Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Congress and President Barely Try and Fake Concern for Public

Congress and the President passed the "Stock Act" a few years back, with impassioned denunciations of the prior system which allowed insider trading for them, their staffers, and some well connected investors.  Now they've quietly rolled the whole thing back in silence.  They barely try and pretend to care about the public anymore.  Our government is so far gone.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Bush Legacy

As I discussed in my prior post, the right wing is pressing forward in their attempt to re-write history so that Bush is viewed favorably.  We need to remind the world of the facts so their lies don't become history.

What should always be an enduring part of his legacy is torture.  Not just water boarding, which is bad enough.  In the documentary below, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2007, we learn about an Afghan taxi driver, Dilawar, who was beaten so severely about the legs that his legs were "pulpified" according to the medical report.  This combined with chaining in in stress positions for 4 straight days led to his death.  His legs would have required amputation had he survived.  An interrogator belived him to be innocent of any wrongdoing, and soon after his death the US military likewise concluded he had nothing to do with any attacks on US military bases.

This was not a case of a few bad apples.  This played out exactly what the Bush administration had directed.  A few of the grunts served a tiny amount of time, but Bush pardoned himself and those in his administration that were actually responsible.

The documentary is graphic and pretty long (over 2 hours) but worthwhile.

Meanwhile in Guantanamo the travesty of justice continues.  Today prisoners are being force fed as they engage in a hunger strike.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Some Deception From Bob Dutko

I just want to take a moment and for posterity note some very deceptive, borderline lies from Bob Dutko from yesterday.  Dutko doesn't make his show available for download after the fact, and that's probably good for his credibility because if we went back and listened he'd have a lot of problems.  We can't listen to past shows and document everything, but at least I can put down what I catch.

Apparently there's a new George W Bush presidential library opening, so Dutko wanted to "remind" people of the historical facts because there's so much "revisionist" history from the left.  Dutko is here to correct the record.

Even the Democrats said Saddam had WMD, he says.  That much is true.  Actually, it's even worse than that.  People like Bill Clinton worked behind the scenes to make this war happen.  But Dutko went beyond that.  "Even Ted Kennedy thought Saddam had WMD and needed to be disarmed."

Check the speech from Kennedy from which Dutko gets this.  An impassioned denunciation of this march to war, a war that will swell the ranks of Al Qaeda and increase terrorism.  Sure, lots of people need to be disarmed.  Pakistan, N Korea.  But that doesn't mean we should march to war and wreck these countries which will have the effect of putting Americans in greater danger.  What Dutko says is technically true, but he enlists it as if Kennedy agreed with this war, which he certainly did not.

Dutko proceeded to tell us that Saddam had an operational link with Al Qaeda and provided Al Qaeda with training camps.  Take a look at the Wiki discussion on this which uses the 9-11 Commission Report as it's source.  It would be one thing to say that "some people believe" that Saddam provided training camps for Al Qaeda.  Even that is irresponsible since this claim has very little credibility.  But it was more than that.  Dutko stated it as a fact, as if it was uncontroversial.  What's uncontroversial really is to say there was no operational link.

Dutko says that you can't fault Bush because Americans supported the war too, only shifting after it began to go bad.  That's not really true.  Americans opposed a war if it were to lack UN support.  After the war was launched they supported it like they do all wars.  That's more just patriotism.  Now that we are in we want to get behind it and support our troops.  But to evaluate what Americans thought about Bush's decision you have to look at the opinion of Americans prior to the war. 

Regarding the collapse of the economy, of course that was all the Democrats fault for requiring risky home loans via Fannie and Freddie.  This is not dishonesty from Dutko I guess because at least I know conservatives do honestly believe this sort of thing, but it's also a claim that cannot be supported by the evidence as I discuss here and here.  Dutko had the gall to add that right wingers were offering dire warnings whereas it was the liberals that said everything was fine.  As far as I know you had some from both groups on both sides of the fence on this question.  But my sense is that more people on the left were concerned.  Assertions that things are great from right wingers are abundant.  I collated economist Mark Perry of the right wing corporate front group "The American Enterprise Institute" hereHere's Bill Kristol.  On the left were people like Paul Krugman, who has likewise been right about what has been happening recently.  Of course few can be expected to know how bad this could be because deregulation prevented us from even knowing about the magnitude and details associated with derivatives and credit default swaps thanks to right wing demands that these items remain deregulated.  Democrats were involved too, but the problem here is the right wing ideology that free markets are best.  That's not a liberal claim.

Dutko emphasized revisionist history throughout this monologue, and also his belief that ultimately Bush's approval ratings would continue to climb and he would be regarded as a success.  With spin like this he may be right.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Harris vs Greenwald and Hussain

Sam Harris has written an extremely long commentary in response to recent criticism he's endured from the left from Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain of Al Jazeera.  I offer some commentary below.

Harris is pretty upset by some of the charges levied against him.  It's understandable.  He's right that when a charge of racism is levied against you, even if there's no truth to it at all, it's still successfully smears you.  Some people, even if they side with Harris, they'll think in the back of their minds that maybe there's some truth to the charge.  And so Harris has already lost on this, no matter the facts.  I'm sympathetic to his plight on this.

But then, this doesn't mean he's not a bigot either.  His defense seems to be that he's really not a bigot because when he says Islam is unusually wicked his claim is actually true.  But then that's a point of debate.  The old racists might say "I'm not really a racist because my claim that blacks are inferior is actually true."  Does that really change our judgment?  It's not obvious to me that Islam is especially more violent than Christianity or Judaism.  Harris likes to point out that in the Hadith it's death for apostates.  OK.  In the Bible it's death for anyone that would even attempt to persuade you of another faith (Dt 13).  But Christians don't practice that and Muslims do, says Harris.  Yeah, but they did practice it in the past.  Today they exegete it away just as many Muslim scholars exegete that Hadith away.  Maybe the difference in behavior has more to do with the fact that suffering (they have been attacked and subject to dictators for many years) leads people into a more radical form of religion.  Maybe the problem isn't Islam itself.  So if the inferiority of Islam isn't obvious, people are going to question Harris' motives.  Perhaps he is a bigot.

Harris misrepresents the Hussain article right at the start.  He replies to an argument he puts in the mouth of Murtaza Hussain from Al Jazeera. "How can he claim that I ADMIRE fascists."  The article didn't say you ADMIRE fascists.  It said (correctly) that Harris says it is the fascists speaking most sensibly about Islam.  The context he offers doesn't change it.  As Greenwald pointed out, even Hitchens thought Harris was being ridiculous on that one.  He should either stand by it or apologize for it.  Nothing he's saying overturns the accurate quote in Al Jazeera.  He says "I was not praising fascists."  Who claimed you praised fascists?  Nobody.  He's boxing with shadows here.

Harris focuses on the semantics of the word "Islamophobia" but I don't think the distinctions he makes are important.  "But Islam is not a race, so it's different from anti-Semitism."  Yeah, that's true.  I don't think anybody is saying Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are exactly alike.  What matters is, is Harris guilty of Islamophobia as Greenwald defines it?  I think so.

Harris clearly doesn't understand the point of Chomsky's quote about how we should first look in the mirror before criticizing others.  In fact somehow he gets it backwards.  He says "Afghan girls won't be benefited by reading Chomsky's books."  Yeah, that's Chomsky's point.  You should focus on what happens in your own backyard. So if you were an Afghan you would be right to focus on the errors within Islam instead of US crimes.  He's not asking them to read his books and focus on the sins of Americans.  He's telling us all to look in the mirror.  This is not complicated and Harris is not stupid, but I don't think he can grasp it.  I find that a bit strange.

And then he launches into a tirade about how Muslims attack people that draw cartoons, revealing very clearly that he still doesn't get the point from Chomsky.  Maybe 100's of people are dead as a result of the cartoon related violence (a lot of it I think was just protests where opposing groups came in contact with each other and just started fighting, so most of the death was not the result of targeting, though some was).  Nobody in this debate supports that, but we also don't support the crimes of Genghis Khan, and us bitching about it probably does an equal amount of good.  Dick Cheney is responsible for the death of more than a million if you go through the Middle East and Latin America.  That's not the focus for Harris.  Instead maybe in Somalia a bunch of illiterate peasants clashed in response to the cartoons.  That's where we should focus our energy for Harris.  Chomsky and Greenwald say no.  And this is where the suspicion of bigotry comes in.  When you focus on the much smaller crimes of the "others" and focus very little on the crimes you are responsible for and can control (that is the stuff that occurs right under your nose) what motivates that mentality?  It may be bigotry.

His challenge to Greenwald to draw anti-Islam cartoons once again betrays his inability to recognize the point from Chomsky.  I mean, if you go to China and criticize the government, maybe you'll go to jail.  I don't approve, but I don't talk about it much because there's not much I can do about it.  I should talk about things that I can effect.  Harris' response to that point would be "Oh I see, so in that case why not go to China and criticize the government."  What the hell are you talking about, I'm not saying they aren't terrible in much of what they do.  I'm saying it's not where I should focus my energy because I can't change it.

For Harris we are not occupiers of Saudi Arabia because the violent dictatorship we prop up and support in their repression of their own people has granted us "permission."  That's pretty incredible and I think needs no refutation.

Regarding profiling, Harris should consider that the threat posed by Islamic terrorism is a threat that is much smaller than the threat posed by your own bathtub.  You may drown in it.  You may get hit by a falling coconut.  A few Americans die every year from it.  Over the last few years these threats are greater than Islamic terrorism.  I think it's fair to say that really there is no Islamic terrorist threat for Americans.  This is why the FBI actually concocts their own terrorist schemes and finds a dupe to go along, who they then arrest and pretend they saved us.  It's such a remote threat that they must concoct their own terrorists.  This fearful response where we are prepared to make life difficult for Muslims and those that look like a Muslim isn't gaining us much.  So again, what is motivating people to do this?  Bigotry?

His description of the crazed nuclear armed Muslim who cares not for death is nothing new.  "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner...We value life and human dignity. They don't care about life and human dignity."  That's General William Westmoreland during the Vietnam War.  Similar sentiments applied to Native Americans, Communists, whichever group happens to be the target of US violence.  The "civilized world" needs to come to terms with this.  You know, the West.  The ones responsible for far more invasions, death, and environmental destruction than any other group.  The good people.  This is an old strategy and will be seen for what it is in the future, just like we can see the racism of Westmoreland for what it is.

Iraq war supporter and renowned Israel firster Charles Schumer, who's never seen an act of aggression from Israel that was over the line is supposedly a "liberal" Senator, so apparently Harris' pro-torture views are mitigated by the fact that this so called liberal agrees.  I wonder what the word "liberal" means any more.  Maybe if you are a Democrat?  Pro-choice, pro-gay marriage but well to the right of the population on everything else?

Abu Graib was bad, for Harris.  But Abu Graib was the least of it.  What about beating people to death routinely?  What about cramming trucks full of farmers (or Taliban if you prefer) into cargo trucks and letting them bake in the sun to death as they bite each other to get fluids?  Pretty bad, right?  Probably Harris' has never heard of it.  But he did hear about those bad Muslims that were upset by a cartoon.  Why does he notice that and fail to notice the stuff perpetuated by the "civilized world"?

Orwell said "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."  This is where the underlying bigotry suspicion finds a root.  Who's atrocities is he able to see?  What does he discuss?  We all agree that violence in response to cartoons was wrong.  But in truth it's kind of small potatoes compared to what the "civilized world" has done.  Even if it weren't we still should be talking about ourselves first.  We should talk about what we are responsible for.  What we can control.  Harris prefers to focus on the crimes of others that we can't control.  And for the neocons and those that seek hegemony this is a useful function.

Obama: The More Effective Evil

Some on the left are finally starting to wake up to the fact that Obama really is a right winger.  You may recall prior to the election how I talked about how the left may be better off if Romney wins because Obama is the more effective evil.  Sure, Romney would love to attack Social Security, a program that has not contributed a bit to the deficit and keeps the elderly off the streets.  But it would be hard for him.  Obama also wants to do it, and he may succeed.

And here it comes.  Obama wants cuts in Social Security.  Cuts that Republicans hadn't even asked for.  Some details here.  As mentioned at that link the Daily Kos has of course been a reliable bastion of Obama cheer leading, but even they are struggling now (see some of their discussion here.)

The fact is rather than shrinking Social Security it should be expanded.  The right wing 401k experiment is a terrible failure.  Look at how much savings people have by age group.  Some of the people reading here may be in good shape.  But that's not my point.  It is obvious that many, many people are in incredibly bad shape, and now with pensions gone we have got to change course in the opposite direction Obama is pushing.

I think more and more people are figuring it out every day.  Both political parties are in the pockets of a tiny elite minority.  The rhetoric is a little different, so we have these elections and people imagine that they are being offered a real choice.  It is a choice.  We can choose on abortion and gay rights.  We get a little bit of influence.  But on most issues, including issues like this which are urgent, this is not a choice.

BBC Documentary on Child Homelessness in the US

The world's richest country is setting records in child poverty.  You probably hear more about the booming stock market and record corporate profits from US media than you do about this.  That's because those stories are more interesting to the owners and advertisers.  Wealthy people.  But this BBC documentary below follows 3 children that are members of homeless families.  Worth watching.

Monday, April 8, 2013

So Are The Wealthy Fleeing High Tax Regions

A while back Chad told us that if you raise taxes the rich just leave, and that he expected this or something like it would happen in France.  There is some info on this and it looks like they are not fleeing.

Apparently California also managed to pass a large tax increase.  Things are still not great there, but they have improved a lot.  And as far as right wing predictions about the expected problems including the fleeing of the rich, once again it's just not true.  I know it sounds plausible to them prior to considering the data, but it seems like the data over and over prove their plausible sounding theories wrong.

In France unfortunately despite the tax hikes and election of a liberal it's still an austerity response.  Overall things are not great there, but people aren't fleeing because of high taxes.  It's really kind of baffling that regular people still believe this myth that low regulation and low taxation leads to economic growth and a better life for all.  I don't think there's a single case of austerity working in Europe post 2008.  Sure, I understand why politicians continue to pursue it.  I understand why Obama wants to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits even though it won't do any good.  His wealthy backers demand it, and they think in terms of short term increases in their wealth/profits.  So yeah, it's not terribly surprising that politicians pursue this strategy.  But it is kind of amazing that regular people, like most of us that reside amongst the 99%, also think the is the wise course of action.  It always fails.  The rich know and don't care.  It doesn't hurt them.  It hurts everyone else.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The New Atheists and Islamophobia

There have been several good recent articles about prominent atheist writers and anti-Muslim bigotry.  First there was 5 Atheists who ruin it for everyone else.  Then this article from Salon talking mostly about Dawkins.  Finaly this interesting piece in Al Jazeera which contrasts Sam Harris's anti-Islamic bigotry with racism of the past that was couched in scientific jargon.

Glenn Greenwald had re-tweeted the two latter articles, and this prompted an somewhat angry and in my view childish reaction from Harris, which can be read here.  Greenwald has now written a more detailed reply here.

I spend some time in atheist communities, particularly meetup groups.  My experience is that there are a lot of great people there, sensitive to the plight of the downtrodden/victims of US violence.  Unfortunately it's also true that there is an unexpectedly (at least for me) large segment that does really get behind US militarism in predominantly Muslim countries.  I guess I found myself surprised because atheists are a hated minority, so I just assumed atheists generally would be sensitive to other oppressed minority groups.  Like I say, a lot of them are, but surprisingly so many aren't.

Many are very hostile to Palestinians.  That's kind of amazing to me.  Palestinians are living under an incredibly oppressive occupation.  Americans just have no idea how miserable a blockade is.  The idea that the main purpose of this blockade is to enhance Israel's security is a joke.  A top Israeli spokesmen told us that the real purpose is to "put Palestinians on a diet."  That's why you block things like pasta and fruit juice.  You block shoes and plastic toys.  That has nothing to do with security.  I guess I expect atheists to be sensitive to such things, but instead all they can talk about is the relatively insignificant and feeble attempts some Palestinians make to react violently.  It's like pea shooters against tanks.  Sometimes, though rarely, the pea shooters get through.  The right wing evangelicals suddenly take notice and are outraged.  Who joins them in that outrage?  A lot of atheists unfortunately.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Warning: This book could change your life

I read a few books by Noam Chomsky over the last several years, but there is one in particular that I really thought had the potential to be a life changer for others, which is the one shown to the right.  For me it wasn't because I had already read enough from Chomsky and others that the material contained in this book wasn't all a total shock to me.  Much of it still was, but if you take a typical person, unaware of the efforts at thought control that have been going on in the US over the last century, and exposed them to this they'd probably have a hard time not coming away profoundly changed.

I should say it's not actually written by him.  It's just excerpts from lectures he's given, but modified a bit to give them the feel of a Q&A, which makes it very enjoyable.  And it's arranged topically.  Really great for if you just want to read a couple of pages at a time but you want to really learn something.  It's actually quite long, and the material here is really only half the story, because there are no footnotes in the book.  What the authors have done, which is a real service, is they provide a source online for the footnotes and it's about just as much material as is in the book. It's just incredible going over it as you consider the astonishing breadth of Chomsky's knowledge.  I understand he read voraciously, like 8 hours per day, in addition to writing letters and email replies to everyone that writes him.  Also of course his extremely intense speaking schedule.

One such person that apparently did encounter this book as a fairly unaware youth was Aaron Swarts.  I've already written about how he recently took is life, which I discussed here. I recently learned that he had read "Understanding Power" and he wrote about how it affected him here.  It resonated very much for me because I experienced some of the same depressed feelings he did when I first learned a lot of these things.

If you'd like to try some for yourself it is available on line.  Right here.  This book really pulls back the veil, and it's not pretty or necessarily easy to face.  But I think knowing this information is our best hope.

Bill Burr on Steve Jobs

There's a good point being made in there somewhere.