Thursday Reads: Abiding in the Afterglow

Good Afternoon

Sky Dancers!

My Nana used to talk a lot about the afterglow.  She was quite spiritual and used it all the time as a metaphor for the abiding peace that comes when you just relax and enjoy the goodness at the end of the day.  Today, I am abiding in the afterglow and the peace that comes with the realization that the Resistance is real and that it’s turned into more than giant marches and social media screeds.

It’s turned into votes and elected officials.  It’s turned the diversity and decency inherent in modern America into the distinct faces replacing white republican men. It’s a newly elected Sikh mayor and the newly elected Liberian immigrant mayor;  a brown and black face for Hobokken, New Jersey  and Helena, Montana repectively. These are faces of American immigrants both. Topeka, Kansas elected a Latina for its Mayor.  Michelle DeLaIsla is also a single mother. 

Elections on Tuesday turned into the faces of black woman who followed in the steps of Rosa Parks and refused to sit peacefully in the back of the bus.  They are now going to control exactly where that bus can go.  The afterglow is the face of the GLBT community and others that have worked tirelessly for their right to the American vision of liberty and justice for all.

The voice of the majority of voters  went unheeded a year ago.  Tuesday night, the votes of the majority sent waves of hope for peace and justice through out the world.  We showed the world that we shall overcome.  I do not vote until November 18th, but my vote will be part of the history of New Orleans when we elect our first Black Woman to the office of Mayor in our runoff.

Barrier-breaking candidates won races across the country on Election Day this year. The results were a parade of “firsts” from New Hampshire to North Carolina to Montana as women, people of color, and LGBTQ candidates became the first to win elections in their respective contests.

Cities in Minnesota and Montana elected their first black mayors, and Charlotte, North Carolina, elected a black woman as mayor for the first time. Virginia elected its first Latina and Asian-American delegates. Transgender candidates won races in Virginia, Minnesota, California, and Pennsylvania.

Tuesday was a big night for Democrats — and these historic “firsts” show that the party can run a diverse slate of candidates and win.

The results were astounding to all but confused Republican White men who doubled down on Trump and white grievance politics. Their leadership continue to seek policies that help the upper 1% of the 1% while yet another group wanting to get out of the line for the slaughterhouse ran away from the rest of the sheep.

The midterm elections do not appear to favor the sheep.

Distressed Republicans say Democratic victories across the country on Tuesday night show their congressional majorities are at risk in next year’s midterm elections.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he “predicted” the rough election night and said the party needs to make changes quickly before the midterms arrive.

“Unless we get our act together, we’re going to lose heavily,” he said.

The results offered fresh evidence of a political backlash against President Trump, which several Republicans said, in combination with a failure to win legislative victories, could cost the party the House majority.

“The best way to get run over by this train is to stand still,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

Next year’s map makes it much tougher for Democrats to win back the Senate, since Republicans are only defending eight seats compared to 25 for Democrats. In the House, Democrats would need to gain two dozen seats to win back the majority.

House Republicans in swing districts acknowledged that showing independence from Trump will be critical. Some of the 23 GOP lawmakers who represent House districts carried by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton insist they can again convince local constituents to support them.

The People’s President is the one with the coattails.  The best explanation that I heard all day about the race came from two Never Trumpers on MSNBC.  Nicole Wallace and Steve Schmidt were nearly as jubilant as any Democrat on the network.  Wallace said she had to mute the TV any time Trump was on and her five year old was in the room.  She explained that the white suburban women vote had to come from every parent who doesn’t want that kind of person as President.  Schmidt suggested that it was such a coalition of diverse interests voting against Trumpism that felt like a wave from the decent people of America.  The polls showed a combination of anti-Trumpism and fear of losing Health Care as central to many voters.  But we also learned that a huge swath of Americans are following the Russian situation.

I give you an op ed from the Paducha Sun.

Chances are you’re not familiar with the name Andrew Weissmann. That’s likely to change.

He’s the top lieutenant in Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation of potential collusion between Russia and the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. He’s also the man most directly involved in the indictment of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Weismann, 59, is known as the most aggressive and controversial member of Mueller’s team.

Remember the pre-dawn raid by a dozen FBI agents on Manafort’s home back in August? That’s something rarely done in white-collar crime cases. It was Weissmann’s way of sending an unambiguous message to Manafort: We are going to nail you.

Weissmann, who has two Ivy League degrees, is admired for his intelligence and skill as a prosecutor, particularly his talent in getting witnesses to flip and provide critical information. He served as chief of the criminal fraud section of the U.S. Department of Justice before taking leave to join the Russia probe.

A recent New York Times story, which dubbed him a “legal pit bull,” said he’s “an expert in converting defendants into collaborators — with either tactical brilliance or overzealousness, depending on one’s perspective.”

The story added, “It’s not clear if President Trump and his charges fear Mr. Weissmann as they gird for the slog ahead. It is quite clear, former colleagues and opponents say, that they should.”

His reputation for gaining witness cooperation was acquired in two high-profile cases.

One was prosecuting mob bosses in Brooklyn two decades ago. Weissmann persuaded a prominent Mafia hitman, Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, to testify against Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, leader of the Genovese crime family, leading to his conviction.

The other followed the collapse of energy giant Enron in 2001. Weissmann helped gain fraud convictions of multiple executives by again showing his ability to convince witnesses to give damaging testimony.

The Manafort indictment disclosed Monday has been criticized because the charges do not appear related to alleged collusion with Russia. Instead, Manafort is accused of money laundering and not paying taxes well before he joined the Trump campaign.

Those critics, who include Sen. Rand Paul, complain of prosecutorial overreach.

They apparently are not aware of the way Wiessmann seeks to maximize leverage with defendants. If he can persuade Manafort that he is at risk of spending all of his remaining years in federal prison on those charges — unless agreeing to become a prosecution witness — he is far more likely to obtain valuable information regarding any campaign ties to Russia.

People who speak highly of Weissmann applaud him for pushing legal boundaries to win his cases. They say his use of hardball tactics demonstrates his determination to obtain vital evidence.

The Op-Ed continues by saying he’s Trump’s Number 1 Problem.  Well, that and the barrage of white male privilege on display daily among the Trump cadre.  No amount of economic data, study, and acceptance by every economist of all parties and ideologies kills the idea that giving freaking rich people tax breaks is going to absolutely make the rest of us better off.  It doesn’t do it. Never will.  Never … never  … never … never ….

White House economic adviser Gary Cohn nearly quit the administration over President Trump’s equivocations about a Nazi rally in Charlottesville, and then was denied his dream of becoming the chairman of the Federal Reserve. Now all that remains of his political dreams is a gigantic tax cut for owners of capital. But Cohn is not necessarily the most skilled messenger for this agenda, either. Having spent his career communicating to other extremely wealthy people, he seems to be at sea at the task of pretending this agenda is actually aimed at average working people, which is the essential skill set of Republican politicians.

In a new interview with John Harwood, Cohn is forced into a series of admissions he probably should not be making. He concedes the White House is not, on the whole, a fine-tuned machine:

GARY COHN: I learned a lot about being confident, about learning how to succeed. I did get introduced to the financial markets while I was in college. And I think I learned also how to sort of filter out all of the non-rational, or non-sensible noise, and sort of concentrate on what matters, and that’s really what markets are about. Separate the rational from what the irrational, separate what matters now to what doesn’t matter now.

JOHN HARWOOD: I think most people looking from the outside see more irrational stuff happening in this White House than in any White House that they’ve seen

GARY COHN: I’m involved in the economic side of the White House.

It’s not the least bit amazing to me that not even the new Fed head appointment will be an actual economist because no actual economist would said anything like this unless his name is Arthur Laffer and he lost his cred years ago hanging on to his failed hypothesis. Cohn has only a BS, is an investment banker, and basically studied real estate development and investing.  He speaks with no actual authority on economic policy.  The Fed Chair nominee–who will be up in front of the Senate on November 28–is really a big unknown other than he’s got a law degree and a degree in poly sci. Check out Jerome Powell.  While Wall Street churns out high returns based on a tax law that gives them more gambling profits, I continue to worry about what happens if any Trumpism policy hits its mark.

The period of uncertainty is over. President Trump is going to nominate Jerome Powell to be the next Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

So, what have we got?

Well, the papers have been full of articles on the appointment and on Mr. Powell himself. It is not that he is an unknown since he has served on the Board of Governors of the Fed since 2012, has been an Under Secretary of the Treasury and has been employed on Wall Street and in Washington, D. C.

Yet, the analysis of him leaves you basically in the dark.

Mr. Powell is supportive of the goals assigned to the Federal Reserve by the US Congress, to achieve high levels of employment and low levels of inflation. He has never dissented on the Board in 44 meetings he has attended. The one thing he gained attention from while serving on the Board was his stance on the ending of the Fed’s bond buying program connected with the end of quantitative easing.

Perhaps the most apt description of Mr. Powell’s way of doing things is that he is… pragmatic.

Jeremy Stein, an economist at Harvard University and who served as a Federal Reserve Governor with Mr. Powell, describes the future nominee as“remarkably undogmatic.”

Mr. Stein goes on, “He listens more than he talks.”

Mr. Powell is given high marks for being a serious student who studies hard in areas that he is not an expert in and seeks advice. He works well with people and makes things happen in his quiet way. Much of what he has accomplished has been out-of-the-spotlight without a great deal of fanfare.

I’m not going to mention the authoritarian-curious Trump who is currently ass kissing the despot in China.  I’m going to end with this essay by Ezra Klein at Vox. “For elites, politics is driven by ideology. For voters, it’s not. Committed liberals and conservatives don’t realize how weird they are.”  Oh, I do realize, Ezra, I do … I do … I do…

You are weird. I am very weird. And the worst part is, we don’t really recognize how weird we are.

That’s the basic argument of Donald Kinder and Nathan Kalmoe’s Neither Liberal nor Conservative: Ideological Innocence in the American Public. Their study begins with a famous paper by political scientist Philip Converse titled “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics.” The nature of those belief systems, Converse concluded, was that they really weren’t systems at all. The overwhelming majority of Americans were free of anything that resembled coherent liberal or conservative ideologies — indeed, only “about 17 percent of the public could both assign the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ correctly to the parties and say something sensible about what the terms meant.”

Which isn’t to say that voters didn’t have opinions, much less party and group loyalties. They did, and they do. But the internally coherent (or at least semi-coherent) ideological frameworks that drive the activities of politicians, pundits, and other political actors are foreign to most voters.

Converse’s basic findings have been replicated in a number of different studies done over the past 50 years, and Kinder and Kalmoe extend on them here. In a telling bit of research, they scoured massive election surveys to see what bearing self-reported ideology had on policy opinions on issues ranging from LGBTQ rights to health care to foreign aid to Social Security. The answer, across years ranging from 1992 to 2009, was basically none — “ideological differences,” they reported, “have little influence over opinion on immigration, affirmative action, capital punishment, gun control, Social Security, health insurance, the deficit, foreign aid, tax reform, and the war on terrorism.”

There were two glaring exceptions: LGBTQ rights and abortion. But the exceptions were so stark that Kinder and Kalmoe wondered if they were missing something, and they had a theory of what it might be: religion. So they ran the data again, “adding measures of faith, religiosity (the degree to which Americans take their faith seriously), and group sentiments to the model.” Once they did that, the effect of ideology all but disappeared.

So this, then, is the bottom line: Most voters aren’t ideologues, and even accounting for that, most ideologues aren’t particularly ideological.

So, since we are weird, I suggest you read about the control factors.

I’m going to spend the day grading papers.  I’m hoping it’s a little better than the last batch where I was regaled by so much basic ignorance of trade I was about to scream.  I’m back teaching undergrad econ for awhile and I just had a student use the World Daily News as an “academically acceptable” source and based a lot of his argument on his father’s friend’s thoughts that works at a steel factory.  I gently explained that when you’re going to do an expository essay on the impact of trade you have to back up your assertions like this: “NAFTA’s Impact on the U.S. Economy: What Are the Facts?” from Knowledge@Wharton.  You can go read all the facts and data and pros and cons.  I’m just going to quote the last paragraph.

Blaming NAFTA for all of these disturbing problems may make some NAFTA critics feel good, but as trade researchers have learned in recent years, the growing complexity of today’s economic challenges defies any simplistic explanations.

The part I highlighted basically sums up my thoughts on all the crap coming out of the Trump Fiscal policy regime.  You could also substitute just about any word–including what gets souls to the polls– for ‘today’s economic’.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Bask in the afterglow.

Women Rightfully Take to The Street

no more wire hangersIt’s become painfully obvious that women still lack a voice in legislatures around the country and in governor’s mansions as state after state find sneaky, undemocratic, underhanded ways to undercut our civil liberties, our constitutional rights and our autonomy in red state after red state.  The christofascist wing of the Republican Party has snuck drastic anti-women’s health laws in many states.  I passed a billboard today on a local Catholic church reading “More Planned Parenthood means more abortion”.  I wanted to stop and spray paint “More Catholic Churches mean more Child Rape” because it makes as much sense.  Women are taking to the street and need to do so in greater numbers.

The North Carolina GOP attached abortion restrictions to a motorcycle safety bill with no public notice.

North Carolina House Republicans are pushing legislation that would restrict abortion access, attaching the measure to an unrelated motorcycle safety bill on Wednesday and giving neither the public nor Democratic legislators any advance notice.

On Wednesday morning, state Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D) wrote on Twitter, “New abortion bill being heard in the committee I am on. The public didn’t know. I didn’t even know.”

“I wish I had more time to look at this new bill before I had to ask questions about it or debate it,” he added.

The bill then passed the state House Judiciary Committee in a 10-5 party-line vote.

The stealth maneuver came after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) threatened to veto a similar Senate bill on Wednesday morning. The Senate legislation would require abortion providers to meet strict licensing standards and would mandate that a doctor is present for the entire procedure.

The state’s top health official has called for lawmakers to slow down on the abortion legislation, and in his 2012 campaign, McCrory pledged not to sign any legislation that would further restrict abortion access.

House Republicans tweaked the Senate legislation: A doctor would have to be present when the first drug in an abortion procedure is administered — rather than for the entire procedure — and clinics would not have to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.

The NYT editorial board announced that North Caroline was in a state of decline.

Every Monday since April, thousands of North Carolina residents have gathered at the State Capitol to protest the grotesque damage that a new Republican majority has been doing to a tradition of caring for the least fortunate. Nearly 700 people have been arrested in the “Moral Monday” demonstrations, as they are known. But the bad news keeps on coming from the Legislature, and pretty soon a single day of the week may not be enough to contain the outrage.

In January, after the election of Pat McCrory as governor, Republicans took control of both the executive and legislative branches for the first time since Reconstruction. Since then, state government has become a demolition derby, tearing down years of progress in public education, tax policy, racial equality in the courtroom and access to the ballot.

The cruelest decision by lawmakers went into effect last week: ending federal unemployment benefits for 70,000 residents. Another 100,000 will lose their checks in a few months. Those still receiving benefits will find that they have been cut by a third, to a maximum of $350 weekly from $535, and the length of time they can receive benefits has been slashed from 26 weeks to as few as 12 weeks.

The state has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country, and many Republicans insulted workers by blaming their joblessness on generous benefits. In fact, though, North Carolina is the only state that has lost long-term federal benefits, because it did not want to pay back $2.5 billion it owed to Washington for the program. The State Chamber of Commerce argued that cutting weekly benefits would be better than forcing businesses to pay more in taxes to pay off the debt, and lawmakers blindly went along, dropping out of the federal program.

At the same time, the state is also making it harder for future generations of workers to get jobs, cutting back sharply on spending for public schools. Though North Carolina has been growing rapidly, it is spending less on schools now than it did in 2007, ranking 46th in the nation in per-capita education dollars. Teacher pay is falling, 10,000 prekindergarten slots are scheduled to be removed, and even services to disabled children are being chopped.

“We are losing ground,” Superintendent June Atkinson said recently, warning of a teacher exodus after lawmakers proposed ending extra pay for teachers with master’s degrees, cutting teacher assistants and removing limits on class sizes.

Republicans repealed the Racial Justice Act, a 2009 law that was the first in the country to give death-row inmates a chance to prove they were victims of discrimination. They have refused to expand Medicaid and want to cut income taxes for the rich while raising sales taxes on everyone else. The Senate passed a bill that would close most of the state’s abortion clinics.

And, naturally, the Legislature is rushing to impose voter ID requirements and cut back on early voting and Sunday voting, which have been popular among Democratic voters. One particularly transparent move would end a tax deduction for dependents if students vote at college instead of their hometowns, a blatant effort to reduce Democratic voting strength in college towns like Chapel Hill and Durham.

Meanwhile, the Texas House has once again approved its sweeping abortion restrictions despite days of protests by Texas women.

The Texas House of Representatives approved sweeping abortion restrictions on Tuesday, including a ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy and tougher standards for clinics that perform the procedure.

The vote of 98-49 came after a full day of sometimes emotional debate. Before the measure can head to the state Senate, it needs a final vote from the House, which is expected on Wednesday.

The House approved the same proposal during a previous special session of the legislature, but it failed to pass in the Senate after Democratic Senator Wendy Davis staged an 11-hour filibuster that gained national attention.

Here’ in Louisiana, we are trying to stop devastating cuts to Domestic Violence programs and programs to help families with handicapped children. We are asking for a special override session to restore the funding and override a line item veto by the governor that would reestablish funds to these programs.

Domestic violence service providers across Louisiana are facing their second budget crisis in 2 months.  The Louisiana Department of Child and Family Services unveiled its proposed budget Thursday.  The plan includes a cut of $1.4 million dollars to domestic violence services; this is in addition to the $1 million the Jindal administration cut in the December, mid-year budget adjustments.

Programs will be losing $2.4 million of the $6.2 million the state was spending on domestic violence services.  This means emergency shelters across the state will have lost more than 38% of their funding from DCFS in just over six months.  This makes a significant impact in a state that consistently leads the nation in domestic homicides.

Executive Director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Beth Meeks, warned during the last round of cuts that ‘the situation was precarious and further cuts would destabilize the system’.  She calls the current situation dire, “In the last round of cuts programs laid off about 10% of their staff and many used up any rainy day reserves they had set aside.  At this level of cuts programs will be forced to reduce and eliminate services in some areas, if they can survive at all.”

According to statistics collected by DCFS, Louisiana domestic violence shelters provided almost 91,000 nights of emergency shelter in the last year and took more than 38,000 crisis calls.  There are 18 programs in Louisiana funded by DCFS to provide around the clock emergency domestic violence services.  The programs documented more than 1800 unmet needs during that time period due to low staff and full shelter beds.

These states are cutting protections to women’s health and safety and children’s health and safety while transferring lots of resources to create a plague of regulations for abortion providers.  This is completely unacceptable.  Women need to be taking to the streets now!

Sunday Reads: A o.k. for oll korrect.

033Good Morning

Can you believe it is already May?  Whoosh, this year is going by fast!

I realize this post is a little late this morning, but I wanted to give Boston Boomer’s late night thread a while to “stew” since it seemed like big news…

Well…because it is Sunday, I have a mix of special interest links, historical long-reads and a dash of Etymology quickies for you to sink your teeth into.

For starters, here is an explanation of the post’s title.

What’s the Real Origin of “OK”? | Mental Floss

OK, here’s the story. On Saturday, March 23, 1839, the editor of the Boston Morning Post published a humorous article about a satirical organization called the “Anti-Bell Ringing Society ” in which he wrote:

The “Chairman of the Committee on Charity Lecture Bells,” is one of the deputation, and perhaps if he should return to Boston, via Providence, he of the Journal, and his train-band, would have his “contribution box,” et ceteras, o.k.—all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward.

It wasn’t as strange as it might seem for the author to coin OK as an abbreviation for “all correct.” There was a fashion then for playful abbreviations like i.s.b.d (it shall be done), r.t.b.s (remains to be seen), and s.p. (small potatoes). They were the early ancestors of OMG, LOL, and tl;dr. A twist on the trend was to base the abbreviations on alternate spellings or misspellings, so “no go” was k.g. (know go) and “all right” was o.w. (oll write). So it wasn’t so surprising for someone come up with o.k. for oll korrect. What is surprising is that it ended up sticking around for so long while the other abbreviations faded away.

Go figure? I don’t know why, but I always spell o.k. like “okay.”

Anyway, I thought that was a fun bit of trivial nonsense that might come in handy one day. You never know.

Okay…I saved a few links over the past week, you may have missed some of them…

From Bloomberg: Barack Obama, Gun Salesman of the Year

President Barack Obama is arguably the nation’s top gun salesman. The “Obama surge,” as the Wall Street Journal calls it (others call it the “Obama bubble“), appears to have increased gun sales in the U.S. by millions of units over his presidency.

The gun lobby/makers must be happy about that!

What the chart doesn’t provide is a reason for the increase. We can probably rule out a couple possibilities. A surge in hunting? Not likely. As Bloomberg News has reported, hunting has been in decline for years. Only about 13.7 million people hunted in 2011, a new low.

How about a crime wave? Nope. Violent crime began declining long before Obama took office and kept on declining through Obama’s first term, right into the teeth of the Great Recession. Preliminary numbers for the first half of 2012 do show a slight uptick of 1.2 percent, but it’s hardly the stuff of national panic. Even if the increase holds, crime in 2012 will be lower than it was in 2008.

So if hunting and crime are both declining, what is rising? Politics, for one.

Crazy talk has not been in short supply since Obama’s first presidential campaign took flight. Talk-radio jocks, the gun lobby and others who invest long in hysteria may preach to the choir, but the choir appears to be increasingly well-armed. Despite survey data indicating a steady decline in the number of households owning guns, the overall quantity of guns keeps rising. (Either a smaller number of people are buying a whole lot more guns, or a large number of gun owners are lying to pollsters, or both.)

There was a story in the New York Times last week that caught my eye: Trinity Church in Manhattan Is Split on How to Spend Its Wealth

There has never been any doubt that Trinity Church is wealthy. But the extent of its wealth has long been a mystery; guessed at by many, known by few.

Now, however, after a lawsuit filed by a disenchanted parishioner, the church has offered an estimate of the value of its assets: more than $2 billion.

The Episcopal parish, known as Trinity Wall Street, traces its holdings to a gift of 215 acres of prime Manhattan farmland donated in 1705 by Queen Anne of England. Since then, the church has parlayed that gift into a rich portfolio of office buildings, stock investments and, soon, mixed-use residential development.


Over the years, the church has sold or given away much of the original 215 acres from Queen Anne, but it has 14 acres, including 5.5 million square feet of commercial real estate.

It reported $158 million in real estate revenue for 2011, the majority of which went toward maintaining and supporting its real estate operations, the financial statement indicates. Of the $38 million left for the church’s operating budget, some $4 million was spent on communications, $3 million on philanthropic grant spending and $2.5 million on the church’s music program, church officials said. Nearly $6 million went to maintain Trinity’s historic properties, including the main church building, which was built in 1846; St. Paul’s Chapel; and several cemeteries, where luminaries including Alexander Hamilton and Edward I. Koch are buried. The remainder went into the church’s equity investment portfolio.

Of course, with all that wealth comes infighting between the church members and leaders.

Differences over the parish’s mission and direction last year led nearly half the 22-member vestry — an august collection of corporate executives and philanthropists — to resign or be pushed out, after at least seven of them asked, unsuccessfully, that the rector himself step down.

It really is something to read about all the money involved, then to read the comments…when salaries are mention. Damn, these “one of the largest landowners in Manhattan” Episcopals are giving the “Red Prada Slippered” Catholics a run for their money.

Salon had this article last week as well: 6 ways Big Pharma manipulates consumers

The blockbuster pill profit party is over for Big Pharma. Bestselling pills like Lipitor, Seroquel, Zyprexa, Singular and Concerta have gone off patent and sites which their ads sustained are withering on the vine. WebMD, for example, the voice of Pharma on the Web, with a former Pfizer exec serving as CEO, announced it would cut 250 positions in December.

But don’t worry, Wall Street. Pharma isn’t going to deliver disappointing earnings just because it has little or no new drugs coming online and has failed at the very reason for its existence. Here are six new Pharma marketing initiatives that are guaranteed to keep investor expectations high along with our insurance premiums. The secret? Recycling old and discredited drugs and marketing diseases to sell the few new ones.

Read about the six ways at the link.

When I read this next story, I felt sad…but it also made me laugh in a sadistic kind of way….maybe because the whole thing was caught on tape?

‘World’s largest jigsaw’ collapses into 40,000 pieces days before it was due to go on show at Sandringham

A 40 thousand piece jigsaw commemorating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee crashed to the floor and broke leaving its assembler, who had spent more than 200 hours putting it together, heartbroken just days before it was due to go on display at Sandringham.

The jigsaw was put together by craftsman Dave Evans from Weymouth. He spent five weeks creating the 19.5ft by 8ft creation and believes it will enter the Guinness World records as the world’s largest jigsaw once it has been formally accredited.

Speaking to local press about the puzzle’s completion prior to its collapse from the wall of his studio, Mr Evans said: “I’m literally over the moon that I’ve finally reached the last piece. My fingers are sore, my eyes are tired but my heart is full of pride and I honestly couldn’t have done this without the backing of a superb team. I feel like I’ve reached my own moon landing and the eagle has landed.”

He is putting it all back together again. If it collapses a second time…I think someone is trying to tell the man something.

This next link is more recent, from yesterday via the Guardian Hollywood conservative unmasked as notorious Holocaust revisionist

To those who knew him, or thought they knew him, he was a cerebral, fun-loving gadfly who hosted boozy gatherings for Hollywood’s political conservatives. David Stein brought right-wing congressmen, celebrities, writers and entertainment industry figures together for shindigs, closed to outsiders, where they could scorn liberals and proclaim their true beliefs.

Over the past five years Stein’s organisation, Republican Party Animals, drew hundreds to regular events in and around Los Angeles, making him a darling of conservative blogs and talkshows. That he made respected documentaries on the Holocaust added intellectual cachet and Jewish support to Stein’s cocktail of politics, irreverence and rock and roll.

There was just one problem. Stein was not who he claimed. His real name can be revealed for the first time publicly – a close circle of confidants only found out the truth recently – as David Cole. And under that name he was once a reviled Holocaust revisionist who questioned the existence of Nazi gas chambers. He changed identities in January 1998.

Cole’s brazen reinvention as a social networker and political pundit deceived a roll-call of conservative politicians, filmmakers, journalists and broadcasters who had no clue about his past. A falling out with a friend led to his unmasking in his social circle two weeks ago, when a group of former supporters was shown YouTube clips of Cole’s incendiary – and until then forgotten – television appearances in the early 1990s.

As a combative twentysomething with tousled black hair, he was a vilified guest on chat shows hosted by Phil Donahue, Montel Williams and Morton Downey, among others, and was depicted as a neo-Nazi on news shows such as 60 Minutes and 48 Hours.

Read the rest of the exclusive interview at that link above…more stories after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple Effect

I don’t know if it’s simply the election cycle or what, but more and more frequently the world seems to be spinning out of control.  Problems and/or issues everywhere.  Which one to prioritize?  How to “fix” what is going wrong?  Is it leaving you with an overwhelming sense of helplessness?  It does me, all too often.

Here is a list of the serious issues that are bombarding my senses:

  • The economy
  • Unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Wall Street’s continuing abuses
  • Wealth inequality
  • Debt
  • Offshore oil drilling
  • Fracking
  • Renewable energy
  • The condition of our oceans
  • Climate change
  • Endangered species
  • Pesticides, herbicides
  • Food safety
  • Pollution of our air and water
  • Violence against women throughout the world
  • Pay equity
  • Abortion rights
  • Access to contraception
  • ALEC’s legislative initiatives
  • ALEC’s co-opting of our political process
  • The need for campaign finance reform
  • Voting rights
  • Union busting
  • Immigration
  • Health and health care
  • The dismantling of our educational system
  • The privatization of the prison system
  • Hate speech & hate crimes
  • Gun rights & gun control
  • The billions of non-human animals killed each year worldwide, not only for food, but on our streets, in our homes and in our shelters
  • Wars, seemingly everywhere
  • The aftermath and attempted recovery following both natural and man-made disasters

There is little doubt in my mind that most people have shut down and they have chosen to ignore many, if not all of these critical issues.  For so many others they don’t have a choice.  They don’t even have the time or energy to think about them because they are struggling to survive, to put food on their tables, to pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads.  Their focus is on their personal problems, not the bigger issues that are taking a heavy toll on their day to day lives, their future and the future of their families.

What can we do?  How can the majority of the people on the planet, especially those whose personal resources are sorely limited make a difference, not only in their own lives, but for the future of all life on our planet?  Here are a few simple each of us could try:

  • Educate ourselves so we make conscious decisions that will benefit our finances, our health and the impact we have on our environment, whether it’s our home, our community or the planet.
  • Reduce the amount of plastic, especially disposable plastic, that we buy.  For example, opt for fresh foods over processed, prepackaged foods when possible.  Use refillable containers instead of individual bottles of water. Avoid individually packaged food items – opt for a full size bag or container.  Separate into individual servings at home. Don’t buy disposable plates and cups.  Recycle and/or reuse plastic – and don’t forget to cut up those plastic rings that hold bottles and cans together – and return plastic bags to the stores for recycling.  Take reusable bags when we shop, instead of the store’s plastic bags.
  • Donate unused items to community groups or thrift stores.
  • Pick up trash when we see it: in our yards, in the parking lots, on the beach, or participate in an annual beach or waterway cleanup in our area.
  • Volunteer our time in schools, nursing homes, soup kitchens, for non-profits or wherever our time and expertise can be used.
  • Eat lower on the food chain.  It’s good for our health.  It’s good for the planet, and it’s good for the animals.
  • Write letters or send emails to our local media, to our elected officials, and to policy makers.  Sign up for the action alerts of groups who address issues of concern to us.
  • Adopt a homeless animal from a shelter or local rescue group.  It will save a life and the animal will enrich ours. And if you can’t adopt, consider volunteering for a local rescue group or even fostering an animal until he/she is ready to be adopted.

Many of you are probably already doing some or all of these, or you may be doing others that I haven’t mentioned.   By all means, if you have additional personal solutions or tips, please add them in the comments.  Most of these ideas will only cost a bit of your time.  Many of them will actually save money.   I know that even doing what seems like something small, I feel better.  I feel like I am doing my part, however little it might be.  We rarely know the full impact of the choices we make on a daily basis, or how our actions might influence others.  Even if we can’t always make waves, we can, at least, generate some ripples.

Thursday Reads: Mostly Mitt

Good Morning!!

A few months ago, there was quite a bit of talk about a BBC story on Alessio Rastani, a self-described “independent trader,” who indicated he couldn’t care less what the European financial crisis did to people’s lives. For him it was all about making money and another recession would enable him to make plenty. Andrew Leonard of Salon tied the story together with and article in Der Spiegel on a Swiss study of traders. The results showed that these people

behaved more egotistically and were more willing to take risks than a group of psychopaths who took the same test.”

Particularly shocking for [Thomas] Noll [researcher] was the fact that the bankers weren’t aiming for higher winnings than their comparison group. Instead they were more interested in achieving a competitive advantage. Instead of taking a sober and businesslike approach to reaching the highest profit, “it was most important to the traders to get more than their opponents,” Noll explained. “And they spent a lot of energy trying to damage their opponents.”

Using a metaphor to describe the behavior, Noll said the stockbrokers behaved as though their neighbor had the same car, “and they took after it with a baseball bat so they could look better themselves.”

The researchers were unable to explain this penchant for destruction, they said.

Yesterday, Dakinikat sent me a Bloomberg article by William D. Cohan about a British academic’s “theory” on the causes of the financial crisis: Did Psychopaths Take Over Wall Street Asylum?

It took a relatively obscure former British academic to propagate a theory of the financial crisis that would confirm what many people suspected all along: The “corporate psychopaths” at the helm of our financial institutions are to blame.

Clive R. Boddy, most recently a professor at the Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University, says psychopaths are the 1 percent of “people who, perhaps due to physical factors to do with abnormal brain connectivity and chemistry” lack a “conscience, have few emotions and display an inability to have any feelings, sympathy or empathy for other people.”

As a result, Boddy argues in a recent issue of the Journal of Business Ethics, such people are “extraordinarily cold, much more calculating and ruthless towards others than most people are and therefore a menace to the companies they work for and to society.”

Of course this isn’t a scientific study, but it certainly makes intuitive sense. Boddy blames changes in corporate culture for the problem.

Until the last third of the 20th century, he writes, companies were mostly stable and slow to change. Lifetime employment was a reasonable expectation and people rose through the ranks.

This stable environment meant corporate psychopaths “would be noticeable and identifiable as undesirable managers because of their selfish egotistical personalities and other ethical defects.”

For Wall Street — a rapidly changing and highly dynamic corporate environment if there ever was one, especially when the firms transformed themselves from private partnerships into public companies with quarterly reporting requirements — the trouble started when these charmers made their way to corner offices of important financial institutions.

There they supposedly changed many of the moral and ethical values that previously had guided businesspeople. This theory seems somewhat flawed, since it doesn’t explain how these men differed from the 19th century robber barons. But I haven’t read Roddy’s original articles. Perhaps he explains this inconsistency in his argument. I would argue that these kinds of people have always been involved in business and probably in politics too.

Case in point: Mitt Romney. I urge you to read the new article about Romney in Vanity Fair: The Meaning of Mitt: The Dark Side of Mitt Romney. The article is based on a new book about Romney by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, The Real Romney. There’s no way I can briefly summarize the piece or excerpt all the important parts. The article focuses on Romney’s attitudes toward family, his deep involvement with his Mormon religion, and his business career. If you read it, you’ll recognize characteristic signs of the psychopath–coldness, calculation, lack of empathy for others, self-involvement. The only thing missing is the charisma that these people often have.

There are multiple examples of Romney’s insensitivity toward women and women’s autonomy in the article, and his career as a corporate raider and junk bond pusher are described in detail. I’ll give you just one shocking example of Romney’s attitude toward women’s rights in his role as “spiritual leader.”

Peggie Hayes had joined the church as a teenager along with her mother and siblings. They’d had a difficult life. Mormonism offered the serenity and stability her mother craved. “It was,” Hayes said, “the answer to everything.” Her family, though poorer than many of the well-off members, felt accepted within the faith. Everyone was so nice. The church provided emotional and, at times, financial support. As a teenager, Hayes babysat for Mitt and Ann Romney and other couples in the ward. Then Hayes’s mother abruptly moved the family to Salt Lake City for Hayes’s senior year of high school. Restless and unhappy, Hayes moved to Los Angeles once she turned 18. She got married, had a daughter, and then got divorced shortly after. But she remained part of the church.

By 1983, Hayes was 23 and back in the Boston area, raising a 3-year-old daughter on her own and working as a nurse’s aide. Then she got pregnant again. Single motherhood was no picnic, but Hayes said she had wanted a second child and wasn’t upset at the news. “I kind of felt like I could do it,” she said. “And I wanted to.” By that point Mitt Romney, the man whose kids Hayes used to watch, was, as bishop of her ward, her church leader. But it didn’t feel so formal at first. She earned some money while she was pregnant organizing the Romneys’ basement. The Romneys also arranged for her to do odd jobs for other church members, who knew she needed the cash. “Mitt was really good to us. He did a lot for us,” Hayes said. Then Romney called Hayes one winter day and said he wanted to come over and talk. He arrived at her apartment in Somerville, a dense, largely working-class city just north of Boston. They chitchatted for a few minutes. Then Romney said something about the church’s adoption agency. Hayes initially thought she must have misunderstood. But Romney’s intent became apparent: he was urging her to give up her soon-to-be-born son for adoption, saying that was what the church wanted. Indeed, the church encourages adoption in cases where “a successful marriage is unlikely.”

Hayes was deeply insulted. She told him she would never surrender her child. Sure, her life wasn’t exactly the picture of Rockwellian harmony, but she felt she was on a path to stability. In that moment, she also felt intimidated. Here was Romney, who held great power as her church leader and was the head of a wealthy, prominent Belmont family, sitting in her gritty apartment making grave demands. “And then he says, ‘Well, this is what the church wants you to do, and if you don’t, then you could be excommunicated for failing to follow the leadership of the church,’ ” Hayes recalled. It was a serious threat. At that point Hayes still valued her place within the Mormon Church. “This is not playing around,” she said. “This is not like ‘You don’t get to take Communion.’ This is like ‘You will not be saved. You will never see the face of God.’ ” Romney would later deny that he had threatened Hayes with excommunication, but Hayes said his message was crystal clear: “Give up your son or give up your God.”

Not long after, Hayes gave birth to a son. She named him Dane. At nine months old, Dane needed serious, and risky, surgery. The bones in his head were fused together, restricting the growth of his brain, and would need to be separated. Hayes was scared. She sought emotional and spiritual support from the church once again. Looking past their uncomfortable conversation before Dane’s birth, she called Romney and asked him to come to the hospital to confer a blessing on her baby. Hayes was expecting him. Instead, two people she didn’t know showed up. She was crushed. “I needed him,” she said. “It was very significant that he didn’t come.” Sitting there in the hospital, Hayes decided she was finished with the Mormon Church. The decision was easy, yet she made it with a heavy heart. To this day, she remains grateful to Romney and others in the church for all they did for her family. But she shudders at what they were asking her to do in return, especially when she pulls out pictures of Dane, now a 27-year-old electrician in Salt Lake City. “There’s my baby,” she said.

The information the authors provide about Romney’s career at Bain Capital is just as revealing of Mitt’s insensitivity and lack of empathy. Here’s just a brief quote about Romney’s attitudes toward capitalism.

Romney described himself as driven by a core economic credo, that capitalism is a form of “creative destruction.” This theory, espoused in the 1940s by the economist Joseph Schumpeter and later touted by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, holds that business must exist in a state of ceaseless revolution. A thriving economy changes from within, Schumpeter wrote in his landmark book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, “incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” But as even the theory’s proponents acknowledged, such destruction could bankrupt companies, upending lives and communities, and raise questions about society’s role in softening some of the harsher consequences.

Romney, for his part, contrasted the capitalistic benefits of creative destruction with what happened in controlled economies, in which jobs might be protected but productivity and competitiveness falters. Far better, Romney wrote in his book No Apology, “for governments to stand aside and allow the creative destruction inherent in a free economy.” He acknowledged that it is “unquestionably stressful—on workers, managers, owners, bankers, suppliers, customers, and the communities that surround the affected businesses.” But it was necessary to rebuild a moribund company and economy. It was a point of view he would stick with in years ahead. Indeed, he wrote a 2008 op-ed piece for The New York Times opposing a federal bailout for automakers that the newspaper headlined, let detroit go bankrupt. His advice went unheeded, and his prediction that “you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye” if it got a bailout has not come true.

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Anyone who still sees Romney as the “reasonable” Republican candidate needs to read this article. I knew that Romney had been involved in Mormon Church leadership, but I had no idea how deeply he was involved and how committed to his religion he is. And yet, he’s probably going to be the Republican nominee, facing a weak, unpopular Obama. We’ve heard about a meeting of Conservatives to discuss possible alternatives, but Politico reports that GOP elites are saying Romney probably can’t be stopped.

We’ll see. There’s nothing more dangerous than a Newt scorned, and South Carolina looks to be unfriendly to Mitt. But the next challenge for Romney is New Hampshire, where he leads by double digits. Can Santorum and Gingrich knock him down a peg? Only time will tell.

So….. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please share.

Women Front and Center in MENA Protests

Many cultures in the MENA region are well-known for their horrible treatment of women. We see practices like honor killings, genital mutilation, and taking child brides. One of the offshoots of the Arab Spring has been the central role of women looking for broader participation in their countries.

Just as we in the United States are experiencing a political/fundamentalist Christian backlash that has turned into a war on the rights of women, the protests movements associated with the Jasmine Revolutions and their related political change have brought out a wave of political/fundamentalist Muslim backlash. There are several signs of hope in a region experiencing lots of social unrest. First, we’ve become aware of a large number of feminist leaders. Second, we’ve seen that many women are putting their lives on the line to ensure that the social change includes improving the lives and status of women. While oppression of women is frequently attached to fundamentalist religious followers, the roles of traditional tribal cultures and their dominance in places that are underdeveloped and rural–like Alabama or Uganda–cannot be underestimated.  Here’s some stories that have made headlines recently that show the global struggle for women’s rights–like the US struggle for women’s rights–is still an uphill battle.

The most recent and outrageous example of oppression of women protestors has been in Egypt over the ‘Blue bra girl’ which has led to a wave of rallies led by women.  The resultant outrage has created a tipping point in Egypt which many say has not seen activism on this level for women’s right since 1919. 

In response, thousands of women — and men — marched Tuesday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Observers say it was the largest demonstration of women in Egypt in decades. Not since 1919, when women mobilized under the leadership of feminist Hoda Sha’rawi in anti-colonial demonstrations against the British have so many Egyptian women taken to the streets. (After representing Egyptian women at the International Women Suffrage Alliance in Rome in 1923, Sha’rawi returned to Cairo and very publicly removed her veil.)

Women have played an important role in Egypt’s modern revolution but have struggled to translate their activism into a political role in the new, emerging system. They have been excluded from important decision-making bodies, and the military leadership declined to continue a Mubarak-era quota for women that ensured them at least 64 seats in parliament. Based on early election results, it appears that few women will win a place in the new government.

Nevertheless, one intrepid woman, Bothaina Kamel, is breaking ground with her candidacy for president. The campaign of Kamel, a well-known television presenter, at first was shocking, and certainly quixotic, with polls indicating her support is less than 1%. But her persistence has gained her credibility. While she has little chance of winning, she is helping to normalize the idea of women in politics — an idea that is deeply contested in Egyptian society. Leaders of Salafi parties, which gained a surprising 20% of the vote in the first rounds of elections, have spoken out against women running for office.

The recent women’s protest may breathe life into a movement that desperately needs new energy. In the early weeks of the revolution, women activists tried to bring attention to women’s issues but never succeeded in getting the masses behind them.

Tunisian women are also concerned about women’s rights since the country’s recent elections.  The picture up top is from that country.  Newly elected leaders have had to promise to recommit their country to modernization and democratic principals that include increased roles of women.

“We are all the women of Tunisia,” stated Professor Khalid Kshir of Tunis University in conversation with the author of this article. Professor Kshir is a member of the Democratic Modernist Pole, a coalition of leftist parties. He fears that the Ennahda party will push the country back instead of moving it forward.

Just a year ago, literally weeks before the start of the uprising in the country, Tunisians had joked that theirs was a country of free women and happy men. No other Arab nation had ever granted so many rights to women, fixed de jure and de facto, than Tunisia. That was something of which Tunisians were proud, and even boasted about. Today, many people in Tunisia fear that the country’s achievements on the road to becoming a modern society will be brought to nought.

”We need to focus all our efforts in the sphere of politics and culture on women’s rights, because women form half of our society and any infringement on their rights will be harmful to all of us,” Professor Kshir went on to say.

Strange as it may seem, the issue of women’s rights was also on the agenda of a conference on promoting tourism which took place in Tunisia early in November, shortly before the final election results were announced. The conference was organized by the Ennahda party, which decided not to wait for the National Constituent Assembly to convene and the government to be formed before holding a series of meetings with representatives of Tunisia’s major industries in order to lay out the priorities for getting the national economy out of its post-revolution stupor. The discussion on the prospects for yourism was among the first meetings to be held, along with a conference on the financial market, co-sponsored by Tunisia’s Brokers’ Association.

The party leader’s comforting assurance came in response to concerns expressed by travel agencies, tour operators, hoteliers and bankers at the meeting, who voiced questions such as, “What will be Tunisia’s international image following your electoral victory? What will happen to women’s rights? How will European tourists feel in Tunisia, and do they have a reason to fear Islamists?”

What started as a discussion on the prospects of tourism eventually escalated into a broader deliberation on Tunisia’s prospective path of development. There are strong reasons for such an interconnection: tourism accounts for six per cent of Tunisia’s GDP and makes up 60 per cent of the national trade deficit. The industry employs 12 per cent of the country’s working population, while one in eight Tunisian families live off tourism, one way or another. During the revolutionary turmoil which rocked the country between January and September 2011, tourism revenues in Tunisia plunged by 38.5 per cent compared to a similar period in 2010, while the overall number of tourists coming to Tunisia sank by 34.4 per cent.

That is why at present Ennahda is ready for dialogue and compromise. “We guarantee freedom in food, drink and clothes,” Hamadi Jebali said.

He emphasized that his party would respect democratic principles and that Tunisian society would retain its progressive nature. According to Jebali, the revolution took place in the name of improving the lives of Tunisian citizens and moving the country forward rather than hindering its development.

Many of those present at the conference believed the words of the Ennahda leader – or said that they did. “I believe Jebali. I am an optimist but only on condition that the rights of women won’t be violated and if we don’t follow the path of Saudi Arabia where a woman can do business but is forbidden to drive a car,” Sihem Zaiem, a member of the Federation of Tourist Agencies, said after the conference.

Delegates applauded her when she demanded that the Ennahda secretary-general explain Tunisia’s true face to the world as soon as possible, and demonstrate Islamists’ attitude to women’s rights. Jebali promised that nothing would change in the arena of women’s rights. His speech was very convincing.

A mother in Bahrain has gone to jail for playing revolutionary music and participating in protests.

Fadhila Al Mubarak, a 38-year-old mother of a 9-year-old boy, is still in jail after she was sentenced in an unfair military trial for charges related directly to exercising her right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. She was detained and prosecuted in a military court for playing revolutionary music in her car, trying to save her son and nieces, participating in peaceful protests in Pearl Roundabout and writing a poem to her son about the revolution, freedom and fighting for his future. The information available on the conditions of her detention is very worrying and her family has raised concerns over her health.

Fadhila, who was living with her husband and her son in the area of Aali, was arrested on 27 March 2011, just a few days after the National Safety Law was imposed on 15 March 2011. She was arrested at a checkpoint because there was an audio recording of revolutionary songs playing in her car. She was asked to pull over her car and step out. They insulted her, called her names and cursed her. While security officers at the checkpoint were talking to her, a man in civilian clothing tried to get into her car. In fear over the safety of the children, her son (9), nieces (14 – 15), she pulled him away thinking he was a thug who would kidnap or hurt them. Later, she found out he was a police officer.

Her family asked about her at police stations close to the checkpoint where she was arrested only to find out after four days that she was held in Riffa police station. She was later transferred to Isa Town women’s prison. During the period of her detention, her family had no contact with her and was not allowed to visit or talk to her over phone. Family members tried to appoint her a lawyer, a request that was rejected by the military court.

Women in the region can take heart from the post revolutionary experience of Indonesia’s women who have managed to get many advances since their repression by former president Soeharto following a 1965 tragedy. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim majority democracy.  As with all countries,  religious fundamentalists obsessed with old testament prohibitions continue to seek  repression of women. However, Indonesian laws continue to reflect the country’s will to improve conditions for women. The current president seems to be backsliding on reforms gained during the tenure of Indonesia’s previous PM.

Of course, like the feminists have suggested, the Reform Era in 1998 has given women opportunities to revive the real spirit of Kartini. However, as Mariana suggested, the Reform Era was nothing but “a short-term honeymoon” moment for women’s movement.

When the late former president Abdurrahman Wahid changed the name of the ministry of women affairs into the ministry of women’s empowerment, for example, feminists felt very confident about their cause. In addition to that, the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) was given full support to continue its investigation into the May 1998 tragedy, where many Chinese women were sexually abused.

“During Megawati’s era, we were more enthusiastic because the first woman was finally installed as a president amid opposition from some religious leaders,” Mariana said. “Megawati then also succeeded in passing the law on domestic violence.”

Celebrating women’s achievement even more, she added, was the policy of granting women a 30 percent quota of seats in the Parliament.

However, this celebration of women’s movement had to end in 2005, when Susilo Bambang Yu-dhoyono won his first presidential term.

“The year marked the introduction of the pornography bill, which was mentioned by President SBY during his first [presidential] speech,” said Mariana. “He even took the opportunity to comment about women’s belly buttons!”

And from that moment on, she went on, the women’s movement in Indonesia started to lose its ground. While battling against the criminalization of women, feminists have been labeled as “Western devilish agents”, gaining a bad reputation in society.

It seems that vigilance of women over their rights in all democracies is important.  That is why it is important that women officials with high public profiles–like US SOS Hillary Clinton–continue to keep their focus on the rights of women and also GLBT rights aound the world.  The world’s religious fundamentalists continue to press for backsliding.  Religious fanatics push for edicts that can run the gambit from defining an egg as a person to hold women’s bodies hostage to narrow religious views of ‘life’ as in seen in Arkansas recently. There are also the many Sub-Saharan African nations–like Nigeria and Uganda–where laws  ignore or encourage violence against GLBT because of both Muslim and Christian extremists in the regions. The latter example has been funded for and encouraged by US fundamentalist Christians which is even a more outrageous intervention than just resurrecting or perpetuating native tribal traditions like the child bride tradition which is also a problem in places like highly Christian Guatemala as well as Western African countries.

SOS Clinton strongly condemned the treatment of women protestors by Egyptian security forces this week. It is heartening to see her speak out for women’s full participation in democratic movements and governance.

In unusually strong language, the US secretary of state accused Egypt’s new leaders of mistreatment of women both on the street and in politics since the street revolt nearly a year ago that overthrew leader Hosni Mubarak.

“This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonours the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people,” Mrs Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University.

In images widely seen over YouTube, helmeted troops were shown beating a veiled woman after having ripped her clothes off to reveal her bra and stomach.

Other pictures circulating on social media networks that have enraged protesters include one of a military policeman looming over a sobbing elderly woman with his truncheon.

“Recent events in Egypt have been particularly shocking. Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago,” Mrs Clinton said.

Here is the PBS NEWSHOUR coverage of the Egyptian Women’s protests and an interview with participant May Nabil.  It has some interesting narrative of the march in that many woman spontaneously joined the march and weren’t just drawn to it via internet.  Additionally, there were many supportive Egyptian men in attendance.

Light Bulbs Saved But American Light Diminished

We can no longer call Congress a do-nothing farce.  In case you haven’t heard our esteemed legislators have ‘saved’ the incandescent light bulb from its 2012 banishment.  Which means incandescent hoarders can display their beloved bulbs in public, display them with pride and patriotism—let freedom shine–without the fear of neighborly condemnation or the riot police knocking down the door.

Let there be light!

If only.

Other things we might have considered saving in 2011:

The Middle Class; Death by Strangulation

This week we were gifted with the sobering statistic that 50% of the American public is now considered ‘low income.’  Of course, the naysayers are quick to point out that this is a gross exaggeration, that terms like ‘low-income’ and ‘poverty’ are relative terms.  Go to Africa, they say.  Perhaps, Haiti would do.  Or North Korea.  Then you’ll know the ‘real’ meaning of misery.

Sorry but this strained logic belies the fact that unlike the above examples the United States of America is a developed world power. We beat our chests and claim ‘exceptionalism’ on the world stage yet are willing to use third world comparisons to shrug off bad news?  Lame comparisons are simply an exercise in don’t believe your lying eyes and for God’s sake never distrust the status quo.  What are you?  Some sort of Commie!

A small factoid from the St. Louis Federal Reserve, Economic Research group: the average length of unemployment in the United States is now over 40 weeks. And another from the New America Foundation:

The share of middle-income jobs in the United States has fallen from 52% in 1980 to 42% in 2010.

Middle income jobs have been replaced by low-income jobs, which now make up 41% of the work force.

The American Economy; Bleeding Out While Doctors Look On

While average citizens lost wealth and continue to struggle with unemployment and underemployment, face prospects of social programs stripped down to nothing, we’ve been gifted once again with startling news. The Federal Reserve over a three-year period bailed out large banks and corporations, domestic and foreign, to the tune of 29 trillion dollars.

Twenty-nine trillion!  To put this in some perspective one trillion dollars could be imagined thusly:

If you were to count to one thousand, one number every second, it would take seventeen minutes. Counting to one million at the same rate would take twelve days (counting nonstop, btw, day and night).  Counting to one billion would take thirty-two years.

Now, drum roll please:  Counting to one trillion?  Would take 32,000 years.

Then multiply by 29.

Meanwhile, with the money spigots wide open spewing a gusher of magic money, small business loans [the sort that Main Street depends on to fuel growth and employment, loans of 1 million or less] dropped to a 12-year low. Why is this a problem?  Because despite the GOP’s drone that the top 1% of the population are the ‘job creators,’ businesses with fewer than 500 employees created 65 percent of the jobs between 1993 and 2009, according to the Small Business Administration.

Another withering fact: between 2001 to 2009, 42,000+ factories and manufacturing-related businesses closed for good.  And, of course, the jobs associated with those companies went bye-bye, moved off-shore to exploit lower wages and the nefarious environmental regulations that vulture capitalists love to hate.

In addition, our trade deficits with China [84 billion in 2001 to 278 billion in 2010] and other countries [oil imports represent over 60% of our current deficit] have bled and continue to bleed jobs and wealth from the US.  Trade deficits represent a countries’ imbalance in terms of importing to exporting and the rate at which a nation’s wealth is transferred into foreign markets.  As a country, we’re being bled to death, according to the AAM.

The impact of the trade deficit with China extends beyond U.S. jobs lost or displaced, according to the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM). Competition with China and countries like it has resulted in lower wages and less bargaining power for U.S. workers in manufacturing and for all workers with less than a four-year college degree.

And yet the trade deficits go on unabated.  A recent example was the passage of the trade deals with Panama, Columbia and S. Korea, heralded as a great deal for the United States.  But according to Dylan Ratigan, MSNBC:

The key question we have to face as a country is how we want to govern ourselves. From World War II until NAFTA, our trading policies were based on geopolitical needs and what would increase prosperity for America. Since NAFTA, however, the mantra of free trade has been warped to generate rights for international capital and nothing else. The agreements Congress and the President are pushing continue this unfortunate trend. What unfettered capital wants is to avoid taxes, regulations, or any state power whatsoever.

In regards to oil imports, the drumbeat for several years has been: Drill, Baby, Drill. It’s all about jobs and keeping America strong, our oil-financed legislators are likely to say.  The problem is regulation, they’ll add, and big government working against the blessings of the free market.   Really?  Not so, says Dylan Ratigan.

We do not have a free market for energy, because the actual cost of fossil fuel in our economy is not reflected at the pump; the military’s not in there, the environment’s not in there, and there’s a wide variety of differing fuel subsidies and tax treatments for all sorts of different fuel sources depending on their relation with our government. So, how can a marketplace decide the fuel source, when one fuel, particularly being gasoline and fossil fuels, have such a substantial comparative subsidy?”

The answer is: the marketplace cannot decide the cost of fossil fuel or entertain the cost-effectiveness of alternative sources because the game is rigged as it has been for a century+ where fossil fuels rule the day, pay off politicians and are willing to drive us into economic and environmental ruin for the sake of profit and power.

Vulture Capitalism writ large.

The American Homeowner; Death by Drowning

In the second quarter of 2011, 10.9 million Americans or 22.5% of homeowners were ‘underwater’ with their mortgages, namely they owed more on their mortgages than their houses were actually worth, a result of the real estate collapse of 2007-2008.  Although the Home Affordable Refinance Program [HARP] has fallen short to relieve homeowners from onerous, often ballooning mortgage payments and subsequent home foreclosure, the Obama Administration has attempted to remove the key barriers in the refinancing procedures. This is expected to expand mortgage refi at today’s lower interest rate to larger numbers of struggling homeowners, particularly those with little to no equity in their homes.

Will it work?

The jury is still out, but at best this expanded program will only be available to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-backed loans.

In addition to providing relief, many citizens expected a thorough and public investigation into exactly what went wrong in the mortgage industry. We expected our own Pecora moment.

But that didn’t happen.

In fact the Administration has attempted to rush through settlements with major banks, requiring no admission of wrong doing and attaching immunity from civil or criminal liability to sweeten the deal. Countering this, several state Attorney Generals [five to date] have refused to accept the 50-state agreement and have proceeded with independent investigations of their own.  And just this past week, House Representative Tammy Baldwin [D-WI] introduced a resolution to block any agreement on the national foreclosure question, without proper and thorough investigation. Immunity from civil and/or criminal liability would be stripped and fraudulent practices prosecuted fully under the Rule of Law.

But still, for the 22.5% of American homeowners, the water level is already chin-high and rising fast.

Civil Liberties; Gutting of the Bill of Rights

Perhaps no other images brought home the dwindling nature of American civil liberties than the recent round up of Occupy Wall Street protesters.  We’ve watched young women pepper-sprayed, protesters manhandled and in one instance a young Iraqi veteran nearly killed by police who appeared ready for WWIII rather than crowd dispersal.  On several occasions over-zealous police action was caught on film not by the press but by protesters and onlookers.

In addition, we now know that drones developed for war applications have been deployed in country and that drone use is being marketed to police departments throughout the country.  Security is big business.

Obviously, the First Amendment’s guarantee to peaceable assembly is not.  And privacy?  Forget about it!

Add this to the Administration’s successful kill order on extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen operating in Yemen, a kill order without benefit of due process. Otherwise known as execution without trial.  We can argue about the threat of the man but there is no argument about the danger of precedent and the shredding of the Rule of Law.  And so, should we be surprised by the most recent outrage, the passage of an indefinite detention authority tucked inside the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act?  The bill codifies the right of the President to order the arrest and indefinite detention of US citizens suspected of terrorism.  No trial, no appeal.  You can now be ‘disappeared,’ lawfully.

One fight that did end well [at least temporarily] was the controversial and previously reported Stop Online Piracy Act [SOPA].  The discussions between legislators were abruptly adjourned after stiff condemnation by online biggies Google, Wikipedia and even computer scientist Vint Cerf , one of the founders of the Internet, who claimed that the bill’s passage would begin “a worldwide arms race of unprecedented censorship of the Web.”

Rights of Women; Assaults Continue

In the contradictory world of Far Right extremists, where individual liberty is celebrated and government intrusion condemned, the individual rights of women and their reproductive decisions are the lone exception.  Family planning, contraception, abortion, even ordinary ob/gyn screenings are suspect and thereby targets of defunding and all manner of attack.  Bills have littered the landscape calling for the elimination of all abortive measures, even when a woman’s life and/or future fertility is in jeopardy.  The heartbeat of the unborn is made sacred, while the lives of the fully realized female is continually denigrated, dismissed and derided.  Personhood resolutions have been raised in referendums [and thankfully voted down], where the fertilized egg would be designated as a person with full legal rights under the law.

Fertilized eggs and corporations.  Perfect together.

The insanity of these rigid, ridiculous demands from zealots are all too real and dangerous when applied to the actual world.  Miscarriage, for instance, a completely normal biological occurrence, would take on the aura of a criminal act, requiring an investigation.  By the egg or zygote police, I imagine. Or a woman who suffers an ectopic pregnancy could be left to bleed until doctors were convinced of the unborn ‘person’s’ lack of viability.  The woman’s health is secondary in this scenario.

The personhood resolutions would also deny women certain contraceptive measures.  For instance, the day after pill would be in violation.  And, in fact, Health and Human Services’ recently overruled the FDA’s recommendation on Plan B for young women under the age of 18 and refused to lift the emergency contraception’s restriction.

The assault on women’s rights have been unrelenting, not only in terms of reproductive decisions but in basic health services.  Planned Parenthood and their related clinics and facilities provide services to many poor to middle income women, offering important medical screenings, tests for cancer, diabetes, high-blood pressure, etc.  Only 3% of what Planned Parenthood does is related to abortion services.  And yet, the 90-year organization has become the Boogie Man for right-wing fundamentalists, who would deny many women the only health provider they have.

Sorry, the barefoot and pregnant dictum has no place in the 21st Century.

Our Children; Gross Neglect of Our Most Important Resource

A higher percentage of children today are living in poverty than was the case in 1975.  The rate of poverty has increased every year for the last four years, from 16.9 percent to nearly 22 percent as of 2010.  In the UK and France that number is under 10%.  The 2011 Child Well Being Index indicates that it is American children, the country’s future, who will bear the greatest damage by widening income disparities and proposed cuts to education, food stamps and health insurance programs.

Some sobering factoids:

Child homelessness has risen 33% in the last 3 years to 1.6 million

There are over eight million children in the United States today that are not covered by health insurance.

Today, one out of every seven Americans is on food stamps and one out of every four American children is on food stamps.

Nearly 20 million children participate in school lunch programs.

This is not what Democracy looks like.

The Poor, the Immigrant and/or Muslims; The Inadequacies of Scapegoating

Scapegoating has a long history, even Biblical references, where a goat is used as a vessel of purification.  The sins of the community are spiritually transferred to the animal after which Mr. Goat is banished to the wilderness.

Out of sight, out of mind.

In times of social unrest and/or economic distress, the act of scapegoating is often employed as a distraction, a way of diverting the public’s attention from the real problems and their causes . . . to something or someone else.  Scapegoating has been popular of late.

It’s the fault of the poor, the hangers on, the moochers.  Michelle Bachmann quoted Paul the Apostle:

“He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”

That would imply the poor are merely shirkers, those expecting a free lunch.  Tell that to the one in four children surviving on food stamps.  If Newt Gingrich and his ilk are to be taken seriously, the problem can be solved by revoking Child Labor Laws or having school children take on the school’s janitorial services.

Better yet, cut all safety nets.

Immigrants, too, have been cast as the country’s main economic problem.  Too many Latinos taking away American jobs.  We’ve all heard it. Only the number of illegal immigrants entering the country has been shrinking dramatically since the Great Slump, the biggest population decline in the last 20 years.

Unemployment, however, is still with us.

With the immigrant bashing, deportation and subsequent population shrinkage, Georgia and several other states had a difficult time harvesting their crop this year without their standard work force in place.

Be careful what you wish for.

Since 9/11, Muslims have been targeted as the root of all our problems, basically an evil agent working to undermine the country . Anti-Muslim sentiment has risen with irrational fears over Sharia Law dominating, perhaps even replacing the American Constitution.  Last week, hardware giant Lowe’s pulled ads from a reality show, ‘All American Muslim,’ in response to a conservative Christian group, that contended:

Clearly this program is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimize these nice people in this show . . .

It’s disturbing to read something that ugly.  And it created a huge PR stink for Lowe’s, rightfully so.

Also important to note is that Muslim Americans represent approximately 6 million citizens, a quarter of whom are African American converts.  In a country of 311 million?  That’s a tiny, tiny percentage.

And on 9/11?  People of all faiths died, including Muslims.

Pointing fingers in all the wrong directions will not cure the country’s financial crisis, anymore than wishing for quick, easy solutions.  Saving what’s best about our country–our religious tolerance—is far more important.

There were many things worth saving in 2011.  But hey, at least we rescued the American incandescent light bulb.

I feel so much better.  How about you?