Friday Reads: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Good Morning!

I continue to investigate news stories where a large group of people seem to sit in denial.   You might even say they wallow in denial.  There are never ostriches-head-in-sandstories with one side.  There are never truths that should be accepted with out proof and facts.  Nothing good ever comes from denying the complexities of life.  Here are a few stories that offer up complexities.  I hope you enjoy reading them, although I have to admit that the details aren’t always pretty.

The first story I want to offer is about Greece and the collapse of its government, its economy, and the ongoing collapse of its culture.  Is Greece a nation for sale?  Is it a nation whose people are being sold out and have been sold out?  How can democracy exist when your entire country is up for sale to the highest bidder?

The savage methods of alleged “economic efficiency” and privatization increase neither efficiency nor competition, but do lead to price increases for consumers, higher costs for government, corruption, embezzlement and the destruction of democracy.

When the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) came to Greece’s rescue in May 2010 with a 110 billion euro bailout loan in order to avoid the default of a eurozone member state (a second bailout loan worth 130 billion euros was activated in March 2012), the intentions of the rescue plan were multifold. First, the EU-IMF duo (with the IMF in the role of junior partner) wanted to protect the interests of the foreign banks and the financial institutions that had loaned Greece billions of euros. Greece’s gross foreign debt amounted to over 410 billion euros by the end of 2009, so a default would have led to substantial losses for foreign banks and bondholders, but also to the collapse of the Greek banking system itself as the European Central Bank (ECB) would be obliged in such an event to refuse to fund Greek banks.

Second, by bailing out Greece, the EU wanted to avoid the risk of negative contagion effects spreading across the euro area. A Greek default would have led to a financial meltdown across the euro area and perhaps to the end of the euro altogether.

Third, with Germany as Europe’s hegemonic power, there was a clear intention to punish Greece for its allegedly “profligate” ways (although it was large inflows of capital from the core countries that financed consumption and rising government spending), and by extension, send out a message to the other “peripheral” nations of the eurozone of the fate awaiting them if they did not put their fiscal house in order.

Fourth, the EU wanted to take the opportunity presented by the debt crisis to turn Greece into a “guinea pig” for the policy prescriptions of a neoliberal Europe. Berlin and Brussels had long ago embraced the main pillars of the Washington Consensus – fiscal austerity, privatization, deregulation and destatization – and the debt crisis offered a golden opportunity to cut down the Greek public sector to the bare bones and radicalize the domestic labor market with policies that slash wages and benefits and enhance flexibilization and insecurity.

ostrich-head-in-sandEveryone has known for some time that the Southern United States is primarily a drag on the rest of the country.  Its states cannot function without massive infusions of federal dollars. Its institutions remain broken.  Its governments are corrupt.  What does it mean to the country that the South behaves like a third world set of nations where any one can dump pollutants, destroy worker’s rights, deny women and the poor basic health care, and pay wages that don’t cover any kind of normal expenses?   What’s worse is that poor white Southerners just seem to vote like they love taking it up the ass.  Why are we letting an entire region drag the country to ruin?

On this point Thompson is unrelenting. “We can no longer afford to wait on the South to get its racial shit together,” he writes. “It’s time to move on, let southerners sort out their own mess free from the harassment of northern moralizers.” This is pretty much what William Faulkner wrote in more eloquent terms some 60 years ago. And, as we approach the 150th anniversary of the battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, Thompson finds plenty of Southerners who think, as one of them tells him, “We’re on the verge of a civil war.” Thompson asks, “Between North and South?” The answer: “Between conservative and liberal.”

It’s attitudes like this that keep white Southerners from understanding that year after year, decade after decade, they support policies that don’t help them. “Rank-and-file southern voters—who have lower average incomes than other Americans—resoundingly defeated Barack Obama in 2008; the eventual president carried just 10, 11, and 14 percent of the white vote in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana respectively,” Thompson writes. “An influential percentage of poor, uneducated, underserved, insurance-less white southerners continue to cast votes for candidates whose agendas clearly conflict with their own self interest.” What Thompson doesn’t do—what I’ve never seen anyone do—is offer a valid explanation for why white Southerners ally themselves with the party that treats them contemptuously.

Whites in the South overwhelmingly support right-to-work laws, which Thompson defines, correctly, as “the Orwellian euphemism for ‘the right for companies to disregard the welfare of their workers.’ ” According to a 2009 survey by Grand Valley State University, annual salaries for autoworkers in Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina averaged about $55,400, while their counterparts in Michigan averaged $74,500. Thompson notes that Southern blue-collar workers also have “inferior health and pension plans, less job security, higher risk of being fired for trivial reasons, and diminished safety precautions. … ”

Not only are Southern workers hurt by their anti-union attitudes, the whole nation suffers. “Southern economic success,” writes Thompson, “comes at the expenseof the rest of the country.” By luring foreign manufacturers to Southern states with promises of cheap labor, “The South is bad for the American economy in the same way that China and Mexico are bad for the American economy. By keeping corporate taxes low, public schools underfunded, and workers’ rights to organize negligible, it’s southern politicians who make it so. … [The South] is an in-house parasite that bleeds the country far more than it contributes to its collective health.”

That leads to what is for me the single most baffling 21st century paradox about the South. The region, home to nine of the nation’s 10 poorest states, is rabidly against government spending, yet all of its states get far more in government subsidies than they give back in taxes, as pointed out by Sara Robinson in a 2012 piece for AlterNet, “Blue States Are the Providers, Red States Are the Parasites.”

Ostriches-head-in-sand2The subject of Palestine and Israel frequently leads to passionate, intractable arguments.  At another blog, we eventually decided to leave the topic in the “Do Not Discuss” box for the sake of peace and quiet.

I still cannot believe that some folks find disliking Israeli neocon policy to be the same as being anti-semitic, but there it is and seems to be.

I do not support Hamas or consider it blameless. Indeed, the horrific things going on in Iraq due to Sunni Muslim fundamentalism should be damned.  But, so should Israel’s continued oppression of Palestinian people.

I’m no longer staying quiet and avoiding arguments.  I cannot stay quiet while completely innocent people die, when they live under apartheid and intolerable situations, and when I hear completely unsubstantiated talking points from Israel’s propaganda ministry held up as truths.

The first completely unsubstantiated talking point just got a vote in the US House of Representatives. I’ve read every independent NGO that I can find.  There appears to be no truth to rumor that Hamas uses citizens as human shields.  There is some proof that the IDF actually uses children in that capacity.  I stand appalled.  I will call out the mass slaughter of indigenous people and innocents no matter what their religion or what their nationality.  This is ethnic cleansing with a sophisticated Luntz-style propaganda show.  I’ve linked to a well sourced article on Five Israeli Talking points that no independent source can verify and if looked into are completely false.

Hamas hides its weapons in homes, mosques and schools and uses human shields.

This is arguably one of Israel’s most insidious claims, because it blames Palestinians for their own death and deprives them of even their victimhood. Israel made the same argument in its war against Lebanon in  2006 and in its war against Palestinians in  2008. Notwithstanding its military cartoon sketches, Israel has yet to prove that Hamas has used civilian infrastructure to store military weapons. The two cases where Hamas indeed stored weapons in  UNRWA schools, the schools were empty. UNRWA discovered the rockets and publicly condemned the violation of its sanctity.

International human rights organizations that have investigated these claims have determined that they are  not true. It attributed the high death toll in Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon to Israel’s indiscriminate attacks.  Human Rights Watch notes:

The evidence Human Rights Watch uncovered in its on-the-ground investigations refutes [Israel’s] argument…we found strong evidence that Hezbollah stored most of its rockets in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in uninhabited fields and valleys, that in the vast majority of cases Hezbollah fighters left populated civilian areas as soon as the fighting started, and that Hezbollah fired the vast majority of its rockets from pre-prepared positions outside villages.

In fact, only  Israeli soldiers have systematically used Palestinians as human shields. Since Israel’s incursion into the West Bank in 2002, it has used Palestinians as human shields by tying young Palestinians onto the  hoods of their cars or forcing them to  go into a home where a potential militant may be hiding.

Even assuming that Israel’s claims were plausible, humanitarian law obligates Israel to avoid civilian casualties that “would be  excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.” A belligerent force must verify whether civilian or civilian infrastructure qualifies as a military objective. In the case of doubt, “whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed  not to be so used.”

I did want to put up a link to an interview with Rabbi Henry Seignman at Democracy Now! The Rabbi was an executive director–for some time–of the American Jewish Congress and is considered the foremost authority on Jewish people in America.  Please watch it.  The number of American Jewish Rabbis and intellectuals coming out against Israel’s policies and attacks on the occupied territories is amazing.  As the children of holocaust victims and survivors, they recognize the “slaughter of innocents”.  There are two interviews that you may watch or read. 

HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes, it’s disastrous. It’s disastrous, both in political terms, which is to say the situation cannot conceivably, certainly in the short run, lead to any positive results, to an improvement in the lives of either Israelis or Palestinians, and of course it’s disastrous in humanitarian terms, the kind of slaughter that’s taking place there. When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the slaughter of—repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis—and should be a profound crisis—in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success. It leads one virtually to a whole rethinking of this historical phenomenon.

If you’d like to read an interesting discussion on how violence drives colonization of the remaining Palestinian territories, I suggest this article in Jacobin Magazine. 

Seeing Israel as engaging in senseless bloodletting might seem an even more reasonable conclusion in light of the massacre of sixty-three people in Shujaiya after “the extensive use of artillery fire on dozens of populated areas across the Gaza Strip” that left bodies “scattered on streets,” or the bombing of United Nations shelters for those fleeing the violence. That conclusion is also tempting based on reports out of Khuza’a, a hamlet in the hinterlands of the Strip that was the scene of another Israeli massacre.

But describing such violence as aimless misses the underlying logic of Israel’s conduct throughout Operation Protective Edge and, indeed, for much of its history.

As Darryl Li points out, “Since 2005, Israel has developed an unusual, and perhaps unprecedented, experiment in colonial management in the Gaza Strip,” seeking to “isolate Palestinians there from the outside world, render them utterly dependent on external benevolence,” and at the same time “absolve Israel of responsibility toward them.”

This strategy, Li goes on to argue, is one way that Israel is working to maintain a Jewish majority in the territories it controls so that it can continue to deny equal rights for the rest of the population.

The suppression of Palestinian resistance is crucial to the success of the Israeli experiment. But there is a corollary, which is a cyclical interaction between Israeli colonialism and US militarism. As Bashir Abu-Manneh explains, there is a relationship between American imperialism and Zionist policies. American policymakers believe that an alliance with Israel helps the US control the Middle East. So the United States enables Israeli colonialism and occupation, which in turn creates contexts for further US interventions in the region that can be used to try to deepen American hegemony.

I would like to see a peaceful two- (very secular) state solution; but as I’ve said before, I don’t think Bibi wants that at all.

downloadSupreme Ruth Bader Ginsberg gave a wonderful interview to Katie Couric.  It’s worth watching.  Ginsberg is our only hope on SCOTUS.

“Do you believe that the five male justices truly understood the ramifications of their decision?” Couric asked Ginsburg of the 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling, which cleared the way for employers to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to female workers on religious grounds.

“I would have to say no,” the 81-year-old justice replied. Asked if the five justices revealed a “blind spot” in their decision, Ginsburg said yes.

The feisty leader of the court’s minority liberal bloc compared the decision of her five male peers to an old Supreme Court ruling that found discriminating against pregnant women was legal.

“But justices continue to think and can change,” she added, hopefully. “They have wives. They have daughters. By the way, I think daughters can change the perception of their fathers.

“I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow,” she said.

Rachel Maddow sent a team down to look into the Operation Save America siege of New Orleans.   If you haven’t seen the interview with the 74 year old Ostrich-man-head-in-sanddoctor whose home and clinic was terrorized, please go watch. She’s something too!  Equally as crazy is this coverage of a Louisiana Republican Woman running for Congress who ran away from a nonpartisan group that interviews candidates. 

David Wasserman reported yesterday that he recently sat down with state Rep. Lenar Whitney, a Republican congressional candidate in Louisiana’s 6th congressional district, though their interview didn’t go well.
As a House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, I’ve personally interviewed over 300 congressional candidates over the course of seven years, both to get to know them and evaluate their chances of winning. I’ve been impressed by just as many Republicans as Democrats, and underwhelmed by equal numbers, too. Most are accustomed to tough questions.
But never have I met any candidate quite as frightening or fact-averse as Louisiana state Rep. Lenar Whitney, 55, who visited my office last Wednesday.
Whitney, who reportedly likes the “Palin of the South” nickname, “froze” when asked to substantiate her claims that climate change is the “greatest deception in the history of mankind.”
And then Wasserman asked about President Obama’s birthplace.
…I asked whether she believed Obama was born in the United States. When she replied that it was a matter of some controversy, her two campaign consultants quickly whisked her out of the room, accusing me of conducting a “Palin-style interview.”
It was the first time in hundreds of Cook Political Report meetings that a candidate has fled the room.
A tip for candidates everywhere: if you literally run away from questions, you’re doing it wrong.

Whitney is running ads that say global warming is a hoax and that we’re on the verge of an ice age without any apparent knowledge of why that’s the bury-your-head-in-the-sandcase.

Whitney, a graduate of Nicholls State University who is running for Louisiana’s open 6th District, owned a dance studio in Houma, La., for 34 years and also worked in sales for small telecommunications and oilfield equipment companies. She clearly relishes poking Democrats in the eye, cites Minnesota’s Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) as a political role model, and takes kindly to the nickname “Palin of the South.”

Whitney has only raised $123,000 to date (fourth in the GOP field), but she has sought to boost her profile and appeal to conservative donors with a slickly made YouTube video entitled “GLOBAL WARMING IS A HOAX” (84,000 views so far). In the video, Whitney gleefully and confidently asserts that the theory of global warming is the “greatest deception in the history of mankind” and that “any 10-year-old” can disprove it with a simple household thermometer.

Whitney’s brand of rhetoric obviously resonates with some very conservative Louisiana voters who view President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency as big-city elitists directly attacking the state’s energy industry and their own way of life. And she would hardly be the first “climate denier” elected to Congress. But it’s not unreasonable to expect candidates to explain how they arrived at their positions, and when I pressed Whitney repeatedly for the source of her claim that the earth is getting colder, she froze and was unable to cite a single scientist, journal or news source to back up her beliefs.

We’ve definitely entered a zone where people are just saying things they believe are true simply because they want them to be true or–ala Luntz–they’ve heard it from some one who keeps repeating lies over and over again.  Hey, it ain’t there if they don’t want to see it, right?

I’m on break today.  Enjoy yourselves.  Whats on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!

The state of America’s democratic experiment really worries me these days.  It seems so railroaded by the interests of the very few.   I’m not sure if you got a girlwflagchance to read the following article at Salon by Bill Curry.  You should.  It’s about how the Democratic Party got co-opted by Wall Street interests and helped continue us down the road to complete plutocracy. It starts with out following the decline in the party’s alignment with ordinary Americans and the history of Ralph Nader’s formation of the consumer protection movement. Ultimately, it is about Nader and his new book.  But,the details of the re-alignment and Nader’s personal history are an interesting read when put into the context of our road to corporate tyranny.

In the late ’70s, deregulation fever swept the nation. Carter deregulated trucks and airlines; Reagan broke up Ma Bell, ending real oversight of phone companies. But those forays paled next to the assaults of the late ’90s. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had solid Democratic backing as did the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The communications bill authorized a massive giveaway of public airwaves to big business and ended the ban on cross ownership of media. The resultant concentration of ownership hastened the rise of hate radio and demise of local news and public affairs programming across America. As for the “modernization” of financial services, suffice to say its effect proved even more devastating. Clinton signed and still defends both bills with seeming enthusiasm.

The Telecommunications Act subverted anti-trust principles traceable to Wilson. The financial services bill gutted Glass-Steagall, FDR’s historic banking reform. You’d think such reversals would spark intra-party debate but Democrats made barely a peep. Nader was a vocal critic of both bills. Democrats, he said, were betraying their heritage and, not incidentally, undoing his life’s work. No one wanted to hear it. When Democrats noticed him again in 2000 the only question they thought to ask was, what’s got into Ralph? Such is politics in the land of the lotus eaters.

The furor over Nader arose partly because issues of economic and political power had, like Nader himself, grown invisible to Democrats. As Democrats continued on the path that led from Coehlo to Clinton to Obama, issues attendant to race, culture and gender came to define them. Had they nominated a pro-lifer in 2000 and Gloria Steinem run as an independent it’s easy to imagine many who berated Nader supporting her. Postmortems would have cited the party’s abandonment of principle as a reason for its defeat. But Democrats hooked on corporate cash and consultants with long lists of corporate clients were less attuned to Nader’s issues.

Democrats today defend the triage liberalism of social service spending but limit their populism to hollow phrase mongering (fighting for working families, Main Street not Wall Street). The rank and file seem oblivious to the party’s long Wall Street tryst. Obama’s economic appointees are the most conservative of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland but few Democrats seem to notice, or if they notice, to care.

1aee802fea74274d99f1422520e26f7fThis also happened along side a group of democratic senators–including Joe Biden–that helped seat the 5 generic, oddball Catholic men that threaten everything the country stands for by deciding almost SCOTUS decisions  in oddball Catholic ways.  (You have to wonder if they listen at all to the current Pope.)  Additionally, things have gotten so right wing in the diplomacy sector that John Kerry and Barack Obama’s state department seem to be tilting in the same direction as the neocon-infested, apartheid loving Israeli government of Bibi the Butcher of Gaza.

This certainly isn’t the party of my FDR-loving Great Grandmother Nancy Anna Chisholm Williams whose father and uncle blazed the west with the Chisholm Trail and who lived and died a Depression surviving Okie.  Big political interests keep driving the Democrats into very undemocratic places.

The Obama administration deserves much of the blame for the failure of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

It had originally been hoped that the United States would present a binding framework along the lines of what moderate Israeli and Palestinian political leaders had agreed to in unofficial talks in Geneva in 2003: Israel would recognize a Palestinian state based roughly on the pre-1967 borders with mutual territorial swaps, which would leave the Palestinians with 22 percent of historic Palestine and allow Israel to keep the remaining 78 percent; the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and all irregular militias disarmed; illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory near the Israeli border—encompassing close to 80 percent of the settlers—would be incorporated into Israel while settlers in the more remote settlements would be required to return to Israel; there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel, but there would be international assistance in helping them resettle in the new Palestinian state; and some Israeli troops would remain along border crossings between the Palestinian state and its Arab neighbors, eventually to be replaced by international forces.

The Palestinian government agreed to these terms. Israel rejected them. Rather than make public this framework, and thereby hope the Israeli public would pressure its right-wing government to compromise, the Obama administration instead insisted that “both sides” had shown a lack of will to compromise.

An interview with an anonymous U.S. official close to the peace talks in an Israeli publication confirmed numerous other reports that, despite the Obama administration’s claims to the contrary, the Palestinian side made major concessions while the Israeli side essentially refused to make any, generally refusing to talk about any substantive issues.

A host of Democratic and Republican former officials—including a former national security adviser, secretary of defense, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, trade representative, and undersecretary of state for political affairs—went on record arguing that the Obama administration would have to challenge the Israeli government’s hard line towards the Palestinians in order for the peace process to be successful. Unfortunately, the White House apparently had no interest in doing so.

Instead, Washington has focused on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to give in to U.S. and Israeli demands that he recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” While the Palestinian government, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the ruling Fatah party have all recognized the state of Israel for more than 20 years, the Obama administration has effectively moved the goalposts by declaring that recognizing the Israeli government, acknowledging its right to exist, and providing security guarantees is not enough, insisting that the Palestinians explicitly recognize the state of Israel’s ethno-religious identity as well. No previous administration has put forward such a requirement. President Carter never made such demands on Egypt, nor did President Clinton require this of Jordan as a condition for their peace treaties with Israel. Abbas has said that Israel can identify itself however it wants, but—given that 20 percent of the Israeli population is ethnically Palestinian Arab—it would be politically impossible to agree to something that would acknowledge second-class status for other Palestinians.

Never in history has any country been required to recognize the ethnic or religious identity of another state as a condition for peace. It appears, then, that the Obama administration’s demand may have been an effort to destroy any chance of a peace agreement and leave an opening to blame the Palestinians—despite their agreement to virtually every other issue—for the failure of the peace process.

The failure may also come from President Obama’s trusting Secretary of State John Kerry, a longtime supporter of the Israeli right, to play such a key role in the peace talks. In 2004, Kerry unconditionally endorsed an Israeli plan to unilaterally and illegally annex large areas of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with only a series of small non-contiguous cantons surrounded by Israel as their “state,” a proposal denounced worldwide as a violation of the UN Charter, a series of UN Security Council resolutions, and basic principles of international law. Indeed, Kerry has long insisted that it was “unrealistic” to demand an Israeli withdrawal from its occupied territories. (By contrast, Kerry has demanded that Russia withdraw completely from Crimea, citing the illegality of any country acquiring “part or all of another state’s territory through coercion or force.”)

A Democratic administration is basically supporting an apartheid state replete with ethnic cleansing.   Under what world does a secular, U.S. 586abc388d8e5ab94dee6a936e26ea36democracy support an apartheid-creating theocracy that won’t follow any agreements it made previously?   Why are we the lone country cowering in the corner with a government gone genocidal instead of searching out the country’s numerous moderates and secular leaders and finding a path to coexistance?  It truly worries me that  former SOS Hillary Clinton who went on Fareed Zakaria’s show on Sunday may continue down this road of letting huge political donors outweigh solutions and fairness. Yet, her interview sounded like there’s some key differences between Kerry’s handling of this situation and the previous problems handled by Clinton.  Is she distancing herself from her former boss and signalling that things will be different with her in charge?  Will US domestic and foreign policy stop lurching to the right?

ZAKARIA: Bibi Netanyahu…

CLINTON: Right.

ZAKARIA: You say you had a complicated, and it sounded like a difficult relationship with him.

CLINTON: Well, I have to say, I’ve known Bibi a long time. And I have a very good relationship with him, in part because we can yell at each other and we do. And I was often the designated yeller. Something would happen, a new settlement announcement would come and I would call him up, “What are you doing, you’ve got to stop this.” And we understood each other, because I know how hard it is to be the leader of a relatively small country that is under constant pressure, and does face a lot of legitimate threats to its existence from those around it. And I also care deeply about how Israel is able not just to survive, but thrive, and just fundamentally disagreed with Bibi in the ’90s that I was in favor of a two-state solution. I was the first person associated with any administration to say that out loud. And he did not. But then when he came back in in 2009, he did. And I’ve sat with him, as you and I are sitting, and I really believed that if he thought he could get adequate security guarantees for a long enough period of time, he would be able to resolve everything with the exception of Jerusalem, which is the hardest issue. You can get borders and if you can figure out how to do security within those borders, some of which may require having IDF and international forces in the Jordan Valley, for example, then if you could move toward a state and leave Jerusalem to be worked on, because that’s the hardest issue for all sides.

ZAKARIA: But, you know, he gave an interview recently to, I think it was The Times of Israel where he said there are no circumstances under which we will ever relinquish security control of the area west of the Jordan, meaning, the West Bank. That sounds like it’s a – it’s going back on his acceptance of the two-state solution.

CLINTON: Well, Fareed, I see that as an – as an opening negotiating position, because I’ve had the private one-on-one conversations and the private conversations with him sitting there and – and Mahmoud Abbas sitting there and George Mitchell sitting there. And I know that Abbas, in my conversations, was willing to entertain a number of years where there could be some continuing security. Remember, the IDF – the Israel Defense Forces – have a working relationship with the Palestinian Authority security forces, which have been incredibly professional. We’ve helped to provide training, as has Jordan and others, and the positions that Netanyahu has taken. Now, once they take a position, and I know the years that Abbas has said are – are permitted and – and I know the years that Bibi has demanded, you’re in a negotiation. But if there’s no process going on, which is why we can’t even leave the vacuum of no process, despite how incredibly frustrating it is, then, of course Abbas is going to say never, not under any circumstances, and Bibi is going to say absolutely forever.

ZAKARIA: In 2009, you said that you wanted Israel settlement activity to stop. In fact, you were pretty blunt. You said no exceptions.

CLINTON: Um-hmm.

ZAKARIA: You write in the book that that was a tactical mistake because it made on – Bibi Netanyahu get even more hardline.

CLINTON: Right.

ZAKARIA: But Martin Indyk has just resigned as the you know, the kind of – the sherpa of the peace process. And he says that the immediate trigger, in his view, there were many, but was the fact that the Palestinians looked at the Israeli continued settlement activity…

CLINTON: Right.

ZAKARIA: – and said these guys are not serious, we’re never going to be able to get a state…

CLINTON: Right.

ZAKARIA: – look at what they’re doing.

CLINTON: This is my biggest complaint, with the Israeli government. I am a strong supporter of Israel, a strong supporter of their right to defense themselves. But the continuing settlements, which have been denounced by successive American administrations on both sides of the aisle, are clearly a terrible signal to send, if, at the same time, you claim you’re looking for a two-state solution. Now, when I was negotiating and I had been able to put together three face-to-face meetings between Netanyahu and Abbas, it was clear that if we were working off the ’67 borders, which was our stated position that President Obama had outlined, some of the settlements would be within any responsible drawing of borders for Israel. But a number of them would not. And those that would not would have to be either dismantled or live under Palestinian rule. There are deep wells of mistrust and misunderstanding on both sides. And what I’ve urged the Israelis to do is do more to help the Palestinians in the West Bank right now. Don’t monopolize the water. Don’t make it difficult to build. So even while we’re struggling over the end issues that would resolve the conflict, like borders, don’t make life so miserable, you know, because that’s not any way to begin to try to deal with the mistrust. You know, the longer I do this, Fareed, the more convinced I am that mistrust and misunderstanding are often the real fundamental obstacles to bringing people together. And that means that people from both sides of whatever divide it is, whether it’s Israeli, Palestinian, you know, Russian-speaking, Ukraine-speaking, whatever it might be, people have to start listening and working together to build habits of cooperation that might possibly lead to greater trust.

b0e012742028c812b2cd54c4898bf81cThere are a number of articles where you read recent interviews with Hillary where she sounds more and more like a candidate these days. I want to hear that Hillary will take us back to democracy for all.  Not just for those who can purchase it.   Here’s Hillary on the US Border situation.

In a smart move, Hillary Clinton firmed up her position on the crisis in an interview that aired over the weekend — in a manner that, intentionally or not, sharpened the contrast with the position of most Republicans.

Speaking to Fusion’s Jorge Ramos, Clinton came out against any changes to the 2008 trafficking law, which Republicans are seeking to expedite deportations of arriving minors as a condition for supporting any money to address the debacle.

“I don’t agree that we should change the law,” Clinton told Ramos. She added that she wanted a more strenuous effort to distinguish between “migrant” children and “refugees,” to ensure that those who genuinely qualify for humanitarian relief in the U.S. obtain it. “I’m advocating an appropriate procedure, well funded by the Congress, which they are resisting doing, so that we can make individual decisions,” Clinton said. “We should be setting up a system in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, to screen kids over there, before they get in the hands of coyotes.”

In opposing changes to the 2008 law, Clinton has placed herself a bit to the left of even Obama, who initially signaled openness to such changes before backtracking after Congressional Dems objected. And Clinton is also clarifying her previous suggestion that the kids should be “sent back.”

“Like Pelosi and Reid, she’s realized that the tough line of President Obama – change the law, send ‘em back – is not the position of most Democratic voters and lawmakers,” immigration advocate Frank Sharry tells me.  “She’s repositioned herself. Smart.”

db43999108457ef4e1738648a9984985Is it likely Hillary will move us back to more traditional Democratic policies or is she likely to continue the rightward drift of elected Democratic Leaders like Obama and even Bill Clinton?  A recent poll shows that Hillary is popular with white voters; more so than a lot of Democratic pols before her.

This entire idea of having a crazy right wing nut of  GOP while Democrats continue to cater to neocons and plutocrats still worries me. We use to have two functioning parties that represented fairly diverse groups of voters. It wasn’t all sweetness and light, but there wasn’t such a concentration of policy that benefited so few coming out of them both.  They also did the business of the people.   Now we still have two parties. It’s just that one represents crazy religionists and whacked out billionaire libertarians and the other one that occasionally does something for the common american still is likely to slide further to the right to attract rich, powerful donors.

So, that’s what’s on my mind.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads: American Business Model is ruining Higher Ed

Good Morning!

e7dbf8dedc4ef651_largeI’ve been watching the death of higher education in Louisiana as Sociopathic Governor Jindal continues his war on 99%of humanity in search of higher office.  Right wing Donors are the only folks worth subsidizing and saving in Jindal’s sick mind.  I was thinking the other day that I was glad that the girls graduated before it’s gotten to this point.  Youngest daughter experienced a bit of the issue at the end of her undergrad degree since class offerings were decreasing. I’ve also been thinking about the Duquesne adjunct professor who died last year in abject poverty. I think that I’ve most likely seen my future.  Here’s a refresher about her death last August.

On Friday, Aug. 16, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct French professor who’d recently lost her job at Duquesne University at the age of 83, suffered a cardiac arrest on a street corner in Homestead, Pa.* Vojtko collapsed yards from the house where she had lived almost her entire life. She was rushed to the hospital, but she never regained consciousness. Vojtko died on Sunday, Sept. 1.

Two and a half weeks later, Vojtko’s lawyer, Daniel Kovalik, published an op-ed about Vojtko called “Death of an Adjunct” in thePittsburgh Post-Gazette. Kovalik wrote that “unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits, and with a salary of $3,000 to $3,500 per three-credit course.” (In fact, for many years, she’d earned less—only $2,556 per course.) She’d been receiving cancer treatment, he said, and she’d become essentially homeless over the winter because she couldn’t afford to maintain and heat her house. Then, in the spring, she’d been told that her contract wouldn’t be extended after the current semester. A social worker from a local government agency had been tipped off that she might need help taking care of herself, which horrified Vojtko—“For a proud professional like Margaret Mary, this was the last straw,” according to the op-ed.

Her recent life hits way too close to home for me.  I’ve noticed the rise of administration in higher education and how they seem to be embracing the largesame kind of things that are wrecking secondary education.  They want standardized testing and proof that the professor is doing their job to the point that I feel like I’m a lowly graduate student with an absentee professor.  I spend a lot of time grading things that I’m pretty sure are not contributing to anything but some administrator’s report that justifies their high salary and position.  I can also tell that many colleagues just do it arbitrarily and not too well because my students are obviously doing the same old things like recycling other people’s homework and other people’s papers.  I remind you that I only teach graduate students and those at the end of their career and those doing an academic degree that should be tougher than something like an MBA.  So, all of this leads up to this link from a speech by Noam Chomsky who relates the hiring of faculty to that of the Walmart hiring paradigm. Faculty are basically now mostly temps.  Business like workers who live in fear and insecurity. They also like them exhausted.

That’s part of the business model. It’s the same as hiring temps in industry or what they call “associates” at Wal-Mart, employees that aren’t owed benefits. It’s a part of a  corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility. When universities become corporatized, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generation as part of the general neoliberal assault on the population, their business model means that what matters is the bottom line. The effective owners are the trustees (or the legislature, in the case of state universities), and they want to keep costs down and make sure that labor is docile and obedient. The way to do that is, essentially, temps. Just as the hiring of temps has gone way up in the neoliberal period, you’re getting the same phenomenon in the universities. The idea is to divide society into two groups. One group is sometimes called the “plutonomy” (a term used by Citibank when they were advising their investors on where to invest their funds), the top sector of wealth, globally but concentrated mostly in places like the United States. The other group, the rest of the population, is a “precariat,” living a precarious existence.

This idea is sometimes made quite overt. So when Alan Greenspan was testifying before Congress in 1997 on the marvels of the economy he was running, he said straight out that one of the bases for its economic success was imposing what he called “greater worker insecurity.” If workers are more insecure, that’s very “healthy” for the society, because if workers are insecure they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively. And that’s optimal for corporations’ economic health. At the time, everyone regarded Greenspan’s comment as very reasonable, judging by the lack of reaction and the great acclaim he enjoyed. Well, transfer that to the universities: how do you ensure “greater worker insecurity”? Crucially, by not guaranteeing employment, by keeping people hanging on a limb than can be sawed off at any time, so that they’d better shut up, take tiny salaries, and do their work; and if they get the gift of being allowed to serve under miserable conditions for another year, they should welcome it and not ask for any more. That’s the way you keep societies efficient and healthy from the point of view of the corporations. And as universities move towards a corporate business model, precarity is exactly what is being imposed. And we’ll see more and more of it.

vintage_classroom_college_university_students_professorAlso part of the business model is making sure you’re as miserable as possible and that your assigned management baby sitter loads you down with so much nonsense that even when you don’t have anything productive to do, you have to pretend you are. Chomsky sums up the goal of all this.

Well how do you indoctrinate the young? There are a number of ways. One way is to burden them with hopelessly heavy tuition debt. Debt is a trap, especially student debt, which is enormous, far larger than credit card debt. It’s a trap for the rest of your life because the laws are designed so that you can’t get out of it. If a business, say, gets in too much debt it can declare bankruptcy, but individuals can almost never be relieved of student debt through bankruptcy. They can even garnish social security if you default. That’s a disciplinary technique. I don’t say that it was consciously introduced for the purpose, but it certainly has that effect. And it’s hard to argue that there’s any economic basis for it. Just take a look around the world: higher education is mostly free. In the countries with the highest education standards, let’s say Finland, which is at the top all the time, higher education is free. And in a rich, successful capitalist country like Germany, it’s free. In Mexico, a poor country, which has pretty decent education standards, considering the economic difficulties they face, it’s free. In fact, look at the United States: if you go back to the 1940s and 50s, higher education was pretty close to free. The GI Bill gave free education to vast numbers of people who would never have been able to go to college. It was very good for them and it was very good for the economy and the society; it was part of the reason for the high economic growth rate. Even in private colleges, education was pretty close to free. Take me: I went to college in 1945 at an Ivy League university, University of Pennsylvania, and tuition was $100. That would be maybe $800 in today’s dollars. And it was very easy to get a scholarship, so you could live at home, work, and go to school and it didn’t cost you anything. Now it’s outrageous. I have grandchildren in college, who have to pay for their tuition and work and it’s almost impossible. For the students that is a disciplinary technique.

And another technique of indoctrination is to cut back faculty-student contact: large classes, temporary teachers who are overburdened, who can barely survive on an adjunct salary. And since you don’t have any job security you can’t build up a career, you can’t move on and get more. These are all techniques of discipline, indoctrination, and control. And it’s very similar to what you’d expect in a factory, where factory workers have to be disciplined, to be obedient; they’re not supposed to play a role in, say, organizing production or determining how the workplace functions—that’s the job of management. This is now carried over to the universities. And I think it shouldn’t surprise anyone who has any experience in private enterprise, in industry; that’s the way they work.

The Corporate apparatchik are the only ones that gain from a workforce that behave and think like sheep. There are so many examples of intellectual BeuysAchberg78laziness these days on the part of so-called professionals that I could spend a weeks worth of posts on it.  But, let’s just start with a few recent ones.  Ever read BuzzFeed?  Well, it seems one editor lifted material from Yahoo. I wonder who taught him that Yahoo is an appropriate source?

Yahoo! Answers, one of the great artifacts of Internet history, is intently studied at viral news website BuzzFeed, where its trove of half-literate questions (and even less literate answers) has supplied material for at least fifty different posts and listicles. One BuzzFeed editor, however, has streamlined this aggregation process to its vanishing point: Simply copying text from Yahoo! Answers and pasting it, without attribution, into his own work.

Two pseudonymous Twitter users pointed out today that BuzzFeed’s Viral Politics editor, Benny Johnson, has periodically lifted text from a variety of sources—Wikipedia, U.S. News & World Report, a random press release—all without credit. The users, @blippoblappo and@crushingbort, supply convincing evidence that Johnson slightly reworded various sentences to make them his own.

I struggle daily with telling students that none of those sites are appropriate sources. But, under the pressure of grading deadlines and having to give them tons of busy work, it sure is tempting just to throw my hands up and pass so that I can spend less time and maybe approach the minimum wage.

The funny thing is that the costs of higher education focused on by the press are cost of tenured faculty.  What they don’t seem to understand is that a lot of faculty–especially those in the really low paying subject areas–generally run to administrative jobs for wages.  A lot of the money is also going to fancy dorms, student centers, and leather chair laden classrooms for executives so the university can attract the cash cow students.  I really don’t think people–like whoever wrote this article in The Economist--actually look at where the money goes.  They believe that online education is going to be the norm in the future.

In the meantime, a second generation of MOOC is trying to mirror courses offered at traditional universities. Georgia Institute of Technology and Udacity have joined forces with AT&T, a telecoms firm, to create an online master’s degree in computing for $7,000, to run in parallel with a similar campus-based qualification that costs around $25,000. Mona Mourshead, who runs McKinsey’s education consultancy, sees a turning point. “If employers accept this on equal terms, the MOOC master’s degree will have taken off. Others will surely follow,” she says.

Although some companies have authored online courses (Google, for instance, has made a MOOC on how to interpret data), established universities still create most of them. To encourage them to spare their best academics’ time to put the courses together, online-learning companies must give them a financial incentive. EdX says it is “self-sustaining” but provides no details of its revenues. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last year that edX lets universities use its platform in return for the first $50,000 generated by the course, plus a cut of future revenues. An alternative model that it reportedly offers is to charge $250,000 for “production assistance” in creating a course, plus further fees every term that the course is offered. Coursera reveals only its revenue from certification—around $4m since its launch in 2012—for which it charges students between $30 and $100.

Some have struggled to make a business out of this. Last year Udacity underwent an abrupt “pivot”, declaring that the free model was not working and that from then on it would sell professional online training. Although web-based courses are much cheaper than on-campus ones, they will not retain ambitious students unless they replicate the interaction available in good universities. Making teachers available for digital seminars and increasing the level of interactivity could help. So would more detailed online feedback. Improvements like these raise costs. So a more varied MOOC-ecology might end up with varying price-tiers, ranging from a basic free model to more expensive bespoke ones.

The universities least likely to lose out to online competitors are elite institutions with established reputations and low student-to-tutor ratios. That is good news for the Ivy League, Oxbridge and co, which offer networking opportunities to students alongside a degree. Students at universities just below Ivy League level are more sensitive to the rising cost of degrees, because the return on investment is smaller. Those colleges might profit from expanding the ratio of online learning to classroom teaching, lowering their costs while still offering the prize of a college education conducted partly on campus.

Notice that last suggestion still says that the cost of the professor is the problem not all the supporting infrastructure and bureaucracy.

The problem that I have with all this is the underlying assumption that the private, corporate business model is efficient, effective, and lower cost.  The deal is that most of the lower costs come from de-professionalizing almost all employees in the hierarchy and de-emphasizing personal service.  Everything is consolidated away from service provision.

Anyway, I doubt I’ll visit this topic again anytime soon, but I did want to offer up the nightmare that’s become a university teaching job. I have to say I get ready to get my social security more and more every day.  This is no longer the stuff written about in Wallace Stegner and John Updike books. I’ve started to feel like an overworked and insecure cog in a wheel over which I have no control.  Yup, that’s the stench of American Business.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads: News Exhaustion Edition

Good Morning!

nap-timeWe’re going to have to see what I come up with today because I openly admit to being extremely tired.  We’ve had all this rain recently and it’s dark and gloomy all the time.  Yesterday, it was so hard and heavy that the French Quarter flooded.  So, here are a few things to consider before I head back to bed for awhile.

The Boston Globe features an article arguing that Southern Blacks and Hispanics will eventually trump angry, resentful, and backward white Republican voters in the South.  If only. The analysis is by Bob Moser.  The demographics have to be playing into white backlash which make the South the epicenter of voter suppression laws but it’s also a place where voter turnout is highly irregular.

The question is whether Democrats in these states are better served by following the region’s five-decade-long drift toward the GOP — or by betting that the climate is finally changing in their favor.

It’s a sign of things to come in states like North Carolina, where large influxes of Latino immigrants and “relocated Yankees,” both black and white, are tilting the demographic balance toward the Democrats and inspiring a new progressive movement. But despite Obama’s own surprising Southern breakthroughs — after Al Gore and John Kerry lost the entire region, he won three large Southern states in 2008 and two in 2012, falling just short in North Carolina — the region’s blue future is still a long-term proposition. Candidates like Hagan are stuck between the past, when Southern Democrats’ recipe for victory involved courting white moderates and conservativesand a future in which they’ll be able to successfully campaign as full-throated, national-style Democrats. To win, Hagan and her compatriots must simultaneously woo independent-minded whites while persuading massive numbers of young voters and nonwhites, who lean left on both economic and social issues, to join them.

It’s an awkward proposition, to be sure. But the Democratic contenders have appeared hell-bent on making it look downright impossible.

But, it appears Georgia may already be in just that state of mind.

In a poll by Landmark Communications released Sunday, Democrat Michelle Nunn has a commanding lead against both of her potential challengers in Georgia’s US Senate race. Against Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) Nunn is up by eight points, 49% to 41%. The poll also shows her with a nice lead against businessman David Perdue as Nunn leads him 48% to 42%. Perdue and Kingston are heading into a GOP primary runoff this coming Tuesday. The survey shows Kingston with a sizable lead as he is ahead by seven points, 48% to 41%.

While Nunn holds leads against both men, the thought is that she’d prefer to face Kingston in the general election. Atlanta-based political analyst Bill Crane had the following to say after this poll was released.

“I think Michelle Nunn would prefer to run against Jack Kingston. Twenty-two year incumbent, PAC money, special interest, her preferred race is the race that I think she’s going to get.”

Nunn taking the Georgia Senate seat would put a huge crimp in the plans of Republicans who feel they can take over the US Senate this November. Currently, the GOP needs to net six seats in the midterm to become the majority party in the Upper Chamber. Losing a Senate seat in a deep-red state that was previously held by a Republican will almost certainly prevent Republicans from taking over the Senate. While it is nearly a given that Democrats will lose seats this November, it is looking more and more promising that they will be able to retain control of the Senate.

There’s all kinds of things happening that have caused me to pull the blankets over my head. The horrors in the Gaza strip, the ongoing downed napMalaysian jet catastrophe, and the week long visit of the Army of God to our city.  They’re all over our women’s health clinics and they are creepy as creepy gets. Russia’s hand prints are all over the downed commercial airliner.  Militants weirdly suggested that the people on the plane were all dead before the plane took off.  WTF kind of craziness is this?

In a briefing at the Pentagon on Friday, Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters that it “strains credulity” to think pro-Russian separatists believed to have shot down MH17 didn’t have at least some help from Moscow. Kirby said the Buk is a “sophisticated piece of technology” that would likely require technical assistance from Russia.

Inside a Buk. As you can see, it’s not as easy as just pushing one big red button.

Indeed, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove said in June the U.S. military’s intelligence was that rebels were being trained in tanks and anti-aircraft capability across the border, before heading back into eastern Ukraine to put it into practice.

According to IHS Jane’s Defense, a resource for intelligence and defense analysis, operating a Buk requires a trained crew. While the government of Ukraine also has Buk missile systems, Jane’s notes that the Ukrainian military has none of the systems in the region near the MH17 crash, as they were overtaken by pro-Russian separatists.

“The system is not a simple system to use. You need at least four to six months of training and ongoing training to operate it,” Ronald Bishop, a former U.S. Air Force missile expert, told Australia’s Warwick Daily News. “To fire this system you need to have highly-specialized military training.”

It finally looks like Europe is getting fed up with Russia and their cronies.  The response comes because of the careless treatments of the remains of the imagesvictims of the missile attack.

Investigators are still far from an official judgment of what brought down a Malaysia Airlines flight in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew onboard. But the global court of public opinion, the verdict appears to be rendered.

Vladimir Putin is guilty.

The Russian President could once claim a semblance of a role as a global statesmen. But with the downing of a commercial airliner by what U.S. and Ukrainian officials suggest were pro-Moscow rebels using a missile supplied by Russia, Putin was facing a very personal barrage of worldwide condemnation that threatened to result in further sanctions on Russia if it did not rapidly change course in Ukraine.

Australia raised the prospect of banning Putin from a G-20 meeting of the world’s most powerful nations in November if he did not exert more pressure on the rebels who left corpses strewn on the ground for days,contaminated the crash site, and hampered an international investigation. Britain, meanwhile, openly accused the Russian leader of sponsoring “terrorism.” U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, appearing on multiple political talk shows Sunday, called this a “moment of truth” for Russia.

Particularly in Europe – a continent long leery of going too far to pressure Moscow over its support of separatists in Ukraine – initial shock was quickly gathering into outrage and action.

On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron held a joint phone call on Russia. A Downing Street spokesman said the three leaders agreed that the European Union “must reconsider its approach to Russia and that foreign ministers should be ready to impose further sanctions on Russia when they meet on Tuesday.”

 

2607621162_13ece1c44c-1John Kerry gave Fox News a perfect opener during an appearance on Sunday.  Fox is about as neocon as you can get and they love it when Israel goes on any killing spree. Kerry’s oops moment is interesting. It’s hard to believe some one as skilled in politics as Kerry didn’t assume a hot mike and inquiring minds.

In an unusual moment during “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace presented Secretary of State John Kerry with video recorded before he came on air.

Wallace introduced the segment as being in reference to civilians killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip. “While you were on camera and while on microphone,” Wallace said, “you spoke to one of your top aides between the interviews about the situation in Israel.” He then played what the network had recorded. In the clip, Kerry is holding a cellphone conversation with someone. The person on the other end of the call isn’t identified, and the audio from the other participant is staticky.

Kerry’s comments are clear. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” he says, then repeats it. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.” It’s an apparent reference to Israel’s insistence that its incursion into the region would be limited. “It’s escalating significantly,” the person on the phone replies, and Kerry then says: “We’ve got to get over there. I think we ought to go tonight.” He then calls it “crazy” to be “sitting around.”

“When you said it’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Wallace asked, are you “upset that the Israelis are going too far?”

“It’s very difficult in these situations,” Kerry said, repeating that the United States supports Israel’s right to defend itself. He then explained his comments by saying, “I reacted, obviously, in a way that anybody does in respect to young children and civilians.”

tumblr_m5tge0pM4O1qatsw8I’m getting really tired of every one fellating Bibi.  He’s got to be high up there on the War Criminals list now and it’s about time we pressure Israel for a regime change. To hate Bibi is not to hate Jewish people.  It’s to abhor genocide.  I just really have gotten to the point where I hate religion altogether and the Abrahamic brands are just about the worst of it all. It’s just evil. Here’s the resident evil religious whackos plaguing New Orleans for the week. I’m probably going to go do some clinic escorting midweek.

A week of planned anti-abortion protests in the New Orleans area began Saturday morning (July 19) with about 55 people affiliated with Operation Save America gathered at the Causeway Medical Clinic in Metairie.

Shortly after, 40 picketed a private home in Carrollton, some holding posters with graphic images of aborted fetuses. Organizer Rusty Thomas of Waco, Texas, said activists are still arriving and other demonstrations are planned for coming days.

The organization said it was encouraged by anew Louisiana law that opponents say will likely shut down three of the five clinics in the state that perform abortions. The law, which supporters say is aimed at improving patient safety, goes into effect Sept. 1.

Richard Fegan of Mandeville, outside the Metairie location, said, “We’re trying to shut the place down because God gives life and God takes life … this place is trying to be God.”

Planned Parenthood said the protests are sparked by the organization’s upcoming new facility on South Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans. No one was gathered at the construction site Saturday morning.

“Planned Parenthood’s focus is the health and safety of women, men and families in Louisiana,” said Melissa Flournoy, state director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, in a statement. “These extremist organizations are trying to stop a new health center from serving this community, but in the end they’re only helping us build more support.”

It’s just hard to know what to do with people that just want to inflict their view of the world on the rest of us.  What is with all this craziness?  It’s like we’ve not gotten much farther than when we crawled out of the caves.  At least back then, we could only do limited damage.

Anyway, naptime is calling my name folks!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 

 


Saturday Reads: A li’l bit of This and That

Good Morning!

I thought I’d just try to put up a bunch of interesting articles that I’ve read recently, so I’m pretty sure there’s no theme here.  I guess we’ll see as I meander into each of them.

Economics started out as the study of Political Economy. Many of its early thinkers were definitely more essayists than researchers using data and vintage-science-picture-5statistical methods to look for trends.  The study of what we call frictions–or things in markets that cause them to stray from a perfect model—has been really important since we’ve learned to use data to empirically test theoretical models and constructs.  It’s interesting to go back to many of these early philosophical writers and notice that their gut feelings–as expressed in their essays–are as germane now as they were then. Karl Polanyi critiqued early market Capitalism in the 20th century in “The Great Transformation.” Polanyi argued that the idea of an efficient market economy was basically as utopian as its Marxist counterpoint.  Two sociologists have written a book that revisits the Polanyi critique.  Is the Free Market an impossible Utopia?  This is from an interview with the two researchers.

Polanyi’s core thesis is that there is no such thing as a free market; there never has been, nor can there ever be. Indeed he calls the very idea of an economy independent of government and political institutions a “stark utopia”—utopian because it is unrealizable, and the effort to bring it into being is doomed to fail and will inevitably produce dystopian consequences. While markets are necessary for any functioning economy, Polanyi argues that the attempt to create a market society is fundamentally threatening to human society and the common good In the first instance the market is simply one of many different social institutions; the second represents the effort to subject not just real commodities (computers and widgets) to market principles but virtually all of what makes social life possible, including clean air and water, education, health care, personal, legal, and social security, and the right to earn a livelihood. When these public goods and social necessities (what Polanyi calls “fictitious commodities”) are treated as if they are commodities produced for sale on the market, rather than protected rights, our social world is endangered and major crises will ensue.

Free market doctrine aims to liberate the economy from government “interference”, but Polanyi challenges the very idea that markets and governments are separate and autonomous entities. Government action is not some kind of “interference” in the autonomous sphere of economic activity; there simply is no economy without government rules and institutions. It is not just that society depends on roads, schools, a justice system, and other public goods that only government can provide. It is thatall of the key inputs into the economy—land, labor, and money—are only created and sustained through continuous government action. The employment system, the arrangements for buying and selling real estate, and the supplies of money and credit are organized and maintained through the exercise of government’s rules, regulations, and powers.

By claiming it is free-market advocates who are the true utopians, Polanyi helps explain the free market’s otherwise puzzlingly tenacious appeal: It embodies a perfectionist ideal of a world without “coercive” constraints on economic activities while it fiercely represses the fact that power and coercion are the unacknowledged features of all market participation.

tumblr_n30dq5LmdH1qbn5m1o3_500I have another study for BB.   This one was published in the July issue of Cognitive Science.  The authors found that children who are not exposed to religious stories are better able to tell that characters in “fantastical stories” are fictional.  Children raised in a religious environment even “approach unfamiliar, fantastical stories flexibly.”  

In “Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds,” Kathleen Corriveau, Eva Chen, and Paul Harris demonstrate that children typically have a “sensitivity to the implausible or magical elements in a narrative,” and can determine whether the characters in the narrative are real or fictional by references to fantastical elements within the narrative, such as “invisible sails” or “a sword that protects you from danger every time.”

However, children raised in households in which religious narratives are frequently encountered do not treat those narratives with the same skepticism. The authors believed that these children would “think of them as akin to fairy tales,” judging “the events described in them as implausible or magical and conclude that the protagonists in such narratives are only pretend.”

And yet, “this prediction is likely to be wrong,” because “with appropriate testimony from adults” in religious households, children “will conceive of the protagonist in such narratives as a real person — even if the narrative includes impossible events.”

The researchers took 66 children between the ages of five and six and asked them questions about stories — some of which were drawn from fairy tales, others from the Old Testament — in order to determine whether the children believed the characters in them were real or fictional.

“Children with exposure to religion — via church attendance, parochial schooling, or both — judged [characters in religious stories] to be real,” the authors wrote. “By contrast, children with no such exposure judged them to be pretend,” just as they had the characters in fairy tales. But children with exposure to religion judged many characters in fantastical, but not explicitly religious stories, to also be real — the equivalent of being incapable of differentiating between Mark Twain’s character Tom Sawyer and an account of George Washington’s life.

Archaeologists have found an 8000 year old skull containing residual brain matter. Girton Laboratory

Archaeologists in Norway have found what could potentially be an 8,000-year-old human skull – which contains traces of brain matter.The finding at a site in Stokke, Vestfold, could shed light on life in the Stone Age, a period that lasted roughly 3.4 million years, and ended between 6000 BC and 2000 BC.It was among a number of discoveries unearthed during the excavation, The Local reported.

It is too early to tell whether the bone remains are those of a human or an animal, but early tests have dated the skull to around 5,900BC, placing it within the prehistoric Stone Age period.

Gaute Reitan, dig site leader, told NRK that the “one of a kind” skull contained a grey substance that appeared to be brain matter.

But he said it was not possible to confirm if it belongs to a human.

mad-scienceThe Guardian reports that the Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists are scurrying to cover up their guilt in the shoot down of the Malaysian commercial jet killing hundreds of people.

The OSCE was trying to gain access to one part of the large crash site but the commander of a rebel unit, known as Commander Glum, blocked them. After the warning shot, the OSCE convoy departed.

There is also confusion over the black boxes and other devices apparently salvaged from the plane. A rebel military commander initially said he was considering what to do with them, while another rebel leader, Aleksandr Borodai, contradicting his colleague, said the rebels had no black boxes or any other devices.

The Ukrainian interior ministry added to fears of a cover-up when it released video purportedly taken by police showing a truck carrying a Buk missile launcher with one of its four missiles apparently missing, rolling towards the Russian border at dawn. The video could not be independently verified.

Other material on rebel social media sites was being deleted, including pictures showing the alleged capture of Buk missile vehicles by rebels from a Ukrainian air base last month.

Rebels said the boast on the social media site on Thursday that a plane had been shot down was not put up by them but by a sympathiser who mistakenly assumed it was a Ukrainian military plane that had been shot down. But in a separate posting a rebel leader also claimed that a plane had been brought down. “We warned you – do not fly in our sky,” he said. That too was removed.

A Nato intelligence specialist quoted by the military analysts Janes said the recordings “show that the Russian ‘helpers’ realise that they now have an international incident on their hands – and they probably also gave the order for separatists to erase all evidence – including those internet postings. It will be interesting to see if we ever find this Buk battery again or if someone now tries to dump it into a river.”

Video footage allegedly taken on Thursday appeared to support the idea that pro-Russia separatists had been to blame. It showed a Buk battery seemingly being moved in the rebel-held area between Snizhne and Torez close to the crash site. A still picture allegedly shows a missile in vertical launch mode beside a supermarket in Torez. However, the location has still to be established.

Ukrainian intelligence has published a tape said to be a recording between rebels and Russian intelligence in which they realise there has been a catastrophic blunder. One recording is said to be between a rebel commander, Igor Bezler, and a Russian intelligence officer in which he says: “We have just shot down a plane.” A second recording from an unidentified source puts the blame on Cossack militiamen.

Defence analysts with Russian expertise shared Power’s scepticism that Russia-backed rebel groups would have had the expertise to fire the missile and suggested it was more likely to have been Russian ground troops who specialise in air defence, seconded to help the rebels.

At the Pentagon, officials said a motive for the operation had yet to be determined, as had the chain of command. One said it would be “surprising to us” if pro-Russia separatists were able to operate the Buk missile battery without Russian technical support. The Ukrainian military confirmed it has Buk batteries but said it had none in the area the missile was fired.

Nato had Awacs surveillance and command-and-control planes flying in the Baltics around the time of the crash, but Pentagon officials did not think the aircraft picked up indications of the disaster.

Bob Latiff, a former US weapons developer for the air force and the CIA and now a professor at Notre Dame University, said he leaned towards a belief that it was a case of mistaken identity on the part of those who pressed the button.

“A radar return from an airplane like this would look very similar to that from a cargo plane, as was initially claimed by the separatists. If radar was all they were using, that is a shame,” he said. “All airliners emit identification signals which identify the aircraft and provide other information like altitude and speed. They also operate on known communications frequencies. It doesn’t sound like the separatists were using any of this.

“My guess is the system’s radar saw a return from a big ‘cargo’ plane flying at 30,000 ft or so and either automatically fired, or some aggressive, itchy operator fired, not wanting to miss an opportunity.”

Latiff said that if they had only one radar, as Ukrainian officials suggest, it would have been pointed at the target. A second, rotating one would normally have been part of a battery to pick up other planes in the immediate vicinity, but he said even that would not have established whether it was a commercial plane and there would normally have been communications equipment to pick up signals showing the plane was non-military.

Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military specialist at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said he regarded the tape recordings as genuine, as well as postings on social media pointing the finger at pro-Russia separatists or Russia itself.

But getting evidence would be very difficult. He said: “A decision has been made on the Russian side to hide their tracks. It will be hard to find the battery.” Satellites might have been able to catch something, but the trail from the missile would have been very short, Sutyagin said.

So, I still can’t discern much of a pattern here but I just found all these links very interesting.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?