bureaucracy continued to try to gather such data for internal use.)
Meanwhile, media organizations made excuses for not doing their jobs.

The UK Guardian, actually one of the better (i.e. not as bad) Western media outlets, summarized the mainstream view in August 2010: "While we are pretty good at providing detailed statistical breakdowns of coalition military casualties (and by we, I mean the media as a whole), we've not so good at providing any kind of breakdown of Afghan civilian casualties…Obviously, collecting accurate statistics in one of the most dangerous countries in the world is difficult. But the paucity of reliable data on this means that one of the key measures of the war has been missing from almost all reporting. You've noticed it too--asking us why we publish military deaths but not civilian casualties."

No doubt, war zones are dangerous. According to Freedom Forum, 63 reporters lost their lives in Vietnam between 1955 and 1973--yet they strived to bring the war home to homes in the United States and other countries. And they didn't just report military deaths.

There's something more than a little twisted about media accounts that portray a helicopter shootdown as a "tragedy."

A baby dies in a fire--that's a tragedy. A young person struck down by some disease--that's also a tragedy. Soldiers killed in war? Depending on your point of view, it can be sad. It can be unfortunate. It can suck. But it's not tragic.

Alternately: If the United States' losses in Afghanistan are "tragedies," so are the Taliban's. They can't have it both ways.

"Tragedy Devastates Special Warfare Community," blared a headline in USA Today. You'd almost have to laugh at the over-the-top cheesiness, the self-evident schmaltz, the crass appeal to vacuous emotionalism, in such ridiculous linguistic contortions. That is, if it didn't describe something truly tragic--the death and mayhem that accompanies a pointless and illegal war.

On August 10th the U.S. military reported that they had killed the exact Talib who fired the RPG that brought down the Chinook. "Military officials said they tracked the insurgents after the attack, but wouldn't clarify how they knew they had killed the man who had fired the fatal shot," reported The Wall Street Journal.

"The conflict will be won by persuading the population, not by destroying the enemy." But destroying the enemy is more fun.

Sean

Friday, August 19, 2011

Research says Conservatives Are Mean and Selfish- Research Shows Tea Partiers Are Racist - Obama Copies Bush - Record Losses from Extreme Weather - Conservatives Lie About Green Energy - Glenn Beck Pays Rally Attendees? - DOGS! - Dumb Fish - Star Trek...

- Crashing the Tea Party
    Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party’s “origin story.” Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.
    What’s more, contrary to some accounts, the Tea Party is not a creature of the Great Recession. Many Americans have suffered in the last four years, but they are no more likely than anyone else to support the Tea Party. And while the public image of the Tea Party focuses on a desire to shrink government, concern over big government is hardly the only or even the most important predictor of Tea Party support among voters.

    So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.
- Obama v. Bush on power over Congress
    The criticism isn't that Obama tried but failed to stave off austerity policies, a public-option-free entrenchment of the private health insurance industry, the preservation of indefinite detention or similar "centrist"/right/corporatist policies; it's that his lack of fight against them (or his affirmative fight for them) shows he craves those outcomes (just as nobody forced him to continue the vast bulk of the Bush/Cheney Terrorism approach he (and most Democrats) once so vehemently denounced).
- Symptoms of the Bush-Obama Presidency
    Is it too soon to speak of the Bush-Obama presidency?The record shows impressive continuities between the two administrations, and nowhere more than in the policy of “force projection” in the Arab world. With one war half-ended in Iraq, but another doubled in size and stretching across borders in Afghanistan; with an expanded program of drone killings and black-ops assassinations, the latter glorified in special ceremonies of thanksgiving (as they never were under Bush); with the number of prisoners at Guantanamo having decreased, but some now slated for permanent detention; with the repeated invocation of “state secrets” to protect the government from charges of war crimes; with the Patriot Act renewed and its most dubious provisions left intact -- the Bush-Obama presidency has sufficient self-coherence to be considered a historical entity with a life of its own.
- U.S. sees growing losses from extreme weather
    The United States has already tied its yearly record for billion-dollar weather disasters and the cumulative tab from floods, tornadoes and heat waves has hit $35 billion, the National Weather Service said Wednesday.
- A watershed moment for Obama on climate change
    The issue is simple: We want the president to block construction of Keystone XL, a pipeline that would carry oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta down to the Gulf of Mexico. We have, not surprisingly, concerns about potential spills and environmental degradation from construction of the pipeline. But those tar sands are also the second-largest pool of carbon in the atmosphere, behind only the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. If we tap into them in a big way, NASA climatologist James Hansen explained in a paper issued this summer, the emissions would mean it's "essentially game over" for the climate. That's why the executive directors of many environmental groups and 20 of the country's leading climate scientists wrote letters asking people to head to Washington for the demonstrations. In scientific terms, it's as close to a no-brainer as you can get.
- Architectures of violence: Famine and profits
    This isn't merely an academic matter about accurate reporting. Images of suffering are not "passive illustrations", as Susan Moeller insists, but "ideological constructions designed to justify national ideals resonant today". The portrayal of the passive victim enables NGOs and Western governments to assume the role of rescuer without having to ask uncomfortable questions about their own complicity in the suffering that is unfolding. The "send in the blankets and food" response may indeed save lives in the short term, but it certainly will do nothing to address the deeper inequalities that produce famine in the first place.
- Did Tenet Hide Key Info on 9/11?
    With few exceptions, like some salacious rumor about the Kennedy family, the mainstream U.S. news media has shown little interest in stories that throw light on history — even recent, very relevant history. So it comes as no surprise that, when a former White House counter-terrorism czar accuses an ex-CIA director of sitting on information that could have prevented a 9/11 attack, the story gets neither ink nor air.Bulletin for those of you who get your information only from the New York Times, the Washington Post and other outlets of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM): Former White House director for counterterrorism Richard Clarke has accused former CIA Director George Tenet of denying him and others access to intelligence that could have thwarted the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11.
- Koch Brothers Fund Bogus Study Bashing Offshore Wind in New Jersey
    Not content with the efforts of their group Americans For Prosperity to convince Gov. Chris Christie to derail New Jersey’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, the Koch brothers have also ramped up their efforts to ensure New Jersey’s air quality continues to live up to its historic [dirty] reputation. Last month, the Koch-subsidized Beacon Hill Institute, or BHI, released the latest in a series of slanted cost-benefit analyses of offshore wind energy.
    The report, proudly touted on the AFP website, misses the mark on both sides of the ledger by dramatically overstating the costs and underestimating the economic benefits of offshore wind. According to CAP Economist Adam Hersh, such accounting is “like trying to balance your checkbook without entering all the bills you pay or all the deposits you make.”
- Koch Brothers Fund Bogus Study Bashing Offshore Wind in New Jersey
    Not content with the efforts of their group Americans For Prosperity to convince Gov. Chris Christie to derail New Jersey’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, the Koch brothers have also ramped up their efforts to ensure New Jersey’s air quality continues to live up to its historic [dirty] reputation. Last month, the Koch-subsidized Beacon Hill Institute, or BHI, released the latest in a series of slanted cost-benefit analyses of offshore wind energy.
    The report, proudly touted on the AFP website, misses the mark on both sides of the ledger by dramatically overstating the costs and underestimating the economic benefits of offshore wind. According to CAP Economist Adam Hersh, such accounting is “like trying to balance your checkbook without entering all the bills you pay or all the deposits you make.”
- Are ’supporters’ being hired to attend Glenn Beck rally?
    The uber-conservative Christian Zionist commentator Glenn Beck has arrived in Israel. He will hold his “Restoring Courage” rally in Jerusalem on August 24.I emailed the contact listed. I included the link to the ad and asked a straightforward question: “will you be paying people for their participation in this event?”

    I received a response from Jonny Daniels—Senior Advisor to MK Danny Danon (Likud)—who wrote “Depends where you are from.” So, in other words, that means at least some of those who attend might be getting paid to do so.
- The 10 Commandments From a Dog's Perspective
    1. My life is likely to last 10 to 15 years. Any separation from you will be very painful.2. Give me time to understand what you want of me.
    3. Place your trust in me – it's crucial to my well-being.
    4. Don't be angry with me for long, and don't lock me up as punishment. You have your work, your friends, your entertainment. I have only you.
    5. Talk to me. Even if I don't understand your words, I understand your voice.
    6. Be aware that however you treat me, I will never forget it.
    7. Before you hit me, remember that I have teeth that could easily crush the bones in your hand, but I choose not to bite you.
    8. Before you scold me for being lazy or uncooperative, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I've been out in the sun too long or my heart may be getting old.
    9. Take care of me when I get old. You, too, will grow old.
    10. Go with me on difficult journeys. Never say, "I can't bear to watch it" or "Let it happen in my absence." Everything is easier for me if you are there. Remember, I love you.
- CO2 Makes Fish Dumb
    To survive the complex, often-dangerous environment of a coral reef, the colorful reef fish Neopomacentrus azysron has to be a clever fish. Like many intelligent animals, it uses the right and left hemispheres of its brain for different purposes, which allows for quick problem-solving. But this reef fish could be in danger of losing its smarts as levels of CO2 in the ocean continue to rise due to human activity, according to a new study.
- Jordan's King Abdullah II Is Creating Star Trek Theme Park
    Rubicon Group Holding (RGH), a diversified global entertainment organization producing innovative digital animated content and location-based attractions, will design and produce The Red Sea Astrarium (TRSA), a 184-acre themed entertainment resort located in Aqaba, Jordan, which, through a license from CBS Consumer Products, will prominently feature an amazing attraction inspired by the 2009 international hit motion picture, Star Trek.
- Team Hampton Roads at Brave New Voices * Brave New Voices website


The Empathy Ceiling: The Rich Are Different - And Not In a Good Way, Studies Suggest
The 'Haves' show less empathy than 'Have-nots'
by Brian Alexander
Published on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 by MSNBC

Psychologist and social scientist Dacher Keltner says the rich really are different, and not in a good way: Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish.

Lissette Gutierrez chose a pair of $1,495 Christian Louboutin shoes at Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan. An article called “Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm,” published this week in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, argues that rich people are more likely to think about themselves. Because the rich gloss over the ways family connections, money and education helped, they come to denigrate the role of government and vigorously oppose taxes to fund it. (Deidre Schoo for The New York Times) 

In fact, he says, the philosophical battle over economics, taxes, debt ceilings and defaults that are now roiling the stock market is partly rooted in an upper class "ideology of self-interest."

“We have now done 12 separate studies measuring empathy in every way imaginable, social behavior in every way, and some work on compassion and it’s the same story,” he said. “Lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it.”

In an academic version of a Depression-era Frank Capra movie, Keltner and co-authors of an article called “Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm,” published this week in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, argue that “upper-class rank perceptions trigger a focus away from the context toward the self….”

In other words, rich people are more likely to think about themselves. “They think that economic success and political outcomes, and personal outcomes, have to do with individual behavior, a good work ethic,” said Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Because the rich gloss over the ways family connections, money and education helped, they come to denigrate the role of government and vigorously oppose taxes to fund it.
“I will quote from the Tea Party hero Ayn Rand: “‘It is the morality of altruism that men have to reject,’” he said.

Whether or not Keltner is right, there certainly is a “let them cake” vibe in the air. Last week The New York Times reported on booming sales of luxury goods, with stores keeping waiting lists for $9,000 coats and the former chairman of Saks saying, “If a designer shoe goes up from $800 to $860, who notices?”

According to Gallup, Americans earning more than $90,000 per year continued to increase their consumer spending in July while middle- and lower-income Americans remained stalled, even as the upper classes argue that they can’t pay any more taxes. Meanwhile, the gap between the wealthiest and the rest of us continues to grow wider, with over 80 percent of the nation’s financial wealth controlled by about 20 percent of the people.

Unlike the rich, lower class people have to depend on others for survival, Keltner argued. So they learn “prosocial behaviors.” They read people better, empathize more with others, and they give more to those in need.

That’s the moral of Capra movies like “You Can’t Take It With You,” in which a plutocrat comes to learn the value of community and family. But Keltner, author of the book “Born To Be Good: The Science of A Meaningful Life,” doesn’t rely on sentiment to make his case.

He points to his own research and that of others. For example, lower class subjects are better at deciphering the emotions of people in photographs than are rich people.
In video recordings of conversations, rich people are more likely to appear distracted, checking cell phones, doodling, avoiding eye contact, while low-income people make eye contact and nod their heads more frequently signaling engagement.

In one test, for example, Keltner and other colleagues had 115 people play the “dictator game,” a standard trial of economic behavior. “Dictators” were paired with an unseen partner, given ten “points” that represented money, and told they could share as many or as few of the points with the partner as they desired. Lower-class participants gave more even after controlling for gender, age or ethnicity.

Keltner has also studied vagus nerve activation. The vagus nerve helps the brain record and respond to emotional inputs. When subjects are exposed to pictures of starving children, for example, their vagus nerve typically becomes more active as measured by electrodes on their chests and a sensor band around their waists. In recent tests, yet to be published, Keltner has found that those from lower-class backgrounds have more intense activation.
Other studies from other researchers have not produced the clear-cut results Keltner uses to advance his argument. In surveys of charitable giving, some show that low-income people give more, but other studies show the opposite.

“The research regarding income and helping behaviors has always been little bit mixed,” explained Meredith McGinley, a professor of psychology at Pittsburgh’s Chatham University.

Then there is the problem of Tea Partiers’ own class position. While they are funded by the wealthy, many do not identify themselves as wealthy (though there is dispute on the real demographics). Still, a strong allegiance to the American Dream can lead even regular folks to overestimate their own self-reliance in the same way as rich people.

As behavioral economist Mark Wilhelm of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis pointed out, most people could quickly tell you how much they paid in taxes last year but few could put a dollar amount on how they benefited from government by, say, driving on interstate highways, taking drugs gleaned from federally funded medical research, or using inventions created by people educated in public schools.

There is one interesting piece of evidence showing that many rich people may not be selfish as much as willfully clueless, and therefore unable to make the cognitive link between need and resources. Last year, research at Duke and Harvard universities showed that regardless of political affiliation or income, Americans tended to think wealth distribution ought to be more equal.

The problem? Rich people wrongly believed it already was.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Obama Sadly Pandering to Conservatives - Stop Coddling the Super Rich - Radical Christian Crazies Want Control of US Government - Racist Conservative Koch Brothers - Military Suicides Increase - Anti-Gay Republican Hires Male Prostitute - Fukushima Radiation - more

- Obama's conservative pandering
    The debt-ceiling disaster was merely a symptom of much deeper problems with the ruling class in the US...
    In mid-April, the House passed Paul Ryan's Budget Plan, complete with its provision to privatise Medicare. In late May, Democrat Kathy Hochul won an upset special election in upstate New York, winning what had been over a 70 per cent GOP district just six months before. The issue that did it was her Republican opponent's expressed support for the Ryan Plan. Afterward, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi laid out the Democrat's campaign strategy to retake the House next year: "Medicare. Medicare. Medicare."

    There was just one problem: President Obama had different ideas. Although he always speaks in carefully modulated tones, he has repeatedly placed cuts to Medicare and Social Security back onto the negotiating table, tossing politically suicidal Republicans a lifeline they will surely use to try to strangle him with next year - along with the rest of the Democratic Party.

    Obama seems pathologically drawn to "move to the centre", somehow never noticing that Republicans are constantly moving the "centre" farther and farther to the right. How far to the right, exactly? Consider this: since 1984, the General Social Survey has asked Americans 18 times whether our spending on Social Security and health care is "too much", "too little" or "about right". Among self-identified conservative Republicans, just 3.4 per cent think we are spending "too much" on both.

    Since Obama has repeatedly floated the idea of cutting both programmes, he seems to think that the political centre is somewhere to right of 96.6 per cent of all conservative Republicans in the population at large. When the so-called "professional left" [a derogatory coined by Obama and applied to critics of Obama] is screaming at him not to do this, they are actually speaking for almost the entire Republican electoral base as well.
- Iraq Withdrawal? Don’t Take it to the Bank
    Since coming to Washington, Barack Obama has won a Nobel Prize for Peace, but he hasn’t been much of a peacemaker. Instead, he has doubled down on his predecessor’s wars while launching blatantly illegal ones of his own. But, as his supporters would be quick to point out, at least he’s standing by his pledge to bring the troops home from Iraq.
    Right?

    ...don’t count on cashing that check. The Washington Post brings the unsurprising news that Iraqi leaders have agreed to begin talks with the U.S. on allowing the foreign military occupation of their country to continue beyond this year – re-branded, naturally, as a mission of “training” and “support.”
- Battle over US debt ceiling is a distraction
    The US economy is reeling in the aftermath of poor decision making, and structural weaknesses threaten its future.
    The first act of the debt ceiling drama is over for now, with all the pundits now assessing the damage to the President, House Republicans, the economy, and more. But during the ordeal, while the politicians traded insults like carnival barkers, the real threats to America's future were ignored. It’s not simply that the country is spending money that it doesn’t have; it’s also a matter of what the money is spent on. Is the debt the result of needed investment - or waste?
    Unfortunately, the US massively wastes money and resources in three critical areas, especially when compared with our international competitors: military spending, health care, and energy/transportation.
- Obama’s Dismal Prospects
    Since he lowballed the initial stimulus, he hasn’t forcefully presented new programs to put people to work or to keep them in their homes. He’s shown no urgency, up to now, to deal with these central problems. Instead, he foolishly focused on the debt and the deficit.
    Independents will flee him in 2012 with the economy in the tank. Republicans hate him, some for thinly veiled racists reasons.
    And the groups that were so enthusiastic about him last time—progressives, young people, blacks, labor, and Latinos—haven’t been exactly thrilled with his performance, and aren’t likely to beat the bushes for him this time around.
    So it’s hard to see how he’ll win, unless the Republicans put up Bachmann.
- Rick Perry's Army of God
    A little-known movement of radical Christians and self-proclaimed prophets wants to infiltrate government, and Rick Perry might be their man.
- The Ten Weirdest Ideas In Rick Perry’s Book “Fed Up”
    Rick Perry’s November 2010 book Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington is not a typical “campaign book” from a political candidate. For starters, its forward is written by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, nominally one of Perry’s rivals for the nomination. For another thing, it’s overall tone much more closely resembles that of a B-list conservative radio host looking to stir up controversy and sell books than of a cautious politician trying out poll-tested lines. Consequently, while the book is by no means a good one, its certainly a lot more interesting than most comparable works. I read it over the weekend, and thus am proud to produce the following list of the Top Ten Weirdest Ideas in Rick Perry’s Fed Up:
- Top 10 Cities for Green Living
    Not all cities are created equal. As part of Scientific American's "Cities" special topic issue, for the next five days we will feature recently compiled lists ranking cities across the U.S. on aspects of green living, pollution, health and technology. Today, we feature rankings of cities based on green living [Part 1 of 5]
- Chemicals track Fukushima meltdown
    Scientists in California are reporting raised levels of radioactive chemicals in the atmosphere in the weeks following the disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The measurements are the latest evidence that the reactors melted down catastrophically.
- North sea oil spill 'worst for a decade'
    The government has described the leak as 'substantial' and estimates that it could be several hundred tonnes
- Tar Sands a Turning Point to Save Life?
    Historic Action to Stop Pipeline That May Push Climate Crisis Beyond Human Control...Some will react with skepticism to the sweeping tone of this title. There are so many worthy causes to pursue, and countless good people engaged in wonderful efforts to make this a better world.  Yet all efforts to move humanity in a positive direction depend upon one thing -- a planet that can continue to support life. This is literally the "common ground" that binds together all activists for progressive social change. If we lose that battle, all hope for a transformed world becomes meaningless and of course impossible to manifest.
- Which is the safest country for animals?
    America is a world leader in some respects, but it lags behind many countries when it comes to animal protection laws. So, where in the world are animals treated humanely? It often depends on the issue—or species—but one could argue that European Union (EU) countries tend to be kinder overall.
- Shop Till We Drop: Does Consumption Culture Contribute to Environmental Degradation?
    William Rees of the University of British Columbia reports that human society is in a “global overshoot,” consuming 30 percent more material than is sustainable from the world’s resources. He adds that 85 countries are exceeding their domestic “bio-capacities” and compensate for their lack of local material by depleting the stocks of other countries.
- Army suicides set record in July
    The U.S. Army suffered a record 32 suicides in July, the most since it began releasing monthly figures in 2009.The high number of deaths represents a setback for the Army, which has put a heavy focus on reducing suicides in recent years.
- Republican Anti-Gay Marriage State Representative Hires Male Prostitute
    Emails shared with The Indianapolis Star suggest that state Rep. Phillip Hinkle -- responding to a local posting on Craigslist -- offered a young man $80 plus tip to spend time with him Saturday night at the JW Marriott hotel.
    The emails, sent from Hinkle's publicly listed personal address, ask the young man for "a couple hours of your time tonight" and offer him cash up front, with a tip of up to $50 or $60 "for a really good time."
- Why do the Conservative Koch brothers want to end public education and segregate schools?



Stop Coddling the Super-Rich
By WARREN E. BUFFETT
Published: August 14, 2011 in the New York Times

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Sean

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Polls Show People Think Obama Isn't Liberal Enough - Japan Ignored Radiation Warnings - UK Riots - Science Shows Republicans Naturally Fearful - Tea Party Destroying America

- CNN Poll Shows People Think Obama isn't Liberal Enough (PDF file)
    CNN poll: The % disapproving of Obama because he's "not liberal enough" has more than doubled in the last 3 months...
- Japan Ignored Own Radiation Forecasts
    Reports from the forecast system were sent to Japan's nuclear safety agency, but the flow of data stopped there. Prime Minister Naoto Kan and others involved in declaring evacuation areas never saw the reports, and neither did local authorities. So thousands of people stayed for days in areas that the system had identified as high-risk, an Associated Press investigation has found.
- The Ideology of No New research into how liberals and conservatives think differently.
    Most strikingly, both studies showed that this negativity dominance was especially true for conservative students. In other words, those on the political right showed more of a “bad is stronger than good” bias than those on the left.
    This finding fits with previous studies showing conservatives (relative to liberals) to be more responsive to threats, more resistant to change, and more likely to see the world as a dangerous place – all of which involve some form of negative attitudes, be they about the past, present, or future.
- Squash your carbon footprint: Go vegan
    Worried that you have a sasquatch-sized carbon footprint? Eat less meat and cheese. That's the advice of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) [article originally posted on the LAM Community here], which recently calculated the ecological impact of 20 conventionally grown foods. The figures show that many animal-based foods have a supersized carbon footprint—in addition to a whopping amount of fat and calories. In fact, according to the EWG, if every American stopped eating meat and cheese for one day a week, it would be the same as if we collectively drove 91 billion fewer miles a year.
    Imagine what a difference we could make for animals, our own health and the health of the planet if we stopped eating meat and cheese entirely—or at least for a couple of days a week.
- Panic on the streets of London
    People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything - literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night. And now people have lost their homes, and the country is tearing itself apart.
- London Riots Escalate as Police Battle for Control
    The prime minister cut short his holiday and flew back to Britain as London witnessed devastating scenes of violence stretching the emergency services beyond limit on a third night of rioting in the capital.

Congressional Tea Party Downgrade of America
by Ralph Nader
Published on Monday, August 8, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

The Boston Tea Party in December 1773 threw the East India Company’s tea overboard. The Republican Tea Party in August 2011 threw America overboard.
Only in Congress, with its rules for minority rule, can a minority of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives impose its havoc on the American people there, then on the Senate side and on Obama’s wilting White House.


PHOTO: "You see, these House and Senate Tea Partiers are like mad dogs – at times even beyond control of their political and corporate masters." (photo: M.V. Jantzen)

Leaving aside the psychiatric question of why a clutch of Republican Tea Partiers, many of them freshmen, terrify the veteran Republicans who outnumber them in the House, consider what they just pushed through the House against the American people.

For 150 million workers, Tea Partiers pushed through more cuts in the already starved federal programs that are aimed at diminishing the yearly 58,000 fatalities in workplace-related disease and trauma plus larger numbers injured and wounded.

There are 307 million eaters in America. More than 7,000 of them die from contaminated food and more than 300,000 are hospitalized each year. The Tea Partiers pushed cuts through the House to the already underfunded FDA food safety programs. They did this even though last year Congress strengthened the FDA’s authority and expanded its responsibilities, including closer inspection of hazardous foodstuffs increasingly coming from communist China.

There are 60 million investors in company stocks in America. The Tea Partiers stomped their feet and cut the House appropriations for law enforcement against Wall Street’s frauds by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. This cuts the number of federal cops on the Wall Street crime beat, especially on derivative scams.

All Americans breathe air and drink water. The Tea Partiers are cutting the budget of the federal agencies working to get the toxic pollution out of those two necessities for life on Earth. Don’t even mention global warming and climate change to Tea Partiers who are willing to die laughing at such a prospect.

There are millions of women and children with special health needs who depend on federal programs for assistance. The House Tea Party members want to slash the modest budgets for these programs.

There are 200 million drivers in America. The Tea Partiers intend to cut the already measly auto safety budget of the Transportation Department. The auto safety budget is less than a third of the budget they allowed for guarding the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

They have also told others in Congress they are opposed to last year’s auto and bus safety bill giving long-overdue authority to safety regulators. The bill was supported by Democrats and Republicans but was blocked by one Senator Tom Coburn, a physician no less, in the last December days of the session. Minority rule again blocking 99 senators who signed off on unanimous consent to get this life-saving legislation through the Senate.

There are 30 million American workers, polls show, who would like to have a trade union represent them in negotiations with giants like Walmart. The Tea Partiers hate unions of workers and were instrumental in blocking the budget for the FAA in late July and early August on a union organizing mechanism and $16 million in subsidies for a few rural airports. For almost two weeks, the Tea Partiers punished tens of thousands of American workers who had to stop working on airport improvement and repair projects, and with the law’s expiration, the Tea Partiers let the U.S. government lose $30 million in a day in airline ticket taxes.

The Tea Partiers hate taxes, especially on the rich and corporations, even though they are the lowest rates in 20 years. They are extremists, mindlessly embracing Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge. They are even against giving the IRS funds it needs to collect $15 for every $1 it spends collecting taxes on the ever-more privileged. The number of Treasury auditors focused on these giant global companies is miniscule.

The Tea Partiers don’t even care that 50 percent of Tea Partiers back home and 70 percent of Republicans polled thought additional tax revenues should be part of the deficit-reduction program passing through Congress.

You see, these House and Senate Tea Partiers are like mad dogs – at times even beyond control of their political and corporate masters. Fanatics neither think nor blink in their hostage politics. They’re scarring Wall Streeters with their brinkmanship. Brandishing a historic moniker that symbolized rebellion against the then monarchial power, the Congressional Tea Partiers are anything but rebels against power – whether against the wars of empire, corporate welfare, sovereignty shedding NAFTA and WTO, corporate crime, the flouted war powers of Congress, or a runaway Wall Street.

Back home last year, Tea Party rhetoric did echo the people’s concerns about these matters. It turned out to be just talk by those now in Congress. The Tea Party in Congress is more interested in wielding the axe against public works programs, education, housing, public health, drug safety and medical research. But they leave alone the hugely expensive, cost-over-run weapons systems – long after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Raising money from the fat cats for next year’s election, the Tea Partiers aren’t about to challenge tax favoritism – officially known as tax expenditures – that Reagan’s economist, Professor Martin Feldstein recently called the single largest source of wasteful and low-priority spending in the federal budget.

It is one thing for the Tea Party politicians in Congress—already well-to-do and consuming a pretty nice salary and a bevy of benefits – to lack empathy. But America needs to call them out on their downright ideologically-inebriated animosity toward the domestic necessities of the American people. Tea Party extremists in Congress may well sink the Republican Party but in the process take many Americans down with them.

They’re taking the debt-limit vote to the cliff set up the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) first-ever downgrade of the U.S. government’s credit rating, last Friday. Call it the Tea Party downgrade.

It is time to put a firm cap on the kettle.

Sean