Monday Reads

Good Morning!

A friend of mine of 30 years visited me the last few days so we did some things that I rarely do.  This included seeing a Broadway play.  We saw 220px-AnniePlaybillFlashdance the Musical, let me say, in terms of entertainment and music, those are three hours I will never get back, I’m afraid.  I even went to the bar during the intermission and got a very large gin and tonic to see me through the second act.  It really didn’t help as much as I’d hoped.  Some things are better left as chintzy 80s movies.  The supplemental songs were completely forgettable!  I was trying to forget them as they were being sung.  I actually think the last composer worth anything on Broadway was Steven Sondheim and whoever wrote these songs proved me right again.

All the musicals these days have everything but singable songs, I swear! Maybe it’s because I had just seen Bernadette Peters sing Rogers and Hammerstein,  Sondheim, and Irvin Berlin songs that still make my heart strings go zing!!!  But not even all these splashy dance numbers and a few old 80s hits could juice this show.  I’d have gone out to play Angry Birds in the Lobby if I wasn’t sitting in the middle of the row and would’ve rudely awakened my seat prisoners. “Gloria” was included.  It’s not an ice skating scene, however, it’s now a tawdry stripper club dance number.  The song had to be the worst arranged version I’d ever heard of anything  Plus, the  Michael Nouri character got morphed into some goody two shoes white male trust fund baby that rescued all the womminz, the blax, and the real working men.  Not funny. Skip it if it flashdances into a town near you.

So, I’m getting caught up with things that do intrigue me.  That means this post is going to be weird, so sit tight. First up–and you know it was coming–is about the remains of Richard the Lionheart. A group of forensic scientist had at them.

When the English monarch, nicknamed Richard the Lionheart, died in 1199 his heart was embalmed and buried separately from the rest of his body.

Its condition was too poor to reveal the cause of death, but the team was able to rule out a theory that he had been killed by a poisoned arrow. The researchers were also able to find out more about the methods used to preserve his organ. The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The medieval king became known as Richard the Lionheart because of his reputation as a courageous military leader.
He was central to the Third Crusade, fighting against the Muslim leader Saladin. Although he ruled England, he spent much of his time in France, and was killed there after being hit by a crossbow bolt during a siege on a castle.

Tomb of Richard I Richard I’s remains were divided after he died – his heart was buried in a tomb in Rouen. After his death, his body was divided up – a common practice for aristocracy during the Middle Ages. His entrails were buried in Chalus, which is close to Limoges in central France. The rest of his body was entombed further north, in Fontevraud Abbey, but his heart was embalmed and buried in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Rouen.
The remains of his heart – now a grey-brown powder – were locked away in a small lead box, and discovered in the 19th Century during an excavation. But until now, they had not been studied in detail. To find out more, a team of forensic specialists and historians performed a biological analysis

Economist William K Black asks a great question here: “Sequester Insanity: Why Are We Flushing Economic Recovery Down the Toilet?” Yes, Mourning Joe, another economist disagrees with you and agrees with Krugman, imagine that!!

We have been strangling the economic recovery through economic incompetence — and worse is in store because President Obama continues to embrace (1) the self-inflicted wound of austerity, (2) austerity primarily through cuts in vital social programs that are already under-funded, and (3) attacking the safety net by reducing Social Security and Medicare benefits. The latest insanity is the sequester — the fourth act of austerity in the last 20 months. The August 2011 budget deal caused large cuts to social spending. The January 2013 “fiscal cliff” deal increased taxes on the wealthy and ended the moratorium on collecting the full payroll tax. The sequester will be the fourth assault on our already weak economic recovery. We have a jobs crisis in America — not a government spending crisis and the cumulative effect of these four acts of austerity has caused a certainty of weak growth and a serious risk that we will throw our economy back into recession. The Eurozone’s recession — caused by austerity — greatly adds to the risk to our economy because Europe remains our leading trading partner.

President Obama and a host of administration spokespersons have condemned the sequestration, explaining how it will cause catastrophic damage to hundreds of vital government services. Those of us who teach economics, however, always stress “revealed preferences” — it’s not what you say that matters, it’s what you do that matters. Obama has revealed his preference by refusing to sponsor, or even support, a clean bill that would kill the sequestration threat to our nation. Instead, he has nominated Jacob Lew, the author of the sequestration provision, as his principal economic advisor. Lew is one of the strongest proponents of austerity and what he and Obama call the “Grand Bargain” — which would inflict large cuts in social programs and the safety net and some increases in revenues. Obama has made clear that he hopes this Grand Betrayal (my phrase) will be his legacy. Obama and Lew do not want to remove the sequester because they view it as creating the leverage — over progressives — essential to induce them to vote for the Grand Betrayal.

Yes.  Grand Betrayal.  But, it is what he was planning all along, yes?  It’s not like he hasn’t written or talked about it.   So, we may not lose what we paid for but it certainly is going to be much watered down by the time the Beltway is done.

I’ve been meaning to read this much discussed article by Ruth Rosen.  I’m doing it now and making sure that you didn’t miss it. It was published in Slate last week and is titled: Women’s rights is the longest revolution .  It highlights many things in the women’s movement but focuses on one thing that we should never put at the end of our lists of demands; the end to violence against women.

As an activist and historian, I’m still shocked that women activists (myself included) didn’t add violence against women to those three demands back in 1970. Fear of male violence was such a normal part of our lives that it didn’t occur to us to highlight it — not until feminists began, during the 1970s, to publicize the wife-beating that took place behind closed doors and to reveal how many women were raped by strangers, the men they dated, or even their husbands.

Nor did we see how any laws could end it.  As Rebecca Solnit wrote in a powerful essay recently, one in five women will be raped during her lifetime and gang rape is pandemic around the world.  There are now laws against rape and violence toward women. There is even a U.N. international resolution on the subject.  In 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna declared that violence against girls and women violated their human rights.  After much debate, member nations ratified the resolution and dared to begin calling supposedly time-honored “customs” — wife beating, honor killings, dowry deaths, genital mutilation — what they really are: brutal and gruesome crimes. Now, the nations of the world had a new moral compass for judging one another’s cultures. In this instance, the demands made by global feminists trumped cultural relativism, at least when it involved violence against women.

Still, little enough has changed.  Such violence continues to keep women from walking in public spaces. Rape, as feminists have always argued, is a form of social control, meant to make women invisible and shut them in their homes, out of public sight.  That’s why activists created “take back the night” protests in the late 1970s.  They sought to reclaim the right to public space without fear of rape.

The daytime brutal rape and killing of a 23-year-old in India in early January 2013 prompted the first international protest around violence against women. Maybe that will raise the consciousness of some men. But it’s hard to feel optimistic when you realize how many rapes are still regularly being committed globally.

So, any of you that know me closely know that I’ve been screaming about ‘new’ neighbors and wondering what’s up with my neighborhood. Here’s a great article on my New Orleans Bywater Neighborhood:  Gentrification and its Discontents: Notes from New Orleans. The house prices in my neighborhood have skyrocketed.  We are now have multiple eateries where arrugala, kale, and things that totally confused my Omaha friend are on the menus.  The article really explains what’s been going on around me as we’ve been taken over from by Class 4 hipsters.  Here’s the bit about how a neighborhood ‘gentrifies’.  You can read more about my neighborhood in particular at the link.

The frontiers of gentrification are “pioneered” by certain social cohorts who settle sequentially, usually over a period of five to bywater-art-tn1twenty years. The four-phase cycle often begins with—forgive my tongue-in-cheek use of vernacular stereotypes: (1) “gutter punks” (their term), young transients with troubled backgrounds who bitterly reject societal norms and settle, squatter-like, in the roughest neighborhoods bordering bohemian or tourist districts, where they busk or beg in tattered attire.

On their unshod heels come (2) hipsters, who, also fixated upon dissing the mainstream but better educated and obsessively self-aware, see these punk-infused neighborhoods as bastions of coolness.

Their presence generates a certain funky vibe that appeals to the third phase of the gentrification sequence: (3) “bourgeois bohemians,” to use David Brooks’ term. Free-spirited but well-educated and willing to strike a bargain with middle-class normalcy, this group is skillfully employed, buys old houses and lovingly restores them, engages tirelessly in civic affairs, and can reliably be found at the Saturday morning farmers’ market. Usually childless, they often convert doubles to singles, which removes rentable housing stock from the neighborhood even as property values rise and lower-class renters find themselves priced out their own neighborhoods. (Gentrification in New Orleans tends to be more house-based than in northeastern cities, where renovated industrial or commercial buildings dominate the transformation).

After the area attains full-blown “revived” status, the final cohort arrives: (4) bona fide gentry, including lawyers, doctors, moneyed retirees, and alpha-professionals from places like Manhattan or San Francisco. Real estate agents and developers are involved at every phase transition, sometimes leading, sometimes following, always profiting.

Native tenants fare the worst in the process, often finding themselves unable to afford the rising rent and facing eviction. Those who own, however, might experience a windfall, their abodes now worth ten to fifty times more than their grandparents paid. Of the four-phase process, a neighborhood like St. Roch is currently between phases 1 and 2; the Irish Channel is 3-to-4 in the blocks closer to Magazine and 2-to-3 closer to Tchoupitoulas; Bywater is swiftly moving from 2 to 3 to 4; Marigny is nearing 4; and the French Quarter is post-4.

I just refer to them as the barbarian hordes of yupsters, but I guess that’s not the academic term for it.  On a bright note, I could never afford my house now and can sell it for a huge amount of money.  Actually, I’m not so sure that’s a bright note because now my new neighbors do not like the charm of my slightly run down green house or the fact I prefer low up keep weeds to grass in the alley.  Oh, well … I still miss the old coterie of merchant seamen that were drag queens when they got back home, hippies thrown out of the quarter, old people left over from the old days, and section 8 rental denizens.  After all, what’s a few seedy people among friends if they’ve got character and a good story to tell over a beer?

So, there’s a little this and that to get you started on a Monday Morning.  I didn’t want to depress you with the Sunday Presskateers so, you will just have to hit the Charles Pierce link for that.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Athens Burning

From our vantage point in the US, Greece seems very far away.  That is an illusion of mere miles.  The disintegration of the Cradle of Democracy should send shivers down the spine of every American because this is what a plutocracy looks like. This is the dismantlement of a civil society for the sake of the 1%.

Yes, yes, we’ve heard all the stories of the profligate Greeks, lazy to the extreme, addicted to the welfare state, ridiculously high wages and cushy, early retirements.  The Greeks, we are told, are the millstone around the northern European neck, a weak sister draining the stamina and wealth from her industrious siblings, the Germans in particular.

Really?

Here are some factoids that don’t match the stereotypes we’ve been fed:

  • Greece has had one of the lowest per capita income levels in Europe.  Average Greek wage comes in at 21,100 euros [$27, 640] as compared to the Eurozone 12 average off $27,600 euros [$36,134].
  • According to Eurostats, the average retirement age for most Greek citizens is 61.
  • The average Greek schoolteacher makes 800 euros a month [$1041.04].
  • The Greek social welfare system is considerably lower than its European neighbors, averaging 3530.49 euros per capita [$4593.87] as compared to the Eurozone 12 average of 6251.78 euros [$8135.32]
  • Unemployment has spiked to nearly 22%, the number increasing with each round of austerity measures, which has deflated the Greek economy and exacerbated the problem. [In actuality, unemployment is higher since anyone working 16 hours is listed as fully employed.  However, even those workers working fulltime are often listed as part time, allowing employers to avoid paying minimum wage, insurance and other benefits.]
  • The top 20% in Greece pay virtually no taxes at all, a cushy deal reached during the days of the junta between the military and Greece’s wealthy plutocrats.
  • The cost of living [food, rent, energy] has spiraled out of control, leaving many Greek citizens unable to make ends meet.

As you might recall Greece’s elected leader George Papandreou resigned [with encouragement] and was replaced by Lucas Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank [what a coincidence!].   Papademos assembled a temporary government then quickly pledged to approve the tough terms of a second European aid package of $150 billion.

The new, current round of austerity measures, which resulted in citizens taking to the streets and setting Athens afire, will purge another 150,000 public sector workers, mandate a 22% decrease in private sector salaries [the third decrease in less than a year] and substantial decreases in pensions and welfare services.

Mike Whitney at Counterpunch has said this about the new agreement, the Memorandum of Understanding [MOU]:

The Memorandum is as calculating and mercenary as anything ever written. And while most of the attention has been focused on the deep cuts to supplementary pensions, the minimum wage, and private sector wages; there’s much more to this onerous warrant than meets the eye. The 43-page paper should be read in its entirety to fully appreciate the moral vacuity of the people who dictate policy in the Eurozone.

Greece will have to prove that it’s reached various benchmarks before it receives any of the money allotted in the bailout. The Memorandum outlines, in great detail, what those benchmarks are— everything from reduced spending on life-saving drugs to “lift(ing) constraints for retailers to sell restricted product categories such as baby food.”

And,

It just shows what the MOU is really all about. It’s a corporate “wish list”; a mix of punitive belt tightening policies for working people and perks for big oil, big gas, electric, aviation, railroads, communications etc. “Fast track licensing” and “baby food” have nothing to do with helping Greece reach its budget targets. It’s a joke.

Oddly enough, much of this has the ring of the ‘Privatize the World,” theology, so popular with the Republican Party.  Ron Paul?  He finds the idea of all government owned lands very disagreeable.  It should be opened to private enterprise, he has said.  Think of that splendid idea of mining uranium in the Grand Canyon.  The evils of the public sector [that would be teachers and firemen and police] have been eloquently dissected by the likes of Scott Walker now facing a recall in November.  Paul Ryan has thrilled Tea Party aficionados by warbling vouchers = Medicare and offering schemes to privatize Social Security. Public schools?  Don’t fix them, critics say, replace them with private, for-profit Charter schools because for-profit universities have been such a treat for many low-income students, strapped with unsustainable debt and worthless, unaccredited degrees. Prisons?  Turn them private and watch costs escalate to the moon.  Taxes?  We all know the mantra: we cannot possibly tax the ‘job creators.’  Accountability in financial matters?  See the ‘deal’ the Administration’s Fraud Task Force crafted with the TBTFs. Respect for the environment?  Go no further than the proposed Keystone Pipeline, but never forget the Gulf of Mexico, the shameless behavior of BP and their political handmaidens.

The beat goes on.

These are self-serving reasons to sit up, listen and pay attention before it’s too late.  On a more human level is this:

Athens has always had a problem with homelessness, like any other major city. But the financial and debt crises have led poverty to slowly but surely grow out of control here. In 2011, there were 20 percent more registered homeless people than the year before. Depending on the season, that number can be as high as 25,000. The soup kitchens in Athens are complaining of record demand, with 15 percent more people in need of free meals.

It’s no longer just the “regulars” who are brought blankets and hot meals at night, says Effie Stamatogiannopoulou. She sits in the main offices of Klimaka, brooding over budgets and duty rosters. It was a long day, and like most of those in the over-heated room, the 46-year-old is keeping herself awake with coffee and cigarettes. She shows the day’s balance sheet: 102 homeless reported to Klimaka today.

Or this,

“Enough is enough!” said 89-year-old Manolis Glezos, one of Greece’s most famous leftists, who long ago tore down a Nazi flag under the noses of German occupiers. “They have no idea what an uprising by the Greek people means. And the Greek people, regardless of ideology, have risen.”

And this,

“I can still remember as a boy how it was during the great famine and great freeze of the winter of 1941,” said Panaghiotis Yerogaloyiannis, a former mariner now surviving on a pension of €500 [$650.55] a month.

“We have a different sort of war now, one that’s economic, that’s not fought on the field. But it’s still the same enemy, the Germans. And today you are not even allowed to protest. I carry this around,” he said producing a wooden baton from a plastic bag, “to protect myself from the police and thugs who hijack our demonstrations.”

Athens was burning on Sunday.  Beneath the rubble, it burns still. No, we are not Greece.  But Athens has sent a clear, unmistakable signal.  It should be a warning to us all.


Monday Reads

Good Morning!!

I’m heading back to the Boston area this morning, so this will be brief. I’ll be on the road for two days, but I’ll try to check in when I stop for the night. So let’s see what’s happening out there.

Here’s a hysterically funny story: Former Bush/Cheney mouthpiece Judy Miller says Julian Assange is a “bad journalist.”

A former New York Times reporter assailed for her incorrect reports about Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction is criticizing Julian Assange for being a “bad journalist.”

Judith Miller took on the WikiLeaks founder during an appearance on Fox News Watch Saturday, arguing that Assange was a bad journalist “because he didn’t care at all about attempting to verify the information that he was putting out, or determine whether or not it hurt anyone.”

For many critics of the war in Iraq, that claim is likely to set off irony alarms. Miller has become famous for being the author of a 2002 New York Times article — now debunked — suggesting that Saddam Hussein had an active nuclear weapons program.

Miller now writes for Newsmax.

The Air Force has a new surveillance toy, according to the Washington Post.

This winter, the Air Force is set to deploy to Afghanistan what it says is a revolutionary airborne surveillance system called Gorgon Stare, which will be able to transmit live video images of physical movement across an entire town.

The system, made up of nine video cameras mounted on a remotely piloted aircraft, can transmit live images to soldiers on the ground or to analysts tracking enemy movements. It can send up to 65 different images to different users; by contrast, Air Force drones today shoot video from a single camera over a “soda straw” area the size of a building or two.

With the new tool, analysts will no longer have to guess where to point the camera, said Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, the Air Force’s assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. “Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.”

Isn’t it interesting how the government can find the money for exotic military toys, but they need to cut back on the safety net for old and disabled people?

At Antiwar.com, Scott Horton interviewed Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe on

the very high percentage of retired high-ranking US military officers going to work for defense contractors; the Pentagon’s limited oversight on conflicts of interest that seems based on the assumption retired generals have an unshakable code of ethics; how private equity firms – specializing in defense industry investments – give compensation to rent-a-general firms for privileged information about Pentagon contracts; why Eisenhower should have gone with the military-industrial-Congressional complex version of his famous farewell address; and how retired Army Gen. Jack Keane – on behalf of AM General – helped overturn the Army’s decision to repair instead of replace Humvees.

Give it a listen.

Also at Antiwar.com, there’s an article by Kevin Carson on why Bradley Manning is a hero.

Manning, like many young soldiers, joined up in the naive belief that he was defending the freedom of his fellow Americans. When he got to Iraq, he found himself working under orders “to round up and hand over Iraqi civilians to America’s new Iraqi allies, who he could see were then torturing them with electrical drills and other implements.” The people he arrested, and handed over for torture, were guilty of such “crimes” as writing “scholarly critiques” of the U.S. occupation forces and its puppet government. When he expressed his moral reservations to his supervisor, Manning “was told to shut up and get back to herding up Iraqis.”

The people Manning saw tortured, by the way, were frequently the very same people who had been tortured by Saddam: Trade unionists, members of the Iraqi Freedom Congress, and other freedom-loving people who had no more use for Halliburton and Blackwater than they had for the Baath Party.

For exposing his government’s crimes against humanity, Manning has spent seven months in solitary confinement – a torture deliberately calculated to break the human mind.

[….]

He’s impaired the U.S. government’s ability to lie us into wars where thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of foreigners are murdered.

He’s impaired its ability to use such wars – under the guise of promoting “democracy” — to install puppet governments like the Coalition Provisional Authority, that will rubber stamp neoliberal “free trade” agreements (including harsh “intellectual property” provisions written by the proprietary content industries) and cut special deals with American crony capitalists.

[….]

Let’s get something straight. Bradley Manning may be a criminal by the standards of the American state. But by all human standards of morality, the government and its functionaries that Manning exposed to the light of day are criminals. And Manning is a hero of freedom for doing it.

At Corrente, there’s a great post by Letsgetitdone: Fairy Tales of the Coming State of the Union: The Government Is Running Out Of Money

In “All Together Now: There Is No Deficit/Debt Problem,” I warned against the message calling for deficit reduction that the President will probably deliver in his State of the Union Address next month. I argued that there was no deficit/debt problem and that it is essential to reject the President’s framing of the issue and move on cope with the real problems of the economy and American Society. That piece stands alone. But I also think it would be useful to examine each of the specific fairy tales the President is likely to tell in making his case justifying austerity measures which are certain to be counter-productive. This post focuses on one these fairy tales; the narrative that the Government is running out of money.

Check it out.

Finally, Crooks & Liars has the video of Lindsey Graham on Meet the Press threatening to shut down the government until he gets cuts in Social Security.

As Mike Malloy used to say, “have I told you lately how much I hate these people?”

So, what are you reading this morning?