Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Vichy America


By David Glenn Cox

Were it not all so real it would make a great book; Dan Brown could add another hundred million dollars to his collection. Perhaps he could call it "The Bhagwan Code," while I prefer to think of it as "Vichy America." Our synthetic, middle class, pseudo nazis, protesting for their gun rights or tax rights, a smiling, flag-waving, picture-mugging, minivan-driving collection of the dumbest individuals ever to stand up on two legs.

It's like a sort of reverse evolution where mankind evolves back into a creature that moves on three legs while leaving one hand free to carry the Bible or a cell phone. They are too dumb to even understand the herd mentality, too dumb to know the difference between predator and prey. The gun nuts rally to show off their machismo to each other thinking that they might somehow intimidate the government with their show of force like a baby shaking its rattle at a rattlesnake.

Do the Taliban march through Kandahar to show how tough they are? Do the Greeks wave tea bags and shout, "Don't tread on me"? The herd shouts, "Restore the Constitution!" but they don't have a clue as to what that really means, unaware that the Constitution that they imagine is miles from what they want. The herds are out protesting in favor of the predators and against themselves.

The Walton family fortune is worth some $90 billion and was made primarily on imported goods and exploitive labor practices. The Bush tax cuts saves the Walton family millions of dollars a year in taxes and saves the average worker $240 per year. The right wing government that they want to protect them has eliminated trade tariffs and a tariff is a tax on a foreign good that you don't pay. Are they protesting for an end to the Bush tax cuts yet?

If there is a tariff on bananas you don't pay it unless you buy bananas, and even if you do the cost per banana is miniscule. It is a tax on companies which import bananas into the United States and most of those companies are owned by Americans. Right now the US Congress is mulling over the idea of a value-added tax or a national sales tax. Leaving aside that sales taxes are the most regressive and unfair taxes on the working poor. Look at it this way: they have taken the taxes off the multinational corporations' incomes in the name of free trade, and now, to make up the deficit, they want to put the tax on to you.

I used the example of bananas because I thought it might strike a chord with these knuckle-dragging baboons. Imagine you and I share a toll bridge on the border and I charge a nickel for each person crossing the bridge my way and you charge a nickel for each person crossing your way. Five thousand people cross each day going your way while ten million people cross each day going my way. You earn $250 per day and I earn $50,000 a day.

Free trade argues that if you eliminate that nickel tax more people will want to cross the bridge. That it will create jobs and industry on both sides of the bridge, except the people on my side of the bridge earn $20.00 an hour and the people on your side earn $5 per day. The benefit goes to the guy that owns the banana trees; the loss goes to the workers in the country earning $20.00 per hour. It's true that traffic on the bridge has increased, but since there are no longer any tolls collected, what does it matter?

To me that is a far greater threat to national sovereignty than any of the made up reasons of the gun nuts and teabaggers. Because now they want you to pay the taxes to make up for the lost bridge tolls and even to buy them a new bridge! We live in an America under a two party system, those with money and those without money, and for those without money it's no party.


Yes, We Could... Get Out!

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Why We Won't Leave Afghanistan or Iraq 
By Tom Engelhardt

Yes, we could.  No kidding.  We really could withdraw our massive armies, now close to 200,000 troops combined, from Afghanistan and Iraq (and that's not even counting our similarly large stealth army of private contractors, which helps keep the true size of our double occupations in the shadows).  We could undoubtedly withdraw them all reasonably quickly and reasonably painlessly.

Not that you would know it from listening to the debates in Washington or catching the mainstream news.  There, withdrawal, when discussed at all, seems like an undertaking beyond the waking imagination.  In Iraq alone, all those bases to dismantle and millions of pieces of equipment to send home in a draw-down operation worthy of years of intensive effort, the sort of thing that makes the desperate British evacuation from Dunkirk in World War II look like a Sunday stroll in the park.  And that's only the technical side of the matter.

Then there's the conviction that anything but a withdrawal that would make molasses in January look like the hare of Aesopian fable -- at least two years in Iraq, five to ten in Afghanistan -- would endanger the planet itself, or at least its most important country: us.  Without our eternally steadying hand, the Iraqis and Afghans, it's taken for granted, would be lost. Without the help of U.S. forces, for example, would the Maliki government ever have been able to announce the death of the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq?  Not likely, whereas the U.S. has knocked off its leadership twice, first in 2006, and again, evidently, last week.

Of course, before our troops entered Baghdad in 2003 and the American occupation of that country began, there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq.  But that's a distant past not worth bringing up.  And forget as well the fact that our invasions and wars have proven thunderously destructive, bringing chaos, misery, and death in their wake, and turning, for instance, the health care system of Iraq, once considered an advanced country in the Arab world, into a disaster zone(that -- it goes without saying -- only we Americans are now equipped to properly fix).  Similarly, while regularly knocking off Afghan civilians at checkpoints on their roads and in their homesat their celebrations and at work, we ignore the fact that our invasion and occupation opened the way for the transformation of Afghanistan into the first all-drug-crop agricultural nation and so the planet's premier narco-nation.  It's not just that the country now has an almost total monopoly on growing opium poppies (hence heroin), but according to the latest U.N. report, it's now cornering the hashish market as well.  That's diversification for you.

It's a record to stand on and, evidently, to stay on, even to expand on.  We're like the famed guest who came to dinner, broke a leg, wouldn't leave, and promptly took over the lives of the entire household.  Only in our case, we arrived, broke someone else's leg, and then insisted we had to stay and break many more legs, lest the world become a far more terrible place.

It's known and accepted in Washington that, if we were to leave Afghanistan precipitously, the Taliban would take over, al-Qaeda would be back big time in no time, and then more of our giant buildings would obviously bite the dust.  And yet, the longer we've stayed and the more we've surged, the more resurgent the Taliban has become, the more territory this minority insurgency has spread into.  If we stay long enough, we may, in fact, create the majority insurgency we claim to fear.



Financial Reform Must Include Jail Time for Wall Street Bank Manipulators

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If a person who cashes bad checks for a few dollars must go to jail, then I firmly believe that Wall Street manipulators who crash the American economy should go to jail too.

Laws that make this possible must be a part of any financial reform legislation.

It is an unfair waste of taxpayer money to spend thousands of dollars a year on incarcerating petty criminals, when white collar criminals basically steal billions, stick the bill to the American taxpayer, and get bonuses for it. They should go to jail. That is what justice is all about.

There is no way our American economy can be soundly restored unless those who feel untouchable because they are super wealthy know that they will get jail time if they play crooked games with the money of investors and the American taxpayer.

As the Senate nears consideration of a "financial reform" bill, it must include laws that ensure time in jail for Wall Street financial crimes.

Financial reform must include jail time for Wall Street bank manipulators.

I demand it as an American taxpayer.

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Jesus and Climate Change - the Journey of Evangelical Leader Rich Cizik


by: Paul Rogat Loeb

When we become frustrated in working for change, we might remember how hope can come from unexpected places and historically resistant constituencies. Rich Cizik's efforts to engage his fellow evangelicals on global warming exemplifies this.

photoAs vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Rich Cizik represented 4,500 congregations serving 30 million members. Considering himself a "Reagan conservative" and a strong initial supporter of George W. Bush, Cizik had been with the organization since 1980, serving as its key advocate before Congress, the office of the president, and the Supreme Court on such issues as opposition to abortion and gay marriage. During the Clinton era, he had begun to expand the organization's agenda by tackling such issues as human trafficking and global poverty, working with groups across the political aisle. Later he'd persuaded the organization to take a stand against torture.

But he thought little about climate change until 2002, when he attended a conference on the subject and heard a leading British climate scientist, Sir James Houghton, who was also a prominent evangelical. "You could only call the process a conversion," Cizik said. "I reluctantly went to the conference, saying 'I'll go, but don't expect me to be signing on to any statements.'

"Then, for three days in Oxford, England, Houghton walked us through the science and our biblical responsibility. He talked about droughts, shrinking ice caps, increasing hurricane intensity, temperatures tracked for millennia through ice-core data. He made clear that you could believe in the science and remain a faithful biblical Christian. All I can say is that my heart was changed. For years I'd thought, 'Well, one side says this, the other side says that. There's no reason to get involved.' But the science has become too compelling. I could no longer sit on the sidelines. I didn't want to be like the evangelicals who avoided getting involved during the civil rights movement and in the process discredited the gospel and themselves."

One day during the conference, Houghton took Cizik on a walk in the gardens of Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill's ancestral home. It was a lovely day, sunny and bright. Houghton said, "Richard, if God has convinced you of the reality of the science and the Scriptures on the subject then you must speak out."

"Let me think about it," Cizik responded. He knew he'd meet resistance from his colleagues and board. But Houghton convinced him that the world couldn't solve the issue without serious American participation, and that the Republican Party was the major political force blocking action in the United States (in contrast to Europe, where conservative parties had helped take the lead on the issue). "As evangelicals, we're 40 percent of the Republican base, so if we could convince the evangelical community to speak out, it could make the key difference," Cizik said. American evangelicals, Houghton told him, might literally hold the fate of the planet in their hands.

After leaving the conference, Cizik began reading and learning. Flying over the Sahara, he got a sense of the "tens of thousands of acres that are lost to climate-related desertification each year," which in turn leads to major refugee migrations and potential wars over water. He coordinated a retreat with key evangelical leaders, like Rick Warren, and major scientists, like Houghton and Harvard's E.O. Wilson. Then he took a similar group to Alaska to witness the melting glaciers and permafrost, the disruption of native communities, the spruce trees dying because the bark beetles now survived the warmer winters.

They visited Shishmaref, a native village that is being forced to relocate because the permafrost has crumbled beneath it and the sea ice that once served as a storm buffer is gone. "Our first night there, we saw a lunar eclipse, shooting stars, and the Northern Lights." It reminded him of the phrase in the psalm, "Creation pours forth its praise to its creator. . . . The heavens give witness to God's glory."

His Alaska group, said Cizik, "included those who believe life on Earth was created by God, and those who believe it evolved over three and a half billion years. What became obvious to both groups is that this Earth is sacred and that we ought to protect it. God isn't going to ask you how he created the Earth. He already knows. He's going to ask, 'What did you do with what I created?' If we're leaving a footprint that destroys the Earth, we've failed to be good stewards."


Don’t talk to aliens, warns Stephen Hawking

Times Online

Stephen Hawking in front of sun with coronal mass ejections.THE aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.

The suggestions come in a new documentary series in which Hawking, one of the world's leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe's greatest mysteries.

Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Hawking's logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

The answer, he suggests, is that most of it will be the equivalent of microbes or simple animals — the sort of life that has dominated Earth for most of its history.

One scene in his documentary for the Discovery Channel shows herds of two-legged herbivores browsing on an alien cliff-face where they are picked off by flying, yellow lizard-like predators. Another shows glowing fluorescent aquatic animals forming vast shoals in the oceans thought to underlie the thick ice coating Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.

Such scenes are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach."

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is "a little too risky". He said: "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."


14 Ways a 90 Percent Top Tax Rate Fixes Our Economy and Our Country

Dave Johnson's pictureBy Dave Johnson

A return to Eisenhower-era 90% top tax rates helps fix our economy in several ways:

1) It makes it take longer to end up with a fortune. In fact it makes people build and earn a fortune, instead of shooting for quick windfalls. This forces long-term thinking and planning instead of short-term scheming and scamming. If grabbing everything in sight and running doesn't pay off anymore, you have to change your strategy.

2) It gets rid of the quick-buck-scheme business model. Making people take a longer-term approach to building rather than grabbing a fortune will help reattach businesses to communities by reinforcing interdependence between businesses and their surrounding communities. When it takes owners and executives years to build up a fortune they need solid companies that are around for a long time. This requires the surrounding public infrastructure of roads, schools, police, fire, courts, etc., to be in good shape to provide long-term support for the enterprise. You also want your company to build a solid reputation for serving its customers rather than cheapening the product, pursuing quick-buck scams, cutting customer service, etc. The current Wall Street/private equity business model of looting companies, leaving behind an empty shell, unemployed workers and a surrounding community in devastation will no longer be a viable business strategy.

3) It will lower the executive crime rate. Today it is possible to run scams that let you pocket huge sums in a single year, and leave behind the mess you make for others to fix. A high top tax rate removes the incentive to lie, cheat and steal to grab every buck you can as fast as you can. This reduces the temptation to be dishonest. If you aren't going to keep the whole dime, why risk doing the time? When excessive, massive paydays are possible, it opens the door to overwhelming greed and a resulting compromising of principles. Sort of the definition of the decades since Reagan, no?


4) Combined with badly-needed cuts in military spending – we spend more on military than all other countries on earth combined – taxing the wealthy ends budget deficits and starts paying off the massive Reagan/Bush debt. This reduces and ultimately eliminates the share of the budget that goes to pay interest. The United States now has to pay a huge share of its budget just to cover the interest on the borrowing that tax cuts made necessary. Paying off the debt would remove this huge drag on our economy. (Never mind that Alan Greenspan famously called for Bush's tax cuts by saying it was dangerous to pay off our debt – now that same Alan Greenspan says we need to cut benefits to retired people because our debt is so high.)


Republicans Begging for More Backroom Negotiations on Wall Street Reform


The method behind what appears to be Republican madness in actually obstructing Wall Street reform is emerging.

Republicans say their 41 members are united and will oppose the motion, in order to encourage Democrats to continue negotiating with them behind closed doors.

Condemning closed-door negotiations yet voting to prevent public debate is the height of hypocrisy, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) told HuffPost on Monday. "By voting against cloture, Republicans are voting to keep Wall Street negotiations behind closed doors, demanding changes to the bill without public scrutiny. Instead of closed-door deals, they should support open floor debate," said Merkley.

So this a new twist to the old obstruction trope. In the health debate, they drug out the negotiations to try to kill the bill, knowing that time was a critical factor for the bill's defeat. This one is different, because killing this bill isn't in their best political interests, not when the American population is so angry at Wall Street. However, negotiating on behalf of Wall Street to water reform down--e.g., weaker consumer protections, minimal federal regulation--is in their political interest.

Here's Shelby, supposedly the key Republican negotiator, this morning using the oft-debunked "permanent bailouts" trope.

Obstructing, dragging the process out, gives them more time to wrap up their own version of the legislation and offer it up as an alternative to a failed "bipartisan" effort, so they can show their lobbyist friends their efforts. But it also would also keep Dems negotiating, the GOP calculates, with those negotiations behind closed doors instead of on the Senate floor in a process of offering debate and amendments. Steve Benen:

But Republicans have a different approach in mind -- they don't want to even start the debate. Despite all the talk of the last year about transparency, GOP officials insist that all work on Wall Street reform occur behind closed doors, and the ideas that could be debated on the floor are instead hashed out in secret, in between Republican fundraisers with representatives of the very institutions affected by the legislation.

As further proof, here's Mitch McConnell actually saying that allowing the debate to go forward on the Senate floors means an end to public debate on the issue. Literally.